NWFA Convention 2012 - May 2012

By Darius Helm and Kemp Harr

 

This year’s National Wood Flooring Association Convention, held in Orlando from April 10 to 13, felt more dynamic and full of energy than it has in several years. And the numbers back it up; attendance was up 30% from last year’s show in San Diego. The NWFA added 100 booths this year, for a total of 418, and still it was sold out.

The NWFA rebuilt the show from the ground up this year. In 2011, the association completely restructured its staff, eliminating seven positions, including convention manager, and assigning new people to the task of the show. A committee of 20 volunteered their time to pore over the education and general sessions to bring the most value. One change much appreciated by the industry was that the parties were free to everyone at the show.

This show alternates back and forth between the eastern and western states and attendance is always stronger when it’s held in the East, so it’s no great surprise that numbers were stronger this year. But attendance was also slightly up from 2010, when the show was held in Washington, D.C. Next year’s show will be held in Dallas at the Gaylord Texan.

There was definitely more activity in the aisles and more enthusiasm in the booths, and there was a wide range of products, covering all the big trends, like wide planks, distressed looks, handscraped boards and barnwood effects. Colors were all over the place. There were plenty of fashion-forward greys, warm and cool, along with other neutrals, as well as light and natural tones and deeper, warmer hues. There were even some warm reddened browns, which was a surprise. Low gloss and matte finishes were prevalent. 

One of the most interesting trends relates to elevating the wood grain. It’s been most prominent in the wirebrushing of oaks, but now we’re starting to see more species being used with more techniques, including cerusing, which opens up the grain so that when the stain or pigment is sanded off, it remains in the opened grain (see Mercier’s Cape Cod hickory on the next page).

American species abounded at the show, including a wide variety of hickory and walnut, but despite a trend away from exotics, there were also plenty of those at the show—though not much through the U.S. mills.

SHOW HIGHLIGHTS
Armstrong, the marketshare leader in the hardwood category, was back at the show for the first time since 2006. Through this recession, Armstrong worked hard to cut cost out of its operation by consolidating plants and streaming its production. About two thirds of the hardwood that Armstrong sells is solid construction; the vast majority of the firm’s engineered production is in the U.S., though the firm also brings in some product from its facility in China. New this year for Armstrong is Performance Plus, a 30 SKU, 3/8” thick engineered collection produced at the firm’s Somerset, Kentucky factory.

Mannington, which did not exhibit at last year’s show, displayed one of its most popular products from the Inverness line, Black Isle Hickory, a distressed plank with wormhole effects and nail marks that features subtle scraping. A print layer of vertical streaking conveys a broad-brush effect that heightens the antiqued look. The firm recently added a more low-key version in birch.

The consolidation down to two brands at Anderson seems to have been a smart move, since it helped simplify the sales process and eliminate the clutter and confusion that existed with some of the overlap in the brands. Most of the interest at the show was focused on the soft-scraped products that fall between the products with chatter marks and products with little, if any, character marks. Many of the more popular styles had darker, richer coloring. The company has worked through its Canadian import issue by modifying the distressing process that it uses for products bound for Canada.

The Canadian firms were well represented at this year’s show. Mirage was on hand to with its new rift and quarter sawn white oak with a compelling linear grain. Also new is a three-color collection of stained walnut, and the firm introduced hickory to its species lineup. 

Preverco showcased its Wave Texture line, one of the more noteworthy recent introductions to the wood market. The single-tone handscraped product is attractive, but it’s the two-tone version (at higher price points) that captures the eye, because Wave Texture’s distinctive level sanding of the higher parts of the profile reveals the second tone.

Mercier, a third Quebec-based firm, had on display Cape Cod, a new addition to the Hickory Collection and easily one of the most memorable products at the show. The subtle weathering and hints of old paint on the sawn face veneer contrast well with the range of color both within and between the boards.

Somerset has successfully shifted the source for its engineered hardwood products from Asia to its new ultra-modern plant in Crossville, Tennessee. It now offers 221 SKUs in both solid and engineered construction with hickory being one of its best selling species. Its finishes range from glossy to the satin oiled look, and it offers both pristine finished and character/scraped products.

Maxwell, an unfinished hardwood specialist focused on red and white oak, has always dealt in solid hardwood, but the firm has now come out with an engineered line made at its Arkansas plank mill in hickory, red and white oak, walnut and maple, with cherry to come.

W.F. Taylor, a leading adhesive company with manufacturing facilities in Los Angeles and Dalton, focused much of its attention at this year’s expo talking about its MS-Plus moisture barrier adhesive, which is isocyanate free and, therefore, off the radar when it comes to the latest EPA action plans for polyurethane adhesives.  At the show, Taylor management said that business conditions have been improving, especially with commercial sector products.

XL Brands has been busy consolidating its three existing facilities into one new 120,000 square foot facility in Dalton, complete with a new R&D operation. Most of the talk at the show centered on XL’s Dyna-Stix WDU urethane wood flooring adhesive, which eliminates the need for moisture testing when used in conjunction with engineered wood flooring in any on-grade or above-grade installation. 

MP Global was at the show with VersaWalk, its underlayment for hardwood and laminates. It deadens sound, smoothes out small subfloor imperfections, and features a plastic vapor barrier thick enough to be glued and designed to self-seal for staple applications.

Healthier Choice, which is best known for its underlayments, is now offering solid hardwood, sourced through partners in China. Species include maple, acacia, Pacific mahogany (taun) and a strandwoven bamboo. The 12-color line of mostly warm hues is stocked in Dalton.

Mullican is bringing engineered flooring inhouse with its new facility in Johnson City, Tennessee—it should be going at full tilt in a couple of months. It’s already producing some 3/8” products from the mill in its new Hillshire line—seven oaks and three hickories—with 1/2” products to come later this year. 

Harris Wood, traditionally a prefinished manufacturer, showcased a line of unfinished engineered flooring at this year’s show. The line, which mostly targets contractors and builders, comes in red oak, maple, hickory, cherry and walnut.

Oshkosh Designs, known for its medallions, borders and parquets, had on display its Wildlife collection of four stunning medallions. The wildlife scenes—Soaring Eagle, Bear and Salmon, Wood Duck, and Pheasant—is made of solid hardwood species of largely natural colors. Some of the colors, like blue, are color impregnated. On the floor were multi-species finger blocks in a 24”x24” format.

Los Angeles based Urban Floor has broadened its distributor base to cover most of the U.S. The company has 55 SKUs, all of which are engineered products sourced from China. Urban Floor’s newest offering is a long-strip European oak product that is 91/2” wide and has a 4 mil veneer wearlayer. Later this year, the company plans to expand its product line to include solid hardwood products. 

Elegance, a Chinese producer with U.S. headquarters and warehouses totaling one million square feet in California, recently added a new distribution center and 250,000 square foot warehouse in Greensboro, North Carolina. The firm sells affordably priced exotics in both solid and engineered sawn cut constructions. New is the Designer Exotic Collection, all made from big-leaf acacia.

Another exotic specialist is Triangulo, a Brazil based firm. All the species come from the firm’s private forests. Most of the firm’s products are engineered. Triangulo unveiled a new oil finish on seven species: ipe, tigerwood, amendoim, Brazilian pecan, jatoba, succupira and Brazilian ash.

Johnson Hardwood, headquartered in California, does its manufacturing largely in China through co-owned mills and partners, and is best know for its exotics, though it also offers domestics. New this year is hevea, which has a good green story. The wood is grown for its rubber in plantations in Indonesia, and after trees stop producing rubber (ten to 12 years), they’re harvested for flooring. 

Copyright 2012 Floor Focus



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