January 8/15, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 15
By Reginald Tucker
Wider, longer boards. Subtle (but still visible) distressing. Double staining and wirebrushing. And engineered planks that mimic the attributes of solid wood floors. These are among the most popular trends in hardwood flooring today—trends that experts believe will continue into the foreseeable future.
“I expect the continued popularity of wide and long boards will fuel most of the category’s growth in 2018 and beyond,” said Don Finkell, CEO of American OEM. Along with that, he anticipates continued growth of sliced veneer faces amidst diminished use of rotary veneer faces. “The industry will also see more complex finishing techniques.”
Another trend that’s showing it has legs is the continued shift in consumption from solid to engineered—so much so that many producers today are developing multi-ply, engineered wood floors that mimic the thickness of real ¾-inch solid wood floors. Traditionally, the choice between engineered and solid has largely been dictated by regional preferences and climate considerations, however the proliferation of thicker engineered hardwood floors is changing this dynamic.
While there is significant activity in engineered floors, some feel solid wood flooring remains the go-to product in certain parts of the country and for key consumer segments. “In engineered, we see much of the growth occurring on the bookends of the market with significant increases in the opening price point/value engineered products and the best/premium sliced- and sawn-face engineered products,” said Michael Bell, general manager-hardwood, Armstrong. “Solid is similarly seeing increased activity on the best/premium side of the market. But in all cases, we believe growth will be driven by products that successfully combine innovation in aesthetics and performance.”
With respect to design, some experts are seeing the trends moving away from more rustic to more refined visuals and the continued shift to wider and longer plank sizes. On the performance front, scratching remains the primary concern for consumers shopping hardwood. “Products like our new solid hardwood line with Diamond 10 Technology strengthens the value proposition we can offer to our customers on both scratch and aesthetics,” Bell added. “Unlike many protectants, which can leave a cloudy finish, Diamond 10 provides clear scratch protection, allowing the natural allure and beauty of the wood to shine through.”
Impact of wood look-a-likes
The popularity and allure of hardwood has prompted a flurry of development of competing products in the marketplace. Not only is there ongoing competition within the hardwood product segment, but suppliers of WPC, rigid core, LVT and, yes, laminate flooring products are giving wood producers a run for their money. After all, many of these alternative products are doing an outstanding job in replicating the real thing—right down to the texture of real wood.
In one sense the mimicking is flattering, but in another it can be cause for concern. “For the first time in my career, I can definitively say some of these categories have taken share within certain segments from hardwood,” said Dan Natkin, vice president, hardwood and laminate, Mannington.
Others are not as concerned. Armstrong’s Bell believes that as long as hardwood itself is desirable, there will continue to be a proliferation of wood looks, whether in resilient, tile or laminate. The key, he said, lies in properly educating the consumer. “There is an incredible vacuum of information and education around what is or isn’t a hardwood floor given the variety of low-priced, value engineered wood floor options that are flooding the marketplace. Whether micro veneers on an HDF core or prefinished birch plywood, the consumer expectations are not being met for a hardwood floor. Compound this with all of the wood-look visuals in WPC and, now, SPC, the consumer may never even be presented with a hardwood floor when that was what they entered the shopping process looking to buy.”