The following is the fifth edition of The Real Wood Coalition editorial coverage, which can be seen in full in the April 12/19 print edition of FCNews.
These features include a collection of educational insights, new and staple hardwood products and a spotlight featuring one of the Coalition’s members. A new edition of RWC coverage will also be available in every print issue of FCNews throughout the year.
DID YOU KNOW
Keeping your finger on the pulse of design trends increases the odds of sealing the deal
The more you—as an RSA—are perceived as an expert in hardwood flooring design trends, the more likely you will be successful in parlaying that expertise into sales, conventional wisdom states. Providing consumers with on-trend designs in color, tone and texture is more vital to success—even more so than price.
First and foremost, it’s important to recognize the major trends driving interior design decisions. In hardwood, for instance, white oak continues to lead the pack in terms of the most popular species. However, in terms of design, color and finish, the industry is beginning to see a transition away from high variation in stain color to a subtler, monotone color palette. Darker and vibrant gray tones are now giving way to more natural muted taupe and tan stain colors with more refined characteristics, including fewer knots and fewer mineral streaks.
“On the whole, hardwood visuals are trending back toward an understated neutral backdrop and are less dramatic and rustic than evident in recent years,” said Brett Miller, vice president of training and certification for the National Wood Flooring Association. “Heavy, hand-scraped finishes are continuing to lose ground to softer wire-brushed visuals. Lightly wire-brushed textures are replacing deep hand-scraped looks for a trend that focuses on subtle texture and character.”
Another strong and enduring trend, experts observe, is the move toward lower-gloss, more natural finishes. A far cry from the days of high-sheen finishes (which actually did very little to hide scuffs and scrapes), today’s matte and satin finishes give the look of an oil-rubbed floor but with the ease of maintenance inherent to a prefinished floor.
With respect to color, the consumer’s affinity for European white oak shows no sign of abating. Experts foresee this trend continuing for the foreseeable future with lighter, natural blonde wood looks continuing in popularity. Mix the lighter natural wood tones with another trend—long, wide planks—for a room that instantly feels larger and brighter.
Regardless of the changing trends, proponents say hardwood flooring will always be in style and in demand, adding beauty and value to any home.
More than one way to tout wood
There are numerous methods available to retailers to boost sales of step-up products like hardwood in their stores. One of the most effective and straightforward ways, experts say, entails emphasizing the benefits of genuine hardwood flooring over look-alike products.
For Steve Weisberg, owner of Crest Flooring, Allentown, Pa., the trick lies in focusing on simplicity. “My best practice for selling hardwood came after I saw how confusing it was for customers to look at wood presented in the typical five or even up to seven different manufacturer displays,” he explained.
To remedy that situation, Weisberg created a lineup of hardwood separated into four categories called the Visual Reality Center. “In essence, we eliminated six different displays, which made the selection process so much easier for a consumer,” he explained.
Emphasizing hardwood’s inherent benefits over competing categories can also be useful in helping the customer narrow her selection. This is particularly effective if the consumer walked into the store predisposed on an altogether different product than wood. This scenario, experts say, presents the salesperson with a valuable opportunity to trade that customer up to real wood just by asking some basic questions to determine the type of floor she “needs” vs. what she saw online or on her favorite home improvement show.
Perhaps she has children or pets in her home that can scratch up the floors easily. That’s why dealers like Mary Anne, manager of Tonda Sales, Rocklin, Calif., emphasizes the benefits of aluminum-oxide finishes with her customers, pointing out its effectiveness in reducing scratches.
If a customer expresses interest in sustainability, then it’s essential to indicate that “hardwood is more eco-friendly and renewable than [other alternatives],” said Sam Locher, vice president, business development and marketing, A.J. Rose Carpets & Flooring, Natick, Mass. Other dealers like Matt Wien, director of sales of Marshall Carpet One, Mayfield Heights, Ohio, concurred, citing hardwood’s reputation as one of the most aspirational products out there. “Hardwood has been around for over 100 years; we don’t know how long other [look-alike] products will last,” he said.
TRIED AND TRUE
Atmosphere from Mercier
Products in the Atmosphere collection feature light, trendy tones such as neutral beige, taupe and gray. Offerings boast an enhanced color process that lets the true texture and grain of the natural wood shine through. The collection is available in red oak, white oak, maple and hickory on both engineered and solid platforms, with width options ranging from 3 1⁄4 inches all the way up to 8 1⁄8 inches. In addition, a dramatic herringbone pattern is available for a more customized installation.
NEW AND NOTABLE
Somerset’s Handcrafted collection
The Handcrafted collection features hand-applied texture for a modern rustic look that’s so popular with customers today. The line comprises three species (oak, maple and hickory) and comes in either random widths or ultra-wide 6- or 7-inch planks.
AHF Products pulls out all the stops
Large enough to maximize the production capabilities befitting a leader in the U.S. hardwood flooring arena, but nimble enough to make timely adjustments in manufacturing and sourcing to address shifting demand both domestically and abroad.
That sums up AHF Products’ current approach to the market as it tweaks its production strategy amid evolving consumer tastes, tariffs on imports from China and challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. Not too long after Brian Carson, president and CEO of AHF Products, took the helm at the company following its spin-off from Armstrong Flooring, the company went into rapid investment and expansion mode. One of the first moves AHF Products made was the 2019 acquisition of LM Flooring, a highly regarded hardwood flooring manufacturer based in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. The primary purpose was to expand its repertoire to include sliced- and sawn-face product offerings.
But the move also resulted in additional benefits. With the pickup of LM Flooring, AHF Products gained world-class manufacturing capability via two plants—one in Cambodia; the other in China—along with world-class styling, product knowledge and expertise. Since that time, the Shanghai plant has closed and its resources were allocated to the Cambodian facility. Today, the Sihanoukville facility produces about 30 million feet a year, up from roughly 8 million feet two years ago.