January 8/15, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 15
By Reginald Tucker
In a mature flooring segment such as laminate, one might not expect to see groundbreaking advances emerge with regularity. However, suppliers point to several recent and developing innovations that stand to build on an already durable, fashionable and desirable product.
“Innovation is always key to business and we have seen a lot of changes in the past years to laminate (i.e., water resistance and enhanced design) and composite product (new categories and product features),” said Derek Welbourn, CEO, Inhaus. “We expect this to continue at an even faster rate in 2018 and beyond.”
Other industry executives share that view. Dan Natkin, vice president, hardwood and laminate at Mannington, and president of the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA), sees the industry continuing to invest millions of dollars in the production of laminate flooring in support of strong demand. “There have been significant innovations in the category, including water-resistant coreboard technologies, improved visuals and different surface treatments. “It’s not the laminate flooring of 20 years ago.”
In Mannington’s case, some of those innovations are evident in new technologies designed to repel moisture in places where laminate coreboards are most vulnerable: at the tongue and groove areas and along the edge seams. Its new technology—SpillShield—is a factory-applied, moisture-resistant coating exclusively available on its Restoration Collection of laminate floors. It is designed to protect customers’ floors from everyday spills and messes by resisting moisture. “Floors protected by SpillShield will not be damaged by ordinary spills and pet messes that are removed within 72 hours,” Natkin stated.
Mannington is not alone in the fight to improve laminate flooring’s chances against water incursion. Shaw Floors recently rolled out its Repel line of laminate flooring, which is designed to stand up to the toughest household conditions, including spills. “The biggest innovation within the category is centered on the advancements in water-resistant technology,” said Drew Hash, vice president, hard surface. “Our Repel laminate collection features beautiful styling and superior scratch-, stain-, fade- and water-resistant performance attributes, making it a great investment for retailers and consumers interested in high-end laminate products.”
Laminate manufacturers are not just “talking the talk” when it comes to improving the product in terms of both form and function. Many are pumping resources, capital and manpower into both new and existing facilities. Case in point: In 2017, Swiss Krono broke ground on a $200 million laminate and coreboard facility in Barnwell, S.C. That investment comes on the heels of several multi-million-dollar cash infusions made over the past few years.
“Customers are continuing to demand products produced in the U.S., and in response we are adding higher value product manufacturing capacity,” said Erik Christensen, president and CEO. “We will continue to shift our domestic product mix to higher value products, and as a result we anticipate overall growth of around 10%.”
Mohawk is another company that’s literally banking on laminate’s success. “We have invested heavily in a new laminate facility in Thomasville, N.C., which makes some of the most realistic product on the market,” said Gary Lanser, president, laminate and hardwood. “These investments will increase our laminate capacity as we continue to grow and extend our leadership position in the category.”
Suppliers’ commitment to the advancement of the category is not overlooked by its retail partners. For San Jose, Calif.-based Conklin Bros., which adopted the Mohawk laminate line over a lower-end product some time ago, the decision was a no-brainer. “At one time we brought in some inexpensive laminates and sold them for a while, but our customer base wanted the Mohawk product,” said Rick Oderio, owner. “Since then we have literally sold miles and miles of Mohawk laminate flooring.”
On the horizon
As suppliers look deeper into 2018 and beyond, they predict continued innovation across the category—albeit at a marginally slower clip. “The product mix in laminate is expanding to include more high-end products with enhanced realistic visuals, thicker coreboard and increased durability,” said Roger Farabee, senior vice president, laminate and hardwood, Mohawk. “Today’s consumers expect affordable laminate floors but refuse to sacrifice quality, style and design.”
But that also means the industry must take a more proactive role in educating the consumer on the different types of products entering the market—especially in light of stiff competition from alternative categories. As Shaw’s Hash explained: “The broad range of products available within the laminate market can create misconceptions for this product category, making it increasingly important for manufacturers and flooring retailers to be able to effectively communicate the benefits and attributes of each product line and how it does or doesn’t meet a particular customer’s needs.”
Mohawk’s Farabee agreed, adding, “It’s our job to remind people of the incredible benefits this category offers. There’s a role for the laminate category to play with respect to the new products starting to emerge.”