By Reginald Tucker
As retailers revamp their showrooms and put more emphasis on trendy resilient flooring products such as WPC, SPC and the like, they’re dedicating less space to laminate. That’s not a secret. However, what dealers might not be aware of are the opportunities still available with laminates even though they occupy a much smaller footprint on the average retailer’s showroom floor today vs. 15 or 20 years ago.
Success in promoting the category, experts say, lies in both the strategic positioning of the product on the showroom floor as well as how the category is framed for today’s consumer.
“Our advice for retailers who may have gotten out of laminate over the years is it’s a different product than perhaps what they had five or 10 years ago,” said Adam Ward, senior product director, wood and laminate, Mohawk. “RSAs need to help them understand how much has changed in terms of the improved visuals in addition to the water resistance and scratch resistance. A lot of it is about continuing that education and driving that point home.”
Competing through strategic merchandising
Of course, that might be easier said than done in the face of fierce competition from the likes of LVT. Or, it could present an opportunity to position laminate displays in unconventional ways to draw attention. Mohawk’s Ward, for example, advised retailers to place its RevWood Plus and RevWood Select lines not in the usual laminate section of the showroom floor but rather in close proximity to other waterproof products.
“What we’re seeing in many retail showrooms today is more of a focus around multi-layered or waterproof products,” Ward explained. “These line up well with what’s going on in rigid LVT and with waterproof products like RevWood. Customers looking for waterproof products are looking for a particular set of benefits—great style and design, a waterproof product, a great warranty at an attractive price, and RevWood and RevWood Select offers all those attributes.”
But don’t just take Mohawk’s word on it. Retailers who sell RevWood attest to its performance attributes. Elisabeth Stubbs, owner of Marietta, Ga.- based Enhanced Floors and More, recalled the time she first took on the line last year. She said she received positive feedback from customers after just one month of carrying the product. To boost margins, she prices it installed, taking into account the waterproof installation system that includes applying caulking around the perimeter.
Indeed, the growing array of moisture-resistant and waterproof laminates is proof the product can hold its own against WPC and the like. “Today’s laminates combine the best attributes of laminate—long-term wear performance—with the moisture resistance of vinyl,” said Dan Natkin, vice president of hardwood and laminates, Mannington. Its new-and-improved SpillShield Plus innovation is a case in point. “We’ve enhanced the product by treating the bevels and the locking joints along with some other proprietary treatments. We’ve worked on the technology to make it waterproof from the top down from everyday household use such as spills and accidents.”
When RSAs present laminate as a potential option to consumers, they may cite innovations utilized in some of the products manufactured today that contribute to its ability to resist moisture incursion. “That’s much thicker and sturdier than a lot of the rigid core products out there in the market today, which are typically 4mm or 5mm thick,” Natkin said. “With today’s laminates, consumers are getting more than double the thickness of the product, which is great for wall bases when customers are doing a remodel. That means the surfaces are going to ‘marry up’ closer when installed. Plus, they are more durable than rigid from a scratch-resistance standpoint— three or four times better.”
New construction and design uplift the category
Other major suppliers are touting thicker products to entice retailers to give laminates another look. Drew Hash, vice president hard surface product and category management at Shaw Floors, cited the company’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.
“With laminates today, the depth of the embossing is much better, and the visuals are much stronger than they were in the past,” Hash added. “When you take into account the apparent value of the products along with the visuals and the water-resistance story tacked on—it’s still a great value for the product.”
Advancements in visuals, surface textures and designs are also playing to laminates’ favor, particularly digital printing capabilities. 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. How it works: The company digitally scans real wood planks in such a manner that not only renders a more realistic hardwood visual but also results in fewer repeats from box to box.
Dealers and distributors who saw the product firsthand said they were blown away. “Visuals in Mannington’s new laminate collection were so realistic we thought it was real wood,” said Jason O’Krent, director of sales, O’Krent Floors, San Antonio, Texas.
More bank for the buck
Despite the onslaught of competition laminate faces, proponents say the category still has many advantages over other product segments. One of which is its accessibility to a wide range of consumers from a budget perspective. While many home centers and discount merchants aggressively advertise laminate at $0.99 to $1.29 per square foot, suppliers of products that sell for somewhere between $3.99 and $4.99 per square foot point to higher margin opportunities for specialty retailers.
“Laminate continues to enhance its core value proposition, which is a great looking floor that won’t let you down on performance at a leading price point,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO of Inhaus. “The combination of leading design, wear performance and cost is a value proposition for laminate that is very powerful. That value will continue to be appreciated over the long term, and that’s why we are still passionate about our laminate offerings.”