It might not be a household name in terms of consumer brand recognition, but in the realm of PVC-free, private-label manufacturing of hard surface floor coverings, Classen is certainly top of mind in the eyes of flooring suppliers, distributors, specialty retailers and, yes, even the big boxes that source its array of top-quality, environmentally conscious products.
Why the private-label route? For Classen, the primary objective is not necessarily about creating and promoting a standalone brand to compete with the scores of other hard surface flooring labels on the market. Rather, the world-class supplier is seeking to further build on its current client base of both established and emerging flooring brands by leveraging its broad array of sophisticated technologies and specialties.
“We want to increase our overall private-label program,” said Moritz Menier, Classen’s newly appointed vice president of business development for North America. At present, the majority of Classen’s products are shipped to the U.S., especially the laminate products, but it also services many European countries as well. “We are very interested in selling to potential clients who currently produce LVT or vinyl products,” he added. “We would be happy to help them out with our PVC-free products on a private-label basis.”
Classen said it is best positioned to achieve this objective through its impressive suite of value-added services and manufacturing/finishing technologies.
Following is an overview of some of those standout capabilities:
Classen currently operates a pair of high-tech, state-of-the-art flooring manufacturing facilities in Germany. This includes the Kaisersesch plant, a sprawling 860,000-square-foot-plus factory located in the western part of Germany—not too far from Cologne. The plant is dedicated to the design and production of vinyl wall and floor coverings in both click and glue-down formats. It is at this site where the company makes all their Ceramin products, like the Sono line from Inhaus. All floors based on the environmentally friendly Ceramin technology that utilizes recycled, non-PVC plastic in its core. As a raw material, Ceramin is absolutely free of PVC and any plasticisers, has very low emissions and is completely recyclable – at the same time very resistant, waterproof and dimensionally stable. More than two thirds of the polymer share consists of already recycled material.
Total annual production capacity out of this facility exceeds 161 million square feet.
Over in Baruth, in the eastern part of Germany, Classen produces high-quality, waterproof laminate flooring products in a 100% vertically integrated facility. The operation includes a production plant dedicated to the manufacture of both MDF and HDF—the core layer of laminate flooring’s structure. The facility, which also boasts state-of-the-art industrial digital printing capabilities, churns out another wildly popular line from Inhaus: Lamdura. The product also features Classen’s proprietary Megaloc locking system, providing protection from water damage up to 48 hours.
Annual capacity of this facility approaches 850,000 square feet.
Menier, who comes to Classen from one of the largest laminate melamine suppliers, attested to the capabilities of the plant. “I’ve seen virtually all the major global laminate flooring factories, but I must say our Berlin facility is the most impressive. Everything is fully automated, and it’s the largest single production facility in the world.”
Beyond the flooring plants, Classen also operates a factory in Poland that specializes in kitchen cabinets, interior doors and other related building materials. Nearly 1 million interior doors are produced here annually, the company stated.
Flexible production programs
Realizing that clients have different needs in terms of their own limitations and/or areas of focus, Classen seeks to make it easier for potential customers to facilitate a private-label program by offering flexible options. For example, a flooring manufacturer might have their own, proprietary digital printing capabilities but not the essential internal infrastructure to produce their own boards. Classen has it covered. As Celine Quervel, Classen’s director of marketing, explained: “If necessary we can just sell our plate or Ceramin boards without any décors or designs on it, and then the customer can put their own décor on it, profile it and then send it as their own product. We’re already doing that it Europe, and we can also offer that service to manufacturers in the U.S.”
But what if the client produces their own coreboards but doesn’t have the expertise or capability apply a design or wear layer to the product? No problem; Classen can handle that as well. “We are happy to finish the product in our production facilities and send it back to the client using their packaging,” Quervel explained.
Eco-conscious practices & philosophy
Beyond its proven manufacturing prowess, Classen also places a big emphasis on environmentally friendly materials and methods. This applies to both its sourcing strategies as well as its green manufacturing practices that are evident throughout all facets of the company’s operating. For example, its rigid core products are designed using polypropylene, not PVC. As a case in point, boards featuring its signature Ceramin technology are made using recycled plastic gleaned from things like yogurt cups. Classen takes it a step further by sorting out the polypropylene in its own facility, cleaning it thoroughly and then processing it for use in its rigid core products.
“At Classen we focus on upcycling—taking something that was once discarded and using it to produce a product with a higher quality or value than what it was before,” Menier explained. “We want to give the market and the consumer the choice to select something that’s produced responsibly, healthy and environmentally friendly vs PVC-based products where you don’t know the conditions under which it’s made. For us the story with Ceramin is it’s 100% PVC-free from the top layer to the bottom layer; the board and the foil is polypropylene. More importantly, you can return the product to our facility and we can make a new floor out of it.”
Classen’s dedication to environmental awareness and practices is in line with the global movement toward more eco-friendly manufacturing practices. “When you look at New York and California, for example, there are government regulations that do not allow PVC or vinyl into government buildings,” Menier stated. “We can offer products that can be installed in all of these areas.”
The same environmental awareness applies to residential settings as well. “Our products are not only environmentally friendly, but they are friendly to the health of homeowners, too,” Quervel stated. “Many vinyl products have plasticizers in them, and these plasticizers don’t stay in the product; they leech out of the product and into your body. Our products do not contain PVC and, therefore, don’t have any of those issues.”
Customized design capabilities
Classen leverages its strengths as a vertically integrated flooring supplier, offering its manufacturer supply partners everything from the core of the product to the digitally printed design layer. This capability is especially useful for potential clients who want to take advantage of Classen’s specialized manufacturing expertise but may desire unique, one-of-a-kind visuals to set themselves apart from the sea of similar looks and designs on the market. To that end, Classen employs a team of skilled, in-house designers that work closely with their private-label partners to ensure the decors are just right.
“We have 10 designers working in our factory in Kaisersesch, and they create any designs for our customers with a good lead time,” Quervel explained. “They can come to us and say they want this or that, and we can create custom looks using our digital printing.”
These digital printing techniques not only render unique visuals in a timely manner, but also some of the most realistic designs available today—particularly the wood looks. “We have a big advantage in this area because we can offer up to 24 individual planks per décor,” Quervel explained. “By comparison, many vinyl products that don’t use digital printing in their production only offer five to seven individual planks. With our capabilities, there really are no limits.”
Classen is constantly seeking to raise the bar in terms of digitally printed designs, taking digitally printed embossed-in-register laminate products to a whole new level. “With the technology that we use in our factory, we can press really deep structures in our designs—up to 300 microns,” Quervel noted.
High profit margin opportunities
All these technologies are more than merely bells and whistles. At the end of the day, they translate into products that sell for a premium—thereby giving the retailer greater profit margin opportunities. “With laminates, I would say the profit margin opportunity is 20-30% compared to standard laminates,” Menier noted. “On our Ceramin products, it’s even higher, probably around 30-50%.”
All this is welcomed news to the North American flooring market, a key segment for Classen and one that is constantly seeking new, reliable alternatives. That’s why the company is investing heavily in distribution systems to better service customers in the U.S. “We see the opportunities growing for our products—especially Ceramin—in North America,” Menier stated. “Retailers and consumers are becoming more aware of the dangers of PVC, especially concerning UFLPA. We’re hearing every vinyl import is being stopped at the ports until they can prove it’s not forced labor—which has the potential to push more people to our product. It’s the right time now to market our product and educate the consumer as to what is truly environmentally friendly.”