June 10/17, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 26
By Reginald Tucker
In the battle to regain market share lost to red-hot categories such as LVT, WPC and SPC, laminate flooring suppliers have raised the ante in terms of performance—particularly the product’s water- and dent-resistant attributes. But they are also seeking to generate attention—and, by extension, more real estate on the showroom floor—by kicking things up a notch or two in the aesthetics department.
To that end, laminate manufacturers are leveraging various technologies, innovation and some creativity to get retailers excited about the category again. “Laminate designs over the last couple of years have really evolved from what we’ve seen in years past,” said Adam Ward, senior director of wood and laminate, Mohawk. “The level of realism you can get in a laminate product still beats what you can get in other categories such as ceramic, LVT and rigid core products.”
In Mohawk’s case, that realism is primarily due to the decorative papers used to render the primary image, plus an innovative four-color process employed to bring the visuals to life. These technologies have paid big dividends for Mohawk, whose RevWood line earned the company top honors in the laminate category in the 2019 Award of Excellence competition. “The level of pressing detail and registered embossed combined with our in-house design really takes design to another level, and it’s why we positioned the category as RevWood over laminate,” Ward explained. “The things we can do from a visual perspective—combined with our waterproof story—really has elevated the category over some of those other imitations that have come into the market.”
Examples include the Antique Craft collection, a 9 1⁄2-inch wide x 7-foot-long plank that plays on the growth of wider/longer in the wood category. According to Mohawk, it features ultra-realistic design and texture combined with bevels that mimic the texture of a real wood floor. Then there’s Collosia, a collection that resides within Mohawk’s Quick-Step brand. In keeping with its name, the product boasts 80-inch-long x 10- inch-wide boards available in modern urban looks in a variety of fashion-forward colors. “What we’ve been able to do with these products is bring retailers back to the category,” Ward said.
Mohawk is not alone. Inhaus, which also earned an Award of Excellence for its laminate offerings, believes the category still has a lot to offer retailers and, ultimately, consumers. “Laminate is one of the flooring categories with the lowest cost complemented with leading scratch and wear resistance,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO of Inhaus. “Furthermore, working with clarity of pressed melamine and digital printing there are design abilities that other categories don’t have. Our goal is to match these technical qualities with great designs complemented by the ability to bring these designs to the market with greater speed to offer our customers something that other categories cannot.”
To that end, Inhaus has invested in its own design center, a 40,000-square-foot facility that includes a workshop for raw materials, manned by 22-member team that works continuously on design. “This helps us create new products at a faster rate and respond to trends in the market as quickly as possible,” Welbourn added.
Major suppliers continue to dedicate resources to give themselves an advantage through innovation and differentiation. “Our styling team is able to take real wood and enhance it through advanced scanning and digital manipulation to get the exact look they want,” said Dan Natkin, vice president, hardwood and laminate, Mannington. “Also, with the newer technologies in printing, we can also create a broader array of visuals with less repeats.”
As an example, Natkin cited Arcadia and Sawmill Hickory, top-selling offerings from Mannington’s award-winning Restoration collection.
CFL Flooring, another innovator in the laminate sector—among other categories—has also made great strides in developing eye-catching looks. Utilizing its vast experience in hard surface flooring production, as well as its manufacturing scale, the company is able to leverage those attributes to its advantage. “We have a broad range of fashion-forward design visuals available in varying lengths or random widths across many species, including handscraped or embossed-in-register real wood surface structure,” said Barron Frith, CEO of CFL’s U.S. operations. “Our biggest advantage is the number of unique visuals we offer, making it very realistic and hard to see repeats once the floor is installed, which technically is more difficult to achieve.”
For CFL, staying on the forefront of innovation is the name of the game, according to Frith. “We continue on the path we started in 2014, when we were the first to launch water-resistant laminate and solely focus on water-resistant solutions with special sizes—herringbone, blended lengths and widths, etc.—as well as special designs that require a significant amount of pattern variation.”
Seemingly across the board, suppliers are leveraging technology to develop realistic patterns and visuals. “High-resolution printing advancements are opening up the opportunity to produce unique, one-of-a-kind looks,” said John Hammel, director of category management, hardwood and laminate, Shaw Floors. “Consumers can now choose from laminate with grouted tile, realistic wood plank and stone visuals, giving them a durable, low-maintenance product with high style.”
A winning proposition
The latest innovations we’re seeing in laminate are designed to do much more than dazzle consumers. The main objective is to keep the category relevant in the face of increasingly stiff competition. “Laminate still has many advantages over other categories like resilient or wood, such as its scratch resistance and strength,” CFL’s Frith said. “Warranties are very similar with waterproof products as well. Bathrooms, three-season rooms, spills or large-area installation without T-moldings are all warranted, so we believe these types of products still have a bright future ahead.”
Mannington’s Natkin agreed, adding, “Laminate is already the most scratch- and indentation-resistant printed product category on the market today. It is also visually more realistic than LVT; it lacks that plastic look.”
It’s a message that laminate suppliers are hoping will resonate deeply with retail sales associates—those on the front lines with consumers. “The com- bination of leading design, wear performance and cost create a value proposition for laminate that is very powerful,” Inhaus’ Welbourn stated. “Other categories will have problems competing with this.”
At the end of the day, it’s all about providing trade-up opportunities for retailers. As Mohawk’s Ward explains: “With RevWood Plus and our other RevWood products, we are giving consumers and specialty retailers a reason to turn back to the category where they may have traded down consumers in years past—particularly with the millennial and younger customers who might not necessarily require a hardwood or demand it. This has given retailers a reason to trade up from a cheaper laminate that they may have looked at in the past.”
All this, plus laminate’s proven value proposition and high-performance attributes, will go a long way in helping the category recoup market share, suppliers say. “Today’s consumers are looking for affordable laminate flooring, but with higher quality, style and design than the laminate of the past,” Shaw’s Hammel stated. “The trend toward thicker products, combined with improved high-end visuals and realistic embossing, means laminate isn’t simply an entry-level product.”