Januar 22/29, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 16
By Reginald Tucker
Excelling at production innovation. Generating awareness through brand building. Providing value to customers and end users across the supply chain. These are just some of the initiatives CFL Flooring is putting in place as it seeks to grow its footprint and, eventually, its market share in the U.S.
“Simply put, we bring value-added products through innovative, first-to-market products for our customers with unique styles and designs at affordable prices,” said Thomas Baert, president, CFL Flooring. “This is something that many manufacturers claim, but CFL has proven this for more than 10 years.”
According to Baert, CFL provides both innovation and value based on two primary factors: constant improvement in product design and development; and putting the right people in place to execute the company’s goals. It all begins with its approach to manufacturing. The perception among many is China—the country where CFL is headquartered—is primarily a place to produce low-end, entry-level products. Baert challenges that notion. “At CFL, we have the opposite approach. We invest significantly in R&D, which has led us to be known as the innovation leader in China. These investments will allow our people to continue using their creative thinking to develop next-generation products.”
An example of this innovation at work, according to CFL, is its flagship product line called FirmFit. The line features a family of high-performance products based on a rigid, high-density, mineral-based core, which the company said provides improved stability to sunlight and heat. It’s also available in a FirmFit Wood version that features real oak and hickory veneers.
Other attributes include improved resistance to dents and impact, greater sound features and low impact on the environment. According to CFL, all products under the FirmFit brand are GreenGuard Gold certified.
CFL is also looking to provide innovation and product differentiation in other ways, namely through improved realism. To that end, the company is putting a lot of emphasis on long plank, custom bevels and embossed-in-register surface technology that will allow the texture to follow the design of the plank.
“Many companies have been focusing on WPC versions of multi-layer flooring; for CFL Flooring, stronger and denser materials with less PVC and plasticizers and more minerals such as limestone is a logical next step in the evolution of multi-layer flooring product in both residential and commercial applications,” Baert explained. “We recently announced a multi-million-dollar investment in a major expansion in our facilities, which includes more than 500,000 square feet of manufacturing and lab space. This influx reflects our belief in the continued growth of mineral-based categories.”
CFL is also known for innovations outside the waterproof category. Its AtroGuard line, for instance, is a water-resistant laminate offering designed to compete directly with LVT, WPC and even some rigid core products. “It’s not 100% waterproof, but it has advantages the resilient category doesn’t have,” Baert claims. “It’s also good for bathrooms, kitchens, etc., meaning homeowners can wet-mop it. End users can also install it in large areas without transition moldings. It has been proven on the market now for more than three years, and it is one of our best sellers.”
More than product
CFL also attributes its achievements to other factors. These include maintaining close relationships with its distributors and retailers externally while assembling a talented management team within the company. Perry Coker, president of CFL’s U.S. division, put it this way: “We always stay in touch with our customers in the United States, Europe and around the world, closely communicating with them and asking basic questions such as, ‘What do you need to succeed?’”
In this regard, CFL follows a two-step sales and product development process. “First, we believe a successful launch is one where a distributor and manufacturer seize the opportunity of collectively planning before going to market; and second, launching with targeted key retailers,” Coker explained. “We have very clear distribution strategies and long-term partners for whom we develop innovative solutions. The reason top distributors continue to partner with us is they recognize the proven product quality and value, our rigor in all testing and compliance matters, and our support in marketing. Our goal is to bring them the full package.”
CFL’s distributor partners applaud the strategy. “CFL is an innovative company that we have partnered with for several years,” said Bob Weiss, CEO of All Tile/Carpet Cushions & Supplies. “They are a bit unique in that they offer many innovative products across different categories—WPC, SPC, laminate and vinyl. Our 2016 Surfaces launch of Novocore and Novocore Premium was one of our most successful new products we have ever had the pleasure of introducing. Based on that success, we are launching two new product lines from CFL at Surfaces 2018.”
Eddie Vaughn, resilient product manager at BPI, agrees. “CFL understands the U.S. distribution market, and the success of our CFL product introductions has been outstanding. We have recently launched the new FirmFit SPC collection, and CFL continues to offer more unique features such as EIR, long planks and painted bevels. Moreover, our AtroGuard water-resistant laminate program has helped bring excitement back to the laminate category. The innovative product development that crosses several different categories has made CFL a great partner for us.”
Then there’s the internal management side. According to Baert, CFL views itself as a family run by an international staff combining years of sales, marketing and technical flooring expertise. “The influence of international management is obvious to anyone who visits our offices. Our owners are European, and we have 15 different countries represented in our China office. These people play key roles in all areas of the factory, bringing huge amounts of insight and knowledge each and every day.”
At the same time, CFL’s American team is headed by Coker and Barron Frith (CEO of CFL’s U.S. division), who collectively represent 50 years of flooring experience. Other key appointments and promotions include: Josh Martenn, who was elevated from national sales manager to the position of vice president of sales, distribution; and 12-year industry veteran Steve Kramer, who was recently named U.S. wholesale distribution sales manager.
“With the combination of having the most innovative products in the industry and our strong wholesale distribution network, we are very well positioned to continue our incredibly strong growth,” Frith said. “Moreover, our U.S. offices are led by industry veterans who understand the needs of U.S. distribution.”