February 2/10, 2020: Volume 35, Issue 16
By Reginald Tucker
Las Vegas—Of all the hard surface categories impacted by the onslaught of LVT, WPC and SPC, perhaps laminate has been the hardest hit. In recent years, the industry has seen a decline in the number of companies participating in the category—a phenomenon reflected by a corresponding decrease in the number of laminate displays at your average specialty store.
But before you prematurely call the laminate category down for the count, some suppliers are demonstrating their faith in the product segment by investing in new technologies, research and development to give it a fighting chance against competing hard surfaces.
This was evident at Surfaces here last month as some major suppliers rolled out new offerings and other innovations to get retailers excited about selling laminate again. Case in point is Mannington, which upgraded the technology utilized in rendering its laminate offering, simply known as Restoration, waterproof. According to Dan Natkin, vice president of laminate and hardwood, the new and improved SpillShield protection puts laminate on a more even playing field with its hard surface resilient counterparts that tout waterproof capabilities.
“We’ve enhanced the product by treating the bevels and the locking joints along with some other proprietary treatments,” he told FCNews. “We’ve worked on the technology to make it waterproof from the top down from everyday household use such as spills and accidents.”
Natkin, who in addition to his responsibilities at Mannington, serves as president of the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA). Despite the challenges facing the category in recent years, he’s still a strong proponent. “When you think about the performance of this category, you can’t dent it and it’s almost impossible to scratch it,” he explained. End users, he noted, are getting behind the segment as well. “We work with builders who are getting out of LVT and back into laminate because of issues with scratching, especially over the long term.”
But it’s not just laminates’ well-documented performance attributes that’s keeping the category in the game. Suppliers have also made tremendous strides in the aesthetics department. In much the same way that Mannington has incorporated new technologies to boost the product’s resistance to moisture, it has also leveraged new innovations to improve its ability to mimic real wood.
For example, utilizing state-of-the-art scanning technology, Mannington was able to replicate popular looks in some of its real wood offerings—its 2019 Triumph wood line in particular. This collection creatively incorporates three different species—oak, maple and hickory—in one plank. “We digitally scanned the planks so you not only get the variety, but it also gets you much closer to the natural wood look because you have the right embossing with the right type of wood,” said Cristen Del Bove, Mannington’s director of residential styling. “So instead of repeats every 10 feet, we are now able to offer 50 square feet before you see a pattern repeat.”
Dealers like what they’re seeing. “Mannington’s laminate introductions are as real-wood looking as it gets,” said Phil Koufidakis, president of Phoenix-based Baker Bros. “These are home-run additions to the line.”
Jason O’Krent, director of sales at O’Krent’s in San Antonio, agreed. “The Anthology Laminate collection’s visuals are so realistic, we thought it was real wood,” he said.
Other major suppliers of laminate are also investing heavily in improving not only the realism of the product visuals, but also the range of design options available. Mohawk, for example, continues to expand its RevWood offerings to provide dealers with even more compelling reasons to give laminate another look. And much like Mannington—which plays in multiple product categories—Mohawk is utilizing its expertise in other product segments to come up with more laminate looks designed to dazzle consumers.
“We introduced RevWood Plus three years ago at Surfaces, and we’ve seen great customer response,” said Adam Ward, senior product director, laminate and wood. “We continued to add to that last year with the introduction of more RevWood Plus SKUs and RevWood Select. With our new introductions—two more in Plus and two more in Select—that rounds out our lines and brings us up to 70 SKUs in our waterproof platform. It’s a strong commitment for our RSAs to have the right designs and visuals in there to satisfy their customers’ needs.”
This year’s additions include Hartwick maple, which brings another new species to the RevWood collection. The line boasts cross-cut saw marks designed to accentuate the rustic grading. Then there’s the Castlebriar collection, which boasts a 9 1⁄2-inch x 80-inch-long platform available in a rustic oak look. Three different underlayment/padding options are offered: MoistureGuard, RealSound and SilentGuard. “There’s great texture in the product that gives the consumer that wider/longer look that’s in demand today,” Ward said.
Lastly, RevWood Select gets a new hickory look in keeping with the movement toward lighter species—and Briarfield, a more rustic washed oak to round out the line. RevWood Select has a MSRP ranging between $3-$4 per square foot, while RevWood Plus is a step up from that. “All totaled there are 20 new SKUs in this line,” Ward said. “It’s a really great selection.”
Mohawk and Mannington aren’t the only companies investing in the laminate flooring category. CFL Flooring, which also participates in multiple product categories, featured its signature Atroguard laminate line at Surfaces. According to Thomas Baert, CFL president/owner, the category has always been a major focus for the company. “When we brought Atroguard to market in 2013, we did so with the intention of offering a product that combines the natural visuals of hardwood and the rigidity and scratch and stain resistance of laminate with the same water resistance found in vinyl,” he explained. “That did not change. Laminate’s main advantages from a performance standpoint are still scratch and stain resistance.”
While Baert agrees the category has lost some share to LVT and WPC, it still has its plusses. “From a design standpoint, a big advantage is the number of unique visuals, making it very realistic and hard-to-see repeats once the floor is installed—as opposed to vinyl or WPC floors for which this is, technically, more difficult to achieve,” he explained. “We put a tremendous amount of effort in developing stunning design visuals, using the specifics of laminate to really bring out something special. That includes experimenting with varying lengths or random widths within one box or developing designs from different wood species used within a particular product.”
(Look for more laminate coverage from Surfaces in upcoming editions of FCNews.)