Shoddy SPC takes its toll on the market

Home Featured Post Shoddy SPC takes its toll on the market

For many, the meteoric rise of SPC flooring—the rigid core subsegment of the resilient category—seemed unstoppable. The segment posted astronomical gains over the last several years, beating out every other flooring category in terms of growth as it nabbed share from carpet, hardwood, ceramic and laminate.

The flip side of this stellar growth, however, is the rapid entry of all manner of players in the category. And with that comes the prospect of products that don’t necessarily meet high quality, performance and/or environmental standards. “I think what’s going on here in the western United States is a lot of dealers have SPC fatigue,” explained Adrian Van Raalten, vice president of sales and marketing, Pacific Direct Industries. “They’re tired of it underperforming. So, I think a lot of dealers don’t want to take on SPC lines.”

Understanding the issue

SPC flooring in and of itself is not the problem, industry experts agree. Shoddy SPC—or cheap, commodity-driven SPC—is. What was once hailed as a “waterproof” sensation has taken a hit where it hurts—its durability—due to the influx of inferior product entering the market, particularly from West Coast ports. As those products have made their way into applications up and down the coast, their subpar quality has begun to show.

“It’s really easy for importers to set up shop right by the major ports—especially in Southern California,” explained David White, president, Tri-West Flooring, a top 20 distributor. “When the 25% tariff hit, they were all scrambling to make their products cheaper to be more competitive. The only way they could really get it affordable is to change the recipe of the core, which we’re seeing a lot of.”

Creating the perfect SPC core is easier said than done—but it’s what gives SPC its durable structure, suppliers agree. “There are only a few quality SPC factories,” said Jason Pyon, president, Durato USA. “Everybody thinks you just take limestone, mix it with PVC and you’ve got SPC. I wish it was that easy. They don’t know how to manufacture the product. They’re the ones having quality issues. And even though everybody says SPC is waterproof, it’s not if you use the wrong ingredients. We tell people in our customer base that making flooring is a science—but it’s also an art.”

Tom MacNally, general manager, American Flooring Distributor (AFD), agreed, noting the particular circumstances in the Arizona market that demand the proper core construction. “My market is unique because of the dryness and the temperature here,” he explained. “So, it took a little while to get the combination of stone and plastic to the point that it was not having an issue in our dry climate. But once they figured it out, it was a great item and it was very, very popular. Then, about three, four years ago, we started seeing an influx of thinner, less-expensive material (that’s the nice terminology) enter the market.”

For suppliers and distributors alike, it’s these thinner, lower-quality SPC products that have given all SPC a bad name—or at least left dealers with a bad taste in their mouths.

“The biggest issue is that the overall thickness of the material in my market has to be at least 5mm—that’s how low we’ll go,” MacNally explained. “There are some suppliers that go smaller and it has created problems with claims. And if the end user and even our [retail partners] have to deal with claims of a cheaper, inferior product, they think the whole category is a problem. It’s diluting the customer base. And the poor materials have affected the companies that are doing it the right way and made it that much harder to sell.”

Tri-West’s White agreed, noting the unique difficulty dealers face in trying to differentiate between quality SPC products and low-quality products. “The problem is retailers look at the price—then they install it. But most of the time you can’t tell the difference until it’s been installed and it’s in the application for a while. That’s when you start having problems. We’ve seen so many retailers get frustrated because they can’t differentiate between [high-quality SPC and low-quality SPC because it’s all in the formula]. And they’re starting to think SPC is a product they don’t want to sell anymore.”

Durato USA’s Pyon said he’s even had to answer questions about other suppliers’ problematic products. “Even though we have proven to be one of the best SPCs on the market, we have to answer questions daily about other brands that have failed for various reasons—giving a black eye to the industry. The low quality is coming from everywhere, including the USA.”

The hesitation flooring dealers are experiencing when it comes to SPC means they’ve had to turn to other products. As such, competitive flooring categories like laminate have experienced a surge. “March of 2022 was the first month our waterproof laminate out-sold SPC for us in our market,” Pacific Direct’s Van Raalten said. “And every month since then the gap is getting bigger and bigger. I think waterproof laminate is going to be the future.”

Fighting back

Savvy SPC suppliers say dealers would do well to look beyond price when choosing quality SPC products. Shown here is Durato USA’s V-Evo Max line.

While it might be difficult for flooring dealers to differentiate between a high-quality SPC and a low-quality SPC, it’s not impossible. Distributors and suppliers agree it’s all about education—and trusting reputable brands that have a long track record in their market.

“We educate the dealers and salespeople on our quality control and back it up when any issues happen,” Durato’s Pyon explained. “They need to educate themselves on what makes a SPC product better than other options, then understand the difference in the low-quality SPCs and the high-quality SPCs on the market. There are also several locking systems available and each has its strengths and weaknesses.”

Pacific Direct Industries focuses on promoting high-quality SPC. Pictured here is its South Pacific collection.

Tri-West’s White noted that dealers need to look at more than price when choosing the right SPC for their customers. “These retailers are all looking for a better deal so they can be more competitive with other retailers,” he stated. However, “they kind of dive to the bottom—and you get what you pay for. So, they’re learning a lesson. But we try to educate them to go with quality products and [quality suppliers]. We have a long track record of no issues—even with our entry-level products.”

For Pacific Direct’s Van Raalten, the keyword is education. “It’s really about training your sales reps to have their focus on educating all of the [retail] sales reps. I visit sales reps all over the country and I’ve heard the craziest stuff come out of sales reps’ mouths. I’ve heard the word ‘bulletproof’ used. I’ve heard the word ‘indestructible’ used—it makes me cringe. Using words like that is just going to come back and bite the store on the ass when they have an issue. So, yes, education is key.”

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Jan. 9/16, 2023

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