Laminate: Battling entry-level competition

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Laminate flooring
Landmark laminate flooring from Inhaus boasts striking textures, a highly durable AC5 wear layer, Aqua Protect moisture protection and pre-attached underlayment.

Since its inception in the U.S. market in the mid- 90s, laminate flooring has been positioned as a DIY-friendly product that won’t break the bank. The product’s quick-lay format—especially the glueless click systems that followed earlier iterations—became a favorite for both professional and novice floor layers alike, particularly those on a budget.

The downside is the deluge of early competitors combined with large-scale adoption by home centers and big-box stores, which resulted in a category that, unfortunately, didn’t offer a lot of margin opportunities for specialty flooring retailers. The end result was a category often positioned as a loss leader for specialty flooring retailers who could not compete, dollar for dollar, with the laminate prices the home centers and discount merchandisers were charging.

Thankfully, that trend started to change about five years ago as the category’s leaders began to invest significantly in new product development and innovation—a move that translated into innovative, high-performing products that specialty dealers could actually turn a profit on. The trend has only accelerated in the past two years and more recently as supply chain shortages of imported SPC and WPC inadvertently drove retailers (and consumers) back to laminate.

Evidence of the category’s newfound resurgence can be seen in the bevy of products laminate suppliers have rolled out this year. These innovative products, which typically consist of 10mm to 12mm step-up options, not only help suppliers further differentiate themselves from the thin, low-price products that typically grace warehouse store shelves but also give retailers options that they can proudly display on their showroom floors while making above-average profits.

Examples include RevWood Premier, which features Mohawk’s Signature Imprint technology. “With our new technology, Signature, it’s really about making the most accurate representation of real engineered hardwood,” said David Moore, senior director of product management, wood and laminate. According to Moore, the improved realism is achieved through three development phases: captured design, texture and finish. The first stage begins with sourcing a real wood visual and then scanning that sample to glean as much information as possible out of the source wood. The next step entails the application of texturing in the wear layer to match the characteristics of the wood pattern and graining in the underlying image.

Not to be outdone, suppliers like Inhaus—which is renown for its high-quality, eco-conscious mindset—took the wraps off Lamdura, its latest laminate innovation touting direct digital printing and high-tech embossing for added texture. “The reaction to Lamdura has been very good,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO of Inhaus.

The company is looking to maintain that high level of interest by giving retailers more flexibility and a greater number of options. For example, Inhaus’ opening laminate product is 7mm (plus 2mm pad), followed by an 8mm (plus 2mm attached pad.) To differentiate its designs from the “off-the-shelf” laminate offerings currently available on the market, Inhaus sources and scans real wood patterns that form the foundation for its laminate visuals.

Other mid-to-upper tier collections hitting the scene include the INCORE Eco-Engineered Composite from Eternity. INCORE comes in 12.3mm-thick, random length planks up to 6 feet and boasts proven scratch resistance. “Not only does Ecoessent offer GreenGuard Gold Certified products, the entire Ecoessent line up is FloorScore Certified, which means Ecoessent has passed strict and rigorous testing assuring that all Ecoessent products are Indoor Air Safe Certified to install in every home,” said Isaac Lee, head of corporate marketing and product development. “Ecoessent has invested in exclusivity for its authorized retailers to confidently sell at maximum profit margins.”

Another noteworthy entrant to the field comes from The Dixie Group. First the company entered the hard surface arena with a line of rigid core offerings under the TruCor brand and hardwood under the high-end Fabrica label. Now it’s throwing its hat into the suddenly resurgent laminate arena with Tymbr, 7.5 inches wide x 72 inches long, with a four-sided, painted micro bevel and EIR for authentic texture and looks. “Laminate has fought its way back,” said T.M. Nuckols, president of the residential division of TDG. “Laminate has improved and can go in places that maybe you wouldn’t have put it in a few years ago.”

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Oct. 10/17, 2022

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