World Flooring: Domotex 2011 - March 2011
By Kemp Harr
There is no disputing that the Domotex show held in Germany every January is the world’s largest trade show for the flooring industry. Featuring every flooring surface except ceramic tile, this show crosses all market sectors, residential and commercial, and includes product from around the world. Those who attend are a broad mix of retailers, distributors/importers, designers, installers and manufacturers.
Many believe that the Internet has made the world smaller, but you can’t really tell much about a particular flooring product by looking at a picture on a computer screen. And it’s hard to negotiate pricing, terms and logistics via email. Getting to the show is certainly a commitment both monetarily and time wise, but, as Prince of Tides author Pat Conroy says, “Once you’ve traveled, the voyage never ends.”
So, is what happens in Germany in January at the annual Domotex trade show relevant to your business here in the States? Good question! Let’s review the facts for a minute. Germany is a country of about 80 million people, roughly a quarter the size of the U.S. from a population perspective. In addition, if you look at the type of flooring sold in Germany, it is somewhat different from what you find in the States. The face weight of their carpet, for example, is lightweight compared to our standards and much of it is backed with a thick nonwoven backing.
And from a color perspective, the Germans are a little bolder with their oranges, purples and lime greens than we are. While carpet is still the share leader in the U.S., laminate is the share leader in Germany. Sheet vinyl is very similar to what you see in the U.S., but you don’t see as much LVT. And solid hardwood is almost nonexistent. What they do sell in the hardwood category is called parquet, and it is almost all engineered and mostly thinner than what you find here in the U.S. Culturally, Germany as a society seems more focused on order and function than design and fashion.
It is important to remember, however, that only 40% of the attendees at this show are from Germany. The other 60% (or 24,000 of the attendees based on the show’s annual attendance of 40,000) come from 86 different countries. What is unique about Domotex is that it is truly a global show. Not only do several major U.S. manufactures attend, but there are 1,350 exhibitors from a total of 70 countries represented. So, depending on what your role is in the flooring industry, this may not be a show you need to attend every year, but you do need to check it out from time to time.
Under the assumption that you will take my advice and make the trip, let me set your mind at ease about a couple of concerns you might have. First, English is spoken as a second language by almost everyone at the show, so communication is not an issue. Secondly, there is a free train that runs from downtown Hannover every ten minutes to the fair grounds, so getting around isn’t an issue either. There are hotels around the fairground complex, but it’s a more cultural experience to stay downtown and take the train to the show each day.
U.S. companies that exhibit at Domotex range from equipment and component suppliers to finished flooring producers. Probably the best known companies are Beaulieu of America, Shaw Contract, Mannington Commercial, Masland, Mullican Flooring, Earthwerks and Lexmark. In the component/equipment category, you will see DuPont, Styron, Pharr Yarns, Card Monroe, Tuftco, Perpetual Machine, Great Lakes Veneer, Basic Coatings and Healthier Choice.
The foreign-based exhibitors with a major presence here in the U.S. are Tarkett, Oriental Weavers, Unilin, IVC, Balta, Gerflor, Groz-Beckert, Aquafil, Freudenberg, Colbond and Mattex.
Here are a few noteworthy product observations. In the carpet category, polyester fiber has not caught on in the rest of the world like it has in the U.S. Most of the carpets at Domotex were either polyamide (nylon), polypropylene, or wool. Modular carpet tile, on the other hand, is becoming more popular (with the exception of Germany, which prefers broadloom) and what you see here in the U.S. from a styling and construction standpoint is very similar to what you find in the rest of the world. Laminate, vinyl sheet and LVT are very similar to what you see here in the U.S., but laminate has a larger share. There are several buildings devoted to rugs, and handmade appears to be more popular to the rest of the world than it is here. The shag rug trend we’re seeing in the U.S. seems to be worldwide. In the parquet (hardwood) category, one interesting new product introduction was wood flooring that was trimmed with the natural curves of the tree and cataloged in a database so that it could be matched with other curved boards and installed with minimal waste. While this floor would retail for more than $10/foot, it would definitely be a conversation piece.
WHAT TO EAT IN GERMANY
It's hard to beat German beer, so you've got to sample the beer while in Hanover. You'll also discover that Germans are fond of meat; expect to find several great options when it comes to sausage, veal, pork or beef. Two German specialties that I recommend are Rouladen and Schweinshaxe (German pronunciation: shavains.haksa). Rouladen is a thinly sliced cut of beef that is rolled up around bacon, onion, mustard and pickles and then cooked. It is usually served in a pool of gravy along with a side of potatoes. Schweinshaxe is a roasted pig knuckle (ham hock) that is prepared with great care. When it is served, it looks like a huge portion, but you eat only the very center around the bone, so it's not as big as it first appears. This is German barbeque at its finest and is usually served with mustard. Oh, and did I mention beer?
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