March 2/9, 2020: Volume 35, Issue 18
By Reginald Tucker
The U.S. laminate flooring sector has certainly taken some vicious body shots in recent years in the battle to recoup market share from the likes of not only trending products like LVT, WPC and SPC, but also perennial favorites such as hardwood flooring. But proponents believe the sector is by no means out of the fight.
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. Job No. 1, they say, is to utilize advances in technology to put the category in the best position to win.
“Moisture-resistant and waterproof laminates will continue to lead the charge in this category,” said Dan Natkin, vice president of hardwood and laminates, Mannington. “They combine the best attributes of laminate (long-term wear performance) with the moisture resistance of vinyl.”
For Mannington, it’s not just talk. The company has invested significantly in its laminate manufacturing operations to further enhance the capabilities of its product offerings. The end result was the launch of SpillShield Plus, an update on its water-resistant laminate technology. The new-and-improved SpillShield Plus protection, according to Natkin, 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 explained. “We’ve worked on the technology to make it waterproof from the top down from everyday household use such as spills and accidents—not the waterline breaks that flood the floor.”
Industry observers agree the performance attributes of LVT and its sub-categories continue to apply pressure on all categories, including laminate. But that could be a blessing in disguise. “The result is everyone is upping their game with design and innovation,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO of Inhaus. “The industry is better for it in the long run.”
Like Natkin, Welbourn sees opportunities for laminate to recoup share. “Water-resistant products and enhanced visuals with digital printing—combined with traditional laminate product enhancements such as embossed in register designs and beveled edges—will fuel growth of the laminate segment,” Welbourn stated.
CFL Flooring, maker of the popular Atroguard waterproof laminate line, is also counting on technology to get retailers (and, by extension, consumers) excited about laminate flooring again. “Laminate flooring provides RSAs with both a performance and design story,” said Jerome Nurenberg, marketing director. “Water-resistant laminates’ main advantages from a performance standpoint are still scratch and stain resistance.”
Laminate suppliers said the application of innovative technologies will only continue to drive the category forward, despite the strides rigid core products have made in recent years. In fact, some say laminate holds the advantage over competing products in some respects. “Thicker, water-resistant products give laminate a clear total advantage over vinyl products,” said Travis Bass, executive vice president of sales and marketing, Swiss Krono USA, which supplies flooring companies on a private-label basis.
With those trends in mind, Swiss Krono said it is confident ongoing investments in its Barnwell, S.C., manufacturing facilities will pay big dividends. The company is in the process of completing its high-density fiberboard core factory in support of current and future product development. “We have aggressive growth plans for laminate flooring as the market continues to shift away from Chinese products,” Bass noted.
It’s not just enhancements to the product’s well-known durability that’s keeping the segment in the game. Advancements in the form of visuals, surface textures and designs are also turning heads.
Case in point are the new wood looks available in Mannington’s signature Restoration collection. One brand new pattern in particular is based on Mannington’s Triumph line from its real wood offering. The new look combines three species in one board—oak, maple and hickory.
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.”
The introduction of fresh looks in new formats is not only driving interest in the category; it’s also providing an opportunity to improve margins across the channel. For companies like Shaw Floors, the greatest opportunity in laminate lies in step-up products. “Sales of our better-end, moisture-resistant products—which we classify as Repel—are doing very well in the market,” said Drew Hash, vice president hard surface product and category management. He cited Shaw’s beefy 12mm products compared to the entry-level, price-sensitive 7mm-8mm laminates that are so prevalent at home centers. The company also launched extra-long, 72-inch laminate boards, a significant increase over the 48-inch, fixed-length planks that were so popular years ago.
Elements outside of the control of suppliers notwithstanding, laminate suppliers said the category will hold its own in 2020. While many are not expecting a seismic shift in the market share ratio between laminate and competing hard surface categories, they believe the segment will continue to garner attention.
“We forecast mid to high single-digit growth with RevWood, so we see ourselves definitely exceeding the market for laminate,” Mohawk’s Ward said. “We’re participating more in that market for multi-layer products—which is growing anywhere between 10% and 40%—vs. the traditional laminate market.”
Some project the category will fare even better than that. “We continue to see growth rates in the double digits as we are extremely focused on laminate and the advantages it brings to our customers,” Inhaus’ Welbourn stated. “We love the laminate sector. We continue to invest and innovate by creating product attributes that truly add value for our customers.”
For Shaw Floors, the forecast calls for low-single-digit increases by the time 2020 is said and done. “2020 may feature similar external uncertainties as 2019, which can impact consumer sentiment,” Hash stated. “However, laminate remains a viable flooring option for consumers.”