February 17/24, 2020: Volume 35, Issue 17
By Reginald Tucker
Las Vegas—The key to launching a successful wood/SPC-type waterproof hybrid product, observers say, lies in finding the right balance between authentic visuals and performance. The treatments employed in the real-wood, decorative top layers found in early iterations, some dealers say, fell short of the mark—although they held up well to foot traffic, scuffing and normal everyday wear and tear.
But HF Design—a new entrant to the waterproof wood segment—said it has struck just the right balance with its new AquaTek line. The product features a real, 1.2mm, sliced-faced white oak wear layer atop a solid polymer core. The decorative layer is protected by HF Design’s Nanotek Shield, which seals out moisture, while its 2mm attached HydroShield IXPE underlayment provides both heft and comfort underfoot. Further protection is achieved through patented locking technology, which blocks liquids from seeping between the planks.
“The visuals in the AquaTek line are so strong, especially compared to vinyl,” said Jeff Garber, vice president of sales and marketing, HF Design. “There’s no comparison in terms of the realism; with vinyl, you typically have one in four, one in five or one in seven pattern repeats, but with AquaTek it’s more like one in a thousand. There’s an immediate upgrade when you see the product installed.”
That’s not the only benefit, according to Garber. With its premium construction, AquaTek also aims to improve retailers’ margins. “The popularity of waterproof/SPC flooring has seized market share from so many categories, but is has also taken the average price point so low that most retailers, distributors and manufacturers have lost $1 to $1.50 in average unit price sales,” Garber explained. “They’re selling more product, but their sales are down and their profits are down. What we’re seeking to do is restore higher selling value in the waterproof category by introducing products that look better and command a higher price point than current SPCs on the market. As a dealer, you’re not going to get an upgrade unless the visual is worth more. This product achieves that objective.”
Part of that strategy entails employing various finishing techniques (some of which are labor intensive) that create eye-catching visuals. These features, according to HF Design, could command higher price points at retail. “Earlier products in this category had a cloudy finish and didn’t look very good,” Garber noted. “We thermal treat our veneers for color, and we use a complex staining process that renders some beautiful styles. The visuals have to be first, and I think we hit a home run on ours.”
Retailers are not the only ones who stand to benefit. According to Garber, AquaTek could potentially be positioned as a step-up product for builders. “In high rises and multi-family, a lot of companies switched from wood to vinyl, but now they can go back and get the look of wood and performance with this product.”
Distributors who saw the product firsthand for the first time at Surfaces realize the potential. One large wholesaler in particular cited AquaTek’s aesthetic qualities, but asked not to be identified by name as his company is still in the process of reviewing contract terms with the goal of taking on the line.
“Customers want wood, but they settle for a waterproof solution because they feel they have to have it,” the distributor executive told FCNews at Surfaces. “We feel AquaTek bisects the customer’s needs and wants well, and I think this will change the market. We’re seeing a polarization of customers looking to invest in the natural, higher-quality products vs. those looking for the least expensive way to do the job. We need both, but I think this will really help us on the design end of the business.”
AquaTek is currently being manufactured in China, but the product is tariff-free due to exemptions specific to its construction. The line also meets environmental standards related to California Air Resource Board (CARB) emissions, according to HF Design. Shipments will commence in the second quarter, with national distribution targeted for mid-June.