By Megan Salzano There’s no question—when it comes to the flooring industry, it’s a waterproof world. Consumers today want to know they can lay down a floor in any room of the house and not worry about spills, wet messes or even leaks and floods.
Luxury vinyl flooring has taken the lead when it comes to promoting waterproof or water-resistant features; however, categories like laminate, ceramic and even hardwood have also begun to tout waterproof attributes—all in the name of luring today’s consumer to their respective product lines.
But there are other flooring categories that have been relatively quiet on the scene, and perhaps that is because “waterproof” has been an inherent quality since its inception: cork/bamboo. “Cork is by nature waterproof,” explained Ann Wicander, president, WE Cork. “Historically used as life preservers and wine closures, its 200 million air cells are closed and act as a sealer in bottles. The same attributes act to offer a virtually waterproof flooring in a glue-down application.”
Derek Brooks, senior vice president, sales and business development North America, Torlys, noted the category’s waterproof features are often a surprise to homeowners, but each material—cork vs. bamboo—has its own waterproof story. “Bamboo flooring, being a grass, will resist moisture better than other hardwoods like oak and maple, making it a great choice for many areas of the home except highly wet areas like a bathroom,” Brooks explained. “Cork flooring, on the other hand, is naturally water and mold resistant and—depending on the overall construction of the floor—can be used in almost any area of the home. Quality cork floors with HDF cores and proper locking systems work extremely well fighting water and moisture.”
Like with all flooring products claiming to be waterproof, there is still responsibility on the part of the RSA to explain the limitations of the label when it comes to waterproof cork and bamboo flooring. “Water spills on the floor will just sit there until mopped up,” Wicander said. “However, if the water comes from the edge of the floor or underneath the floor from a leak, the HDF [core] can be compromised. The typical consumer is not going to know this, and the retailer should be sure to point out these and its other inherent features.”
Selling a unique story
With its own waterproof claim to fame, how does waterproof cork and bamboo flooring standout from the crowd? And how can flooring retailers position this category for success among a bevy of competitors? First—and seemingly simple enough—suppliers say it’s important for flooring dealers to carry cork/bamboo options in store. “By simply having cork flooring in your showroom and educating your salesforce to show cork as one of the best flooring options, it will provide a great opportunity for dealers,” said Vern Verkley, president, Opus Floors. “What’s clear now is that cork is rapidly increasing market share as more and more people become aware of cork’s unique and superior features and benefits. Cork flooring, in our view, is the ultimate flooring choice. It is a 100% natural product that is inherently water resistant while also contributing to the user’s health and wellness.”
Suppliers also agree—in addition to the waterproof story—it’s all about touting its sustainability. “There are certain features unique to these natural products that help to attract a customer who may otherwise opt for a traditional hardwood,” explained Doug Jackson, president, CALI. “Both cork and bamboo are far more sustainable than timber and can be harvested without any damage to the plant or habitat. That benefit speaks to many consumers who are nowadays wanting to shop and design more responsibly. Cork is also hypoallergenic, a natural sound insulator for quieter rooms and provides cushioning, which makes it more comfortable underfoot.”
There are also hybrid products coming onto the scene that are designed to tap the opportunity of both bamboo and vinyl flooring products, which offers retailers another unique selling story. “I do believe consumers are becoming increasingly aware that waterproof hardwood and bamboo flooring options are available and, with that, rigid core hybrid options will continue to take market share from traditional solid and engineered flooring,” said Steve Wagner, director of marketing, Wellmade.
When it comes to presentation in a retail showroom, suppliers generally agree the hardwood section is the way to go. “We recommend that it is displayed in the wood section,” WE Cork’s Wicander said. “The price point is also in line with natural products. If the customer is looking for flooring that is insulative and they also have concerns for moisture in the basement, [cork] flooring would be the best choice. If the customer is looking for a comfortable flooring that will be more forgiving on their knees and hips while cooking in the kitchen, [cork] flooring will be the best choice.”
Others say the category’s uniqueness should be reflected in its in-store positioning. “Cork and bamboo should have their own unique place in the showroom to highlight for shoppers that this is something special and different,” CALI’s Jackson said. “Both bamboo and cork add a uniquely sustainable product grouping that adds some refreshing variety in a sea of sameness. I would encourage a retailer to have a sustainable resources section where you offer something customers may not see elsewhere.”
Opus’ Verkley agreed, noting that cork should have its own area on the showroom floor to best highlight its unique qualities. “It should be shown as an alternative to vinyl, laminate, ceramic and wood,” he said. “I would put it in the center of the showroom as a main attraction. I would also train my salespeople to show it as an alternative every time. If it’s shown properly, you will get a certain percentage of your sales in cork, and you will be ahead of the curve as most of your competitors are still going to be a little slower to take it on.”