Jan. 6/13, 2020: Volume 35, Issue 14
By Reginald Tucker
When Brian Carson took the reins as president and CEO of AHF Products in February 2019, he announced “very aggressive plans” for the company that had been spun off from Armstrong Flooring the year prior. That strategy is unfolding ahead of schedule as the company continues to make headlines through major expansions and investments—all of which are designed to fuel innovative product development.
At the core of AHF Product’s growth strategy is a steadfast focus on emphasizing the powerhouse stable of brands that make up the company’ s broad offering of hardwood flooring products—Bruce, Capella, Hartco, HomerWood, LM Flooring and Robbins. “We have 50 new products in the chute, several new innovations, a new company in LM Flooring and a plant that we’re expanding as fast as we can in duty-free, tariff-free Cambodia,” Carson said. “We also gained intellectual property and launched the industry’s first all-wood waterproof product, Bruce Hydropel. So I’d say we’ve been pretty busy.”
The acquisition of LM Flooring specifically expands AHF Products with respect to popular formats. For example, with the purchase the company no longer has to source sawn- or slice-faced engineered wood products from third parties. Moreover, the addition virtually makes AHF Products vertically integrated, thereby supplementing its array of solid and rotary-peeled products.
One of the more exciting developments, according to AHF Products, is the reintroduction of venerable brands such as Hartco and Robbins—vestiges of Armstrong World Industries’ portfolio when it purchased the brands from Triangle Pacific back in the late 1990s. (Hartco, as many industry veterans might recall, featured the signature Pattern Plus line of acrylic-impregnated engineered hardwood.)
“Many of our customers were thrilled to learn our plans to relaunch the Hartco brand,” said Wendy Booker, vice president of marketing and product development. The former Armstrong-branded wood lines will be rebranded as Hartco, she added.
Along with that comes a rich brand history. According to AHF Products, Hartco is 70 years old, while Robbins has been around for 125 years. But the grand-daddy of them all is Bruce, which is 135 years old. “Who else in the business can say that?” Carson asked rhetorically. “We have these venerable brands and it’s truly a rebirth.”
Enhancements are also planned for AHF Products’ HomerWood line of custom sig- nature hardwood flooring. After acquiring the brand several years ago when it was part of Armstrong Flooring, the company recently announced plans to restructure the HomerWood brand to focus fully on its sawn-face Simplicity line.
“At HomerWood, our mission is to provide upscale and highly sellable products that delight the consumer and allow our dealer partners to enjoy attractive margins at good volumes,” said Steve Staikos, general sales manager, AHF Products. “As we continue to reposition the brand and product line to one of approachable elegance, we are curating the line to create room for the future. As an added benefit, our HomerWood products remain 100% duty and tariff-free.”
The Simplicity collection provides highly stylized wood flooring with the quality and integrity consumers expect from HomerWood at an accessible retail price point. Launched in 2018, Simplicity features Appalachian hickory and white oak boards meticulously crafted into quality hardwood floors with trending matte color choices. Made in the USA, the Simplicity collection features wide widths and long lengths, as well as a durable yet matte finish enhanced with UV-cured urethane and aluminum oxide.
AHF is also in the process of transforming its entire line of domestically produced engineered hardwood with the new Densitek core, a high-performance composite material designed to provide improved dent resistance and faster installation when compared to traditional plywood core. Engineered wood floors with Densitek give consumers the stability, strength and protection they expect with the added beauty of a real hardwood veneer.
“Specifically engineered with hydrophobic technology to resist moisture absorption, Densitek is engineered to give consumers their most desired flooring—real hardwood—with the durability, resistance to moisture and ease-of installation they need,” said Sara Babinski, design manager.
Right on time
For AHF Products, the timing is right to vastly expand its wood program. From a macro perspective, market conditions are ripe for consumers in the market for trade-up products such as hardwood flooring. “Interest rates and debt levels remain low, consumer confidence is high and employment is good,” Carson said.
On a micro level, as it pertains to competition between specific product categories, Carson sees opportunities for real hardwood in a sea of look-alike wannabes. “There’s really not a lot of innovation and differentiation between all the WPC and SPC products we’re seeing right now. We feel the industry is looking for the next big thing to bring excitement and grow margins, and we’re hoping that’s going to be hardwood, which is the only flooring product that gets better with age. We see it as a ‘coming home to hardwood’ of sorts.”
While hardwood has not been growing as fast as it has in years past, AHF Products is not deterred. “I see a tremendous amount of opportunity to provide solutions, features and benefits to both our dealers and our distributors and channel partners that allow them to make more money with us,” Carson said. “As the market leader in wood, we have a tremendous opportunity to take share and grow share. So, whether wood goes up, down, left or right, I am convinced we will grow our participation in the category without regard for what the category is doing as a whole.”
Investments pay dividends
Carson’s optimism is reflected in the investments the company is making across its operations (more than $35 million over the past 12 months, to be more precise). The company operates six manufacturing operations across the United States, including the HomerWood Titusville, Pa., location, plus two facilities in Asia—Shanghai, China—and the aforementioned plant in Sihanoukville, Cambodia.
In the U.S., the company recently held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at its plant in Beverly, W.Va., to mark the 85,000- square-foot expansion of the manufacturing facility in Randolph County—one of the largest prefinished solid hardwood flooring plants in the country. The plant, formerly owned by Armstrong Flooring, will also use the new space for added manufacturing capacity.
“We’re very excited about the expansion,” said Blaine Emery, AHF Products plant manager. “This allows us to grow our capabilities and continue to be a major contributor to the economy of this region.”
This serves as another example of AHF Products’ desire to bring hardwood back to its glory days while re-establishing itself as the preeminent leader in the hardwood category. “It’s not only a new company at AHF Products, but it’s a new spirit,” Carson said. “We’ve got a tremendous attitude and team of winners in our business. And at the end of the day, winners win.”