Future holds promise for Armstrong brand

Home Featured Company Future holds promise for Armstrong brand

armstrongThis time last year, the status of Armstrong Flooring (the company) was very much in question. Back then the company was wrestling with plummeting stock prices and skyrocketing operating and materials costs on top of crushing supply chain disruptions and cash-flow constraints. Rumors of plant closures and layoffs swirled. By late spring of 2022, Armstrong Flooring filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Fast forward to today, some nine months later, the situation looks vastly different and markedly improved—thanks in large measure to a new parent company in the form of AHF Products. AHF, the industry’s largest hardwood flooring supplier by volume—swooped in last summer and snatched up key assets of Armstrong Flooring in a deal valued at $107 million. This included three U.S. manufacturing facilities in Lancaster and Beech Creek, Pa., and Kankakee, Ill. More importantly, AHF was awarded the rights to license the century-plus-old Armstrong Flooring brand name.

In an ironic twist, the company that ultimately emerged to buy the U.S. operations of Armstrong Flooring was once a division of Armstrong Flooring. (Armstrong sold off AHF, in essence its entire wood flooring division, in 2018.) Now, it’s AHF Products that’s looking to pick up the pieces and right the ship with respect to the Armstrong Flooring brand.

“We bought the [Armstrong Flooring] business at the end of July 2022, and in August we began standing the business up,” Brian Carson, president and CEO, AHF Products, told FCNews. “We went to work right away, investing in and shoring up the plants.”

AHF Products’ distributor partners who have had a previous affiliation with the Armstrong Flooring brand are taking notice. Case in point is Mansfield, Mass.-based Belknap-Haines, the industry’s top-ranked distributor, which last year reached an agreement with AHF to extend its coverage of Armstrong Flooring-branded resilient products in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. “We are excited that AHF has made the investment to support and grow the Armstrong Flooring brand,” Paul Castagliuolo, Belknap-Haines president, told FCNews.

Other wholesalers are equally optimistic about Armstrong Flooring’s prospects under AHF. “The transition with the Armstrong brand really has been the best-case scenario,” said Aaron Rhoderick, vice president of sales at Santa Fe Springs, Calif.-based Tri-West, another top 20 wholesaler. “To have the legacy of Armstrong Flooring continue with the leadership and strength of AHF Products has positioned them to be a force in the industry.”

Focus on product, R&D

Since its launch as a standalone company, AHF Products has invested heavily in research, development and new product innovation on the hardwood, laminate and resilient side of the business—either through significant capital improvements at its 10-plus manufacturing facilities or via strategic acquisitions. With the added financial backing of its parent company, Paceline Equity Partners, the company said it expects to do the same with the venerable Armstrong Flooring brand.

In fact, by the time Armstrong’s bankruptcy filing was announced, according to Carson, the company was already busy at work behind the scenes on innovative new product offerings. That focus and emphasis on product innovation continues apace under the ownership and management of AHF Products. Not only will longtime distributors and retailers see the continuation of popular product and technology offerings associated with the Armstrong Flooring brand (i.e., Diamond 10 and Medintech/Medintone, to name a few), but customers can also expect to see altogether new products and innovations in the weeks and months to come.

Following is an overview of some of the new products that will be on display at the AHF Products Surfaces booth in a space dedicated to Armstrong Flooring:

American Charm

The spotlight will be on two new glue-down LVT products, American Charm 6 and American Charm 12. Featuring a 6-mil wear layer and a 12-mil wear layer, respectively, these products come with Armstrong Flooring’s signature Diamond 10 Technology for durability. What’s more, both products are produced stateside at AHF’s Lancaster, Pa., facility and are geared toward the ever-important multi-family/light commercial sectors.

“American Charm 6 is going to be a big, big, big product for us,” Carson predicted. “It’s a meat-and-potatoes product, but there’s a lot of meat and potatoes eaten in the United States. It’s a tremendous value and puts us right on the 50-yard line of the Super Bowl with residential multi-family. And because it’s being made right here in Lancaster, dealers and distributors will enjoy shorter lead times along with tremendously competitive price points.”

Armstrong Lutea SPC

When AHF Products acquired the Armstrong Flooring brand, it did not come with an SPC offering—a category that has been leading the charge in resilient. AHF sought to remedy that with the introduction of a line called Lutea—a rigid core offering targeting the midrange of the market. Produced in partnership with AHF Products’ manufacturing partner in Cambodia, the eye-catching, 20-SKU lineup comes in two formats: 7 x 60-inch planks (Oasis) and a beefier 9 x 60-inch version (Sanctuary).

“It’s a gorgeous, absolutely stunning line,” Carson stated. “It’s not a value SPC and it’s not a high-end line—although it’s highly styled. Retailers will also like the upscale display system.”

StrataMax Pro

Rounding out the new slate of products in Armstrong Flooring’s residential portfolio is StrataMax Pro, an innovative sheet vinyl option and a step-up to the original StrataMax. The line features a “bounce-back” core mounted to a solid polymer base. It also features Diamond 10 Technology. However, unlike sheet vinyl products, once manufactured in the Armstrong Flooring’s now-shuttered Stillwater, Okla., facility, StrataMax Pro will be manufactured in Lancaster. A StrataMax Pro plank option will also be added to the portfolio.

“StrataMax was a wonderful brand from Armstrong,” Carson said. “That product was produced in Stillwater for many years and was known as having the best tear resistance and impact/dent resistance in the industry. More importantly, it’s a brand that the industry knows. We took the know-how and adapted it to the Lancaster plant and actually made a great floor even better.”

As an added incentive, some offerings in the StrataMax and Charm lines will be available on a 10-day, quick-ship program.

On the right track

Distributors say they like what they’re seeing in the new Armstrong Flooring-branded offerings. “It’s amazing that in just a few years AHF went from a ‘wood-only’ manufacturer to a full-line hard surface provider that sells LVT/SPC, laminate and sheet goods as well,” Belknap-Haines’ Castagliuolo stated. “Brian Carson and his team have done a fantastic job growing and transforming AHF, and the most recent addition of the Armstrong Flooring-branded products really solidifies their portfolio.”

Tri-West’s Rhoderick concurred. “[AHF’s] Armstrong is already innovating with new technologies and products to make an immediate impact on the market. Bringing out Stratamax Pro so quickly—with its improved wear surface and enhanced indentation properties to enhance the industry’s best rip, tear and gouge resistance—is going to help improve share in the multi-family and retail segments. Their new SPC offering, with strong pricing and visuals, is going to complement their expanding lineup of residential products to help drive business.”

But perhaps the best news for distributors and retailers who plan on carrying these new lines is they won’t have to compete with the big boxes. Rather, according to Carson, other collections will be offered to those channels. “We try to keep the products themselves as segmented as much as we can,” he explained. “These products that we’re launching at Surfaces are not really tailored for mass retail. These are for the flooring contractors, builders and specialty retailers.”

The opportunities don’t end there. Carson said commercial clients will be able to continue specifying popular Armstrong Flooring brands for key segments such as healthcare, education and hospitality. “I know that Surfaces is more of a residential show, but we’ll have some commercial products there as well—that’s a big part of the Armstrong Flooring business.”

For Carson and AHF Products, it’s all about putting the Armstrong Flooring brand in the best possible position to succeed. “I’ve been in and around Armstrong for 30 years, and I’ve never seen as much energy in these factories as I’m seeing today,” he said. “We’ve got some incredible talent throughout the entire organization. I think Armstrong Flooring’s best days are ahead of it—not behind it.”

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Jan. 23/30, 2023

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