Wood/SPC hybrid generates excitement
By Reginald Tucker
American OEM first piqued the interest of dealers and distributors earlier this year when it previewed its wood/SPC hybrid product, Raintree, at winter markets as well as major buying group shows in the spring. Now, the company is gearing up for an all-out hard launch to get samples and displays out to the field.
The excitement surrounding Raintree, according to Don Finkell, American OEM founder and CEO, lies in its novel hybrid construction. Raintree features a 1.2mm genuine hardwood veneer bonded to a 5mm composite core the company claims is denser and more heat resistant than WPC. Furthermore, the product is backed with a 1mm IXPE attached pad for sound attenuation, insulation and comfort underfoot.
American OEM is billing the product as the future of hardwood. “Our family has been passionate innovators in the wood flooring industry for over 70 years, and we consider Raintree to be the continuation of our legacy for future generations,” Finkell told FCNews. “Raintree’s proprietary Ninja technology reinforces the natural hardwood wear layer to protect against moisture, scratches and indentation better than traditional wood flooring, while offering the same beauty, authenticity and value-adding elements that make real hardwood the No. 1 flooring choice for today’s consumers.”
While the trendy visuals offered in Raintree were designed to inspire double-takes (the inaugural launch entails 14 SKUs across three collections), it’s the performance aspect of the product that’s stirring interest. The various enhancements Raintree offers allow hardwood floors to go down in areas previously off limits. More importantly, it allows hardwood flooring to go head-to-head with the likes of WPC and LVT/P, etc.
As Finkell explained, the wood veneer utilized in Raintree by itself is not waterproof; rather, the glue that bonds it to the core is waterproof. Plus, it’s finished using a protective waterproof coating that essentially isolates the wood from the rest of the environment. “These are very sophisticated coatings that are fairly new and didn’t exist a few years ago,” he said. “It allows wood to answer the waterproof [craze] that’s been propelling vinyl so heavily into the market.”
The timing of Raintree’s release is key in other respects. It comes on the heels of the release of updated standards established by the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) that now classify hybrid wood/SPC-type products such as Raintree as real wood floors. With this development, American OEM is confident this will allay any concerns raised by hardwood flooring traditionalists.
“Over the last couple of years there has been some debate about whether or not this is a wood floor,” Finkell stated. “Some of the hardcore wood people are less enthusiastic about the product and don’t consider it to be a wood floor, but other people think it should be included as a wood floor. It reminds me of a time back in 1985—when NWFA was created—when there was a debate as to whether engineered hardwood flooring should be included under the definition of a wood floor. The association was pretty adamant that this was new technology and wood flooring needed it to stay relevant, so engineered wood flooring was included in the definition. We’re witnessing the same thing with products like Raintree—it’s just the natural evolution of wood.”
That’s not the only development playing in Raintree’s favor. Turns out, the engineered wood flooring standard, which is developed under the auspices of the Decorative Hardwoods Association, is in the process of reviewing its own wood flooring definition (the last time it was modified was in 2012). Raintree is said to also be included in DHA’s guidance as a real wood floor. “This means Raintree is not a substitute for a wood floor—it’s essentially a real wood floor,” Finkell stated. “That’s significant.”
Unlike solid hardwood floors, Raintree is not designed to be sanded/recoated multiple times, but that’s not necessarily a drawback. “It’s no more of an issue than it is with a regular engineered wood floor,” Finkell stated. “With the aluminum-oxide finish we’ve put on this product, it’s almost impossible to sand it off. You’re more likely to wear out the sandpaper first. With many factory-finished aluminum oxide floors it’s really difficult to remove the finish in the field.”
Another advantage Raintree has over solid (unfinished) floors is the price. While not exactly an “entry-level” product, it’s certainly cost competitive. Finkell puts the MSRP between $4-$5 per square foot. “It’s a little less expensive than a solid wood floor, but not dramatically.
Distributors gearing up
With the initial offering set and the marketing/merchandising strategies in place, the next step entails getting the word out on Raintree through American OEM’s distribution network. Top 20 distributor T&A Supply, based in Kent, Wash., is just now getting on board.
“We just landed our Raintree displays and samples two weeks ago,” said Michael Goria, hardwood products manager. “Within the next two weeks we will expect to start getting the product out into the field.”
Ironically, T&A initially had reservations about “waterproof hardwood” in general. “Waterproof wood has been around for the last four or five years, but some of the product lines that have come out haven’t done very well because of the visuals,” Goria explained. “The finish on the first iterations of waterproof wood were just so thick, it looked like LVP. So we decided to hold off.”
The company’s position changed when Raintree was previewed. “When we saw Raintree for the first time we looked at it and said, ‘Wow!’ The visuals are there with this product. We are also excited with the marketing they’ve put behind it, the display unit, etc. If waterproof wood is really going to take off, we feel Raintree is the vehicle to use and American OEM is the company to go with.”
T&A Supply also views Raintree as a product that could recoup some market share from WPC and pure SPC products. “Consumers are drawn to the visuals WPC offers, but ultimately people want real hardwood,” Goria said. “This is an opportunity for us to get some of that back in the hardwood category and create some noise with it.”
The sentiment surrounding Raintree was similar with other top 20 wholesalers, including Southern Diversified Distributors (SDD), parent company of William M. Bird. In fact, the company is planning a full-scale rollout of the product throughout its territories next month. “It’s definitely one of our highly anticipated launches,” said Sharon Higgins, senior marketing strategist, SDD. “We constantly seek out products that bring real value to flooring retailers, and we’re very purposeful in every collection for each manufacturer we partner with. Raintree fits perfectly with the Bird offerings, and our customers are going to love the designs and performance of the product.”
William M. Bird will also take it a step further by promoting Raintree on its consumer-facing website, Twenty & Oak. Sister company to William M. Bird, Twenty & Oak was created earlier this year to drive online traffic to the distributor’s retail partners. “We’re going to place Raintree in both the hardwood and waterproof sections of the site,” Higgins explained. “We will deliver samples to consumers, but we will work very hard to deliver those leads to our retail partners.”
Beyond traditional distribution channels, American OEM also expects Raintree to gain traction among some of the largest buying groups in the industry. “CCA Global is very enthusiastic about the product,” Finkell stated. “We’re looking to expand our program next year to include Raintree. The people who are attuned to what’s going to happen in the future in this industry are pretty excited about the product.”