Hardwood Update 2013 — October 2013

By Jessica Chevalier

 

The hardwood category offers interesting challenges for retailers. It’s a highly desirable flooring product that, for years, commanded a high price point. However, commoditization of the category by the big boxes and Lumber Liquidators has changed the customer’s perception of hardwood.

Today, customers have a more difficult time navigating the hardwood market: choosing between solid hardwood, engineered hardwood and wood look products; understanding what benefits a $7.99/square foot oak has over a $2.99/square foot oak; and, at the core, understanding value as it relates to hardwood, both with regard to product and installation. 

THE CORRECT FLOOR FOR THE CORRECT LOCATION
While hardwood flooring has been used in the U.S. for quite a long time, there are still some misconceptions about the category. These can spell trouble for customers who don’t have a knowledgeable salesperson guiding them through the buying process. 

One challenge relates to the very name of the category: hardwood. The word “hard” at the front leads less-knowledgeable consumers to believe that the product is indestructible.

Bob Buhl, co-owner of Phillips Floor to Ceiling with his wife Heidi, says that often customers will visit his store after shopping the big boxes and mention that they’ve selected, for instance, a birch for $2.99 a square foot. When Buhl asks about their lifestyle and explains the level of wear and tear that the hardwood can endure, they are taken aback. “Most customers don’t think about performance,” he says. “They assume that all hardwood will perform well. The competitors don’t bring it up because they think that discussing cons will result in them losing a sale.” Some species of hardwood flooring are better choices than others for active environments, and it falls on sales staff to steer the customer toward a floor that is right for their application and lifestyle. 

While all quality hardwood floors, properly cared for, have the ability to last for decades, a harsh environment can cause scratching and denting. Both solid and engineered flooring can be refinished (though the number of times most engineered floor can be refinished is limited), but the process is inconvenient and—depending on whether the homeowner is doing the work themselves or paying someone else to do it—either time-consuming or costly, which makes the process of selecting the correct floor up front all the more important.

As their looks have improved, laminate and LVT have become a viable and durable option for customers seeking a hardwood look. Says Mike Kerr, a radio personality turned salesperson for Sutherlands in Fort Collins, Colorado, “A good salesperson steers an active family away from hardwood. I tell them, ‘Choose solid unfinished hardwood or spend half the money you would on hardwood and do laminate while your kids are young.’ LVT has really grown in the last two years, taking sales from engineered wood. It’s cheaper and easy to DIY.”

But some customers are seeking products that they view as more natural or authentic, which is where wood-look ceramic tile might have an advantage over laminate and LVT. This year, two of the retailers we spoke with reported that wood-look tile is making a big impression with customers. Like hardwood, it is a product that comes with a high price tag, especially with the price of installation factored in, but it requires almost no maintenance, is quite durable and has a long lifecycle. Says Jeff Jones, owner of American Flooring in Yulee, Florida, “Wood-look tile is getting so much better looking. We offer seven or eight wood-look tile planks. Mannington is taking its best selling hardwoods and mimicking them in tile.” 

Richard Veilleux of Floor Systems, Inc. in Lisbon, Maine explains, “Wood-look tile is coming on too, but the price point is way up there, especially installed. People are willing to invest in it because it doesn’t require maintenance and is long term. Once prices come down, it will definitely steal business from hardwood.”

The fact remains, however, that many folks will select hardwood, regardless of its flaws, because it is a lovely, natural product and because it makes good financial sense, especially when it comes to resale value, “People consider it an upgrade,” says Buhl, who has been in the flooring industry since 1976 and spent his early career as a manufacturer rep, “a product that doesn’t depreciate. If people put hardwood in their home, it retains its value long term. People recognize that.” In addition, many species of hardwood flooring change as they age, developing a distinctive patina that, many feel, adds to the character and beauty.

Indeed, hardwood is high on the “want” list for many homebuyers. According to the National Wood Flooring Association, “Residential real estate agents say homes with wood floors sell faster and fetch higher prices, according to a nationwide survey commissioned by the National Wood Flooring Association. By a four-to-one margin, real estate agents said that a house with wood floors would sell faster than a house without wood floors. Some 90 percent said a house with wood floors would bring a higher price.”

The National Association of Realtors’ 2013 Profile of Buyers’ Home Feature Preferences revealed that hardwood was especially desired in the Northeast. 



HARDWOOD AND SOFTWOOD NOMENCLATURE

Woods are characterized as hard or soft based on their reproductive strategy, not their density. How Stuff Works explains, "As it turns out, a hardwood is not necessarily a harder material (more dense) and a softwood is not necessarily a softer material (less dense). For example, balsa wood is one of the lightest, least dense woods there is, and it’s considered a hardwood." 

The distinction between hardwood and softwood instead has to do with their seed structures. Hardwoods are angiosperms, plants that produce seeds with a covering, for instance fruit or a shell. Softwoods are gymnosperms, which have seeds without coverings that are released into the wind and spread over a larger area. In general, deciduous trees are characterized as hardwoods and evergreens as softwoods.

As the classification of balsa wood demonstrates, there is no minimum weight requirement to be classified as a hardwood. However, the hardwood/softwood terminology does make some sense. Evergreens tend to be less dense than deciduous trees, while most hardwoods tend to be denser and therefore sturdier.


EXPECTATIONS VERSUS REALITY
Then there’s the matter of understanding the different types of wood available, especially solid versus engineered and a $2.99 per square foot oak versus a $7.99 per square foot oak. 

Some customers view engineered as fake wood, akin to LVT or laminate, not understanding that both the core and veneer are wood products. Says Kerr, “If a person wants hardwood, and it fits in their budget, that’s what they’ll get. And old dogs will always do solid.” At Sutherlands, solid and engineered sales are about 50/50. “There are tons of basements in Fort Collins, so you use engineered in those locations. You have to make sure you’re getting the right product for the market,” he says, “Rotary peeled woods delaminate in our dry climate. This is a bad market for bamboo, and, if you’re installing exotics, you have to make sure to have a quality acclimation.” 

In other locations, engineered is the best choice because of the climate. “We sell mostly engineered, very little solid, because engineered is the appropriate product for our climate,” says Buhl of his San Luis Obispo, California location. 

On the opposite coast, 65% of Veilleux’s sales are solid. 

In Florida, Jones sells both solid and engineered, though he quit selling solid bamboo due to problems with cupping. One hundred percent of his offering is pre-finished. 

Helping customers understand the advantages of engineered isn’t especially difficult. The real challenges come from the Lumber Liquidators and the big boxes of the world, which the customer may see as offering the same flooring as the independent retailer but at a fraction of the price. This message goes a long way with tight-budgeted consumers who reason that maple is maple after all. 

Says Jones, “People think wood is wood. They say, ‘I can get this at Lumber Liquidators for $3.00 a square foot. Yours is $7.00 a square foot, and they’re both hickory.’ Well, I ask, what’s the difference between a Kia and a Mercedes? They’re both cars.”

This is especially problematic in terms of prefinished hardwood, explains Veilleux, “The prefinished market doesn’t have a set grading structure like the unfinished market. The manufacturers call their products whatever they want. One company’s select could be another company’s middle grade. This makes it really hard to compete against big box stores or to compare products from company to company. Customers have to open the box to see what the actual product looks like.” 

Cheap product will generally have more variation in color, board length and quality, so the floor that is ultimately installed may look little like the sample that they saw in the retailer’s showroom.

But Veilleux is seeing traction on this front. With regard to whether the big boxes and Lumber Liquidators are stealing hardwood business from independent retailers, he says, “A little bit, but not as much as they once were. People are seeing that if you pay $2.99 per square foot, you’re getting a $2.99 product. We have that price point, but ours is a better quality product. We can compete well.”

For Buhl, hardwood is a much more significant part of his product mix than it was 21 years ago when he entered the retail side of the flooring business. “In 1992, hardwood was maybe 10% or 15% of sales. Today’s it’s 30% of the business. We promote and push it a lot.” Regarding quality, he says, “I’m not saying that all big box and Lumber Liquidator products are poor quality, but they do sell ones that are. And when a customer has problems, hold onto your hat. I discuss that with the customer. They’ll say, ‘But I’m saving $2,000 and hoping it’s good quality.’ I say, ‘Bring the sample in. Let’s talk about it.’ ”

Buhl says that a great boon to the independent retailer would be if hardwood manufacturers would create a good, better, best hierarchy among their products. The good product would be comparable to the big boxes, perhaps, and from there, it would be easy to explain the advantages of a better product. “Good, better, best is a long time market strategy,” says Buhl. “It helps the customer feel that they have options. The salesperson can say, if you’re willing to step up, here’s what you get. Consumers think that way. The carpet guys do it all the time.” Buhl suggests that the good, better, best strategy rolled out in a few different woods—such as hickory, maple, oak, and acacia—would enable the independent retailer to better compete with the chain stores for hardwood sales. 

There is also a misunderstanding about products purchased online, says Jones. “The Internet is buyer beware. With Mirage, for example, if you buy on the Internet, you are getting no warranty.” These facts would be a great boon for retailers, if consumers knew them, but the channel between flooring manufacturers and consumers isn’t an open line of communication. So, it falls on retailers to convey this information, which they will certainly do if given the option. Of course, if a customer buys online before a brick-and-mortar salesperson has the opportunity to discuss the matter with them, they may find themselves in a situation in which they have a flawed floor and no option for recourse. Jones believes that manufacturers need to get the word out about this subject. 

Similarly, he believes they should take more initiative to educate consumers on value. “When manufacturers come out with a new scratch resistant finish, you see it in trade magazines but not on TV or in Better Home and Gardens. Mohawk’s Armor Max finish is awesome, but they don’t actively promote it to the public. I’ve never had a customer come in asking for a product with Armor Max or Scuff Guard.”

While, once again, Jones knows that he and his sales staff have an opportunity to educate the consumer about the benefits of these finishes, it would help to have the manufacturers actively working toward the same goals through their avenues. A logo at the bottom of a consumer ad with the name of the finish simply doesn’t do much to sell the customer on the product’s value. 

Jones jokes that, up until ten years ago, “the choices were oak or oak.” Today, he says, 75% of customers who come in and say they are looking for hardwood “are like a deer in the headlights” when a salesperson asks whether they have a preference on species, character, grain or color. 



INSTALLATION

While the majority of homeowners who purchase hardwood still have it professionally installed, click products have made DIY installation more accessible, which can be both a boon and a detriment. 

Because hardwood is an expensive flooring material, some customers look at installation as a place to save cost. Veilleux estimates that 35% of his hardwood customers install their hardwood themselves or have a friend or family member do it, which he attributes, in part, to Northeasterners can-do attitude. The bulk of Floor Systems’ hardwood business is prefinished. In fact, the company was one of the first in the area to sell prefinished hardwood. Distributor Hoboken Floors had a big presence in Veilleux’s area and customers could go to them directly for unfinished hardwood, so it made sense for Floor Systems, which has been in business for 26 years, to go a different route. 

Buhl estimates that one out of every four hardwood customers chooses to DIY or have someone they know install their flooring. "Sometimes that doesn’t work out, for instance if they don’t undercut door jams and fireplaces, but then it’s too late. The damage is done, and that’s a big deal. Hardwood should be installed professionally because it’s a big investment that is likely to last for the lifetime of owning the house."

Buhl emphasizes the difference between a craftsman and an installer to his customers. "There’s a difference and people see that. People will often come in and say, ‘Your team installed our neighbor’s floors, and they are beautiful. We want our home to look like a showroom, too.’ You get what you pay for. If a customer wants the cheapest, that’s not our customer, and it’s just better to let them go."

One hundred percent of American Flooring’s offering is prefinished. Jones has two subcontractor installation teams, one for carpet and one for hard surface, that install almost everything he sells, and both of the teams have been with him for many years. Customers generally only have to wait two weeks for their flooring to be installed. Jones notes that a few of his customers have their own installers, but most simply don’t have the time or skill to install their flooring themselves. "Ninety-five percent of the houses here are on concrete slabs, none of which are level. Leveling takes skill."


WHAT THE CUSTOMER WANTS
According to the retailers that we interviewed, price is the biggest barrier to hardwood sale. Buhl says that, while ten to 15 years ago it was common to sell $10.00 per square foot hardwood, today customers look at you like “you bumped your head” if you pull out price points that high. “Unfortunately, the big boxes have driven the price down to the point where perception is that you can get quality for less money. You have to address that issue.” The sweet spot for Buhl’s hardwood sales is $4.99 per square foot to $6.99 per square foot.

Buhl reports that, with the increase in choices today in the hardwood market, people are now buying wood like they buy carpet, “Color is very important. That is a change. Ten years ago, they didn’t walk in and look for color. If the color is right, but the species isn’t what they thought they wanted, they’ll still buy it.” Though the store used to do a lot of builder work, that is nonexistent how. Phillips serves the upper middle to higher end of the market and offers cabinetry, countertops, and window coverings in addition to flooring. 

After price and color, Buhl says that his customer’s priorities are texture, species and construction. “Construction is at the bottom of the list. That’s where you have to be really savvy. You really have to explain the benefits and what makes one construction better than another.”

And while it’s true that customers want American made, they aren’t willing to pay for it in many cases. Says Buhl, “American made is becoming more of a factor slightly, but if customers see something cheap, they will buy an import. They buy with their pocketbook. That’s reality. Manufacturers insinuate it’s important, but the public hasn’t caught up. It may become more important as the economy strengthens. The same with green.”

Veilleux reports that his hardwood customers come into the store knowing that they want wood. But with regard to color, finishes and textures, they don’t have formed opinions. In fact, many of them have never seen handscraped hardwood before. 

A few of Veilleux’s customers are knowledgeable about hardwood brands. But, more often, his customers are concerned about country of origin and, in this case, the desired country is Canada. “They have done some research and know that the Canadian manufacturers have great products and finishes. Mirage, Model and Preverco are all within a couple hundred miles. These firms produce products with excellent quality and the northern species have a different look, which many customers value.” According to Veilleux, the quality of U.S. made hardwood has come up, so some U.S. made products are now on par with Canadian quality. But with improved quality has come increased price. “The price of U.S. made wood products has really increased, especially so far this year, which makes a lot of Canadian manufacturers, whose prices haven’t come up, a better value.” Veilleux imports directly from Canada and does offer U.S. made products as well. Floor Systems carries hardwood ranging from $3.00 per square foot to $12.00 per square foot, but says that the sweet spot is $4.00 per square foot to $7.00 per square foot.

Veilleux, a chemical engineer by training who spent a couple of years as a rep for Shaw, says that overall business has picked up recently. And, over the last five or six years, the hardwood business has definitely increased. “People are running it through the entire first floor and into the kitchen as well.” Currently, business is all at the low or high end, with nothing is the middle. He’s starting to see more remodels, but, overall, the residential market in his area is still soft. 

Jones has seen his hardwood sales increase over the years. His clientele includes many transplants from the North, many of whom had hardwood in their previous locations and, therefore, want it in Florida as well. The store says that U.S. made takes preference over brand among the wide range of clientele that his store serves. But, more than anything, American Flooring emphasizes quality and value. Since all it sells is flooring, it has to sell a product that will encourage customers to come back the next time around. 

Sutherlands reports that its hardwood sales are “way up.” The store has hardwood ranging from $4.00 per square foot to $15.00 per square foot and sells Armstrong, Kent, Mulllican, Somerset and Shaw hardwood products.

A few years ago, to stay competitive, the store began stocking unfinished hardwood. It stocks a handful of its most popular prefinished SKUs as well. Sutherlands is a family business that was started in 1917. Nationwide, Sutherlands has 80 lumberyards. Around 15 years ago, it opened a design center in Fort Collins, and, four years ago, upgraded that design center to a new, larger location. The design center attracts a broad range of customers, ranging from those in $200,000 to multi-million dollar homes. 

Kerr reports that, for every Sutherland’s customer, price is the overriding factor. “It has to fit in their budget.” But species is also playing a role, “Everyone has oak and is tired of it. There are so many colors and textures on the market today.”

Kerr reports that many of Sutherlands jobs involve ripping out a Lumber Liquidators product because it wasn’t what the customer thought they were getting. “If you have an educated consumer, you don’t have to worry about Lumber Liquidators,” says Kerr. “But when a customer comes in taking about Lumber Liquidators, I tell them to Google them and read all the complaints.”



TARIFF ON CHINESE WOOD DEBATED AGAIN

The Court of International Trade has remanded the antidumping case on Chinese engineered wood flooring back to the International Trade Commission (ITC).

The Alliance for Free Choice and Jobs in Flooring, which represents U.S. importers, has been fighting the imposition of tariffs on Chinese imports. The court said that the ITC had done both an insufficient economic analysis and an incomplete review of the domestic industry when reaching its original decision. 

The order outlined multiple areas where the court found "that the legal and factual analysis performed by the Commission in this instance misses the mark and thus the conclusion of material injury is not supported by substantial evidence." In particular, the court determined that the ITC used too low a standard in determining whether the imports cause any injury to the U.S. industry.

Alliance president Jonathan Train said, "All the data clearly showed that imported flooring is a benefit to the industry as a whole and has not injured the Petitioners and we are not surprised that the ITC agreed with every issue we raised regarding the original decision."

Train said the court noted that the Commission failed to appropriately consider the impact of a wide variety of economic factors, including the overall economic conditions and available substitutions (be they laminate, LVT or imports from other countries). In addition, he said that the court also questioned if the domestic industry was properly surveyed.

Dan Natkin, director of hardwood and laminate for Mannington Mills, doesn’t expect the review to have too great an impact on the U.S. hardwood market and believes that there is no legal basis for the review. Mannington is a member of the Coalition for America, which represents the interests of U.S. manufacturers. Natkin holds the belief that, ultimately, the court will again impose positive dumping margins.

Those who are importing Chinese hardwood for sale in the U.S. could face a hefty retroactive penalty. The ITC’s original order went into place in December 2011 with a deposit rate of around 4.5%. A series of annual reviews are to come, and if these determine that the rate should be, for instance, 10%, the importers would be required to pay the balance on what they imported from December 2011 forward, according to Natkin.

 



FORMALDEHYDE: SHORT-SELLER VERSUS LUMBER LIQUIDATORS

In June of this year, Seeking Alpha, an online stock market news and financial analysis site, published a report by Xuhua Zhou, a private investor, that alleged that Lumber Liquidators’ Mayflower Bund Birch engineered hardwood, sold in at least one of the store’s California showrooms, contained three and a half times the legal level of formaldehyde. 

Zhou’s claims were based on analysis conducted by Berkeley Analytical, an environmental laboratory that specializes in the analysis of organic chemicals emitted by building products, finishes, furniture, medical devices, and consumer products.

It is significant that the products were purchased in California, the state governed by the strictest of air quality standards. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) was founded in 1967 with the mission to “…promote and protect public health, welfare and ecological resources through the effective and efficient reduction of air pollutants, while recognizing and considering the effects on the state’s economy.” CARB has established legal limits for formaldehyde emissions from hardwood plywood, hardwood plywood veneer core, hardwood plywood composite core, particleboard, and medium density fiberboard. While CARB standards are not upheld in every state, many manufacturers voluntarily abide by them, and the box of flooring that is alleged to be in violation carried a seal of CARB compliance.

Zhou says that he purchased, at random, three different types of engineered hardwood in a Los Angeles Lumber Liquidators store and then sent the products to Berkeley Analytical for analysis at the cost of $1,000 per SKU, testing which he says he paid for out of his own pocket. One of the three SKUs was found to be in violation of CARB standards for composite wood products.

Zhou reports that he was motivated to start his research after considering how Lumber Liquidators, which sells primarily commodity flooring at a lower cost than many of its competitors, was able to achieve high gross margins. He knew that Lumber Liquidators sourced a lot of its product from China and was familiar with a recent scandal in China about formaldehyde in engineered hardwood. Zhou then went online and began reading complaints from Lumber Liquidator customers, some of which described exhibiting symptoms consistent with formaldehyde poisoning.

Formaldehyde poisoning poses a significant danger to those exposed. According to the Healthy House Institute, "Formaldehyde is a potent mucous membrane irritant. As such, acute (short term) formaldehyde exposure concentrations > 0.05 ppm can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and sinuses. Resulting symptoms include burning, dryness, redness and itching of eyes, nasal dryness, soreness, runniness; sore or dry throat, and sinus congestion or post-nasal drip. Secondary effects associated with these symptoms may include cough, chest tightness, excessive phlegm production, repeated sinus infections, eye infections and possibly bronchitis. In very sensitive individuals these respiratory symptoms may progress to asthma and for those with existing asthma exposure to formaldehyde may precipitate asthmatic attacks." 

As one might expect, long-term exposure is even more concerning. According to a 2009 study entitled Formaldehyde in China: Production, Consumption, Exposure Levels, and Health Effects, "Chronic exposure at higher levels, starting at around 1.9 ppm, has been shown to result in significant damage to pulmonary function, resulting in reduced maximum mid-expiratory flow and forced vital capacity. There is also research that supports the theory that formaldehyde exposure contributes to reproductive problems in women. A study on Finnish women working in laboratories at least three days a week found a significant correlation between spontaneous abortion and formaldehyde exposure, and a study of Chinese women found abnormal menstrual cycles in 70% of the women occupationally exposed to formaldehyde compared to only 17% in the control group." According to Berkeley’s analysis, the reading on Mayflower Bund Birch was 0.17 ppm. In addition, the National Research Council and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledge a causal connection between formaldehyde and cancer of the nose and nasal cavity. In fact, the EPA classifies formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen under conditions of unusually high or prolonged exposure. So clearly, the implications could be significant for Lumber Liquidators’ customers if Zhou’s findings are accurate. 

Fortunately, in a setting like a home, formaldehyde emissions from flooring decrease over time, as off gassing slows. 

Floor Focus reached out to Lumber Liquidators for a comment on Zhou’s claims and received an email signed with CEO Tom Sullivan’s name saying, "His report was nonsense. He is a short seller of our stock and put out this report in attempt to hurt our stock. We have more quality control people and testing labs than anyone in the business." Of course, this isn’t simply a matter of someone bad-mouthing Lumber Liquidators. If Zhou’s claims are indeed "nonsense," as Sullivan says, it means that Zhou has gone to great lengths to fabricate his "findings" and doing so in order to hurt a publically traded stock would certainly be a matter that could be pursued in the courts. Floor Focus asked Sullivan for a statement regarding any legal proceedings it is pursuing in relation to Zhou but requests for a comment were not acknowledged. 

Zhou is indeed a short seller on Lumber Liquidators stock (meaning that he makes money when the stock loses value), a fact that he let his readers know up front, and he says that he did indeed profit from publishing the report, QUOTE Did I make money from publishing the report? Yes, I did. But does that make the information any less truthful? I don’t think so.END QUOTE It was reported by The Motley Fool that Lumber Liquidators' stock dropped 11% in the days following the release of Zhou’s report.

Floor Focus contacted Berkeley Analytical to verify that Zhou’s report was indeed legitimate. Berkeley emphasized that it does not do work for private individuals or stock firms, indicating that Zhou had misled Berkeley about his identity when he submitted the products for testing. "It is not our policy to work with individuals. This was sort of a bait and switch," says Alfred Hodgson, co-founder and research director for Berkeley. 

Zhou explains that he found Berkeley and commissioned the report through a friend who works as a chemistry professor at Duke University. Berkeley, then, was led to believe that they were doing work for academic research, not testing a consumer product for possible violations, so it conducted its testing as it would in that situation. In fact, Hodgson and his team only became aware of the true purpose of the analysis when a redacted copy of the report was posted on the Internet. 

If Berkeley had agreed to do the testing with a true understanding of the situation, it would have conducted the analysis differently, procuring the materials itself and following specific chain of custody standards. Berkeley stands by its report that one of the three tested products did have high levels of formaldehyde; however, it has no way of guaranteeing that the product submitted was what Zhou claimed it to be, Lumber Liquidators' Mayflower engineered hardwood. 

On June 19, Zhou petitioned CARB to look into his findings, submitting a letter; picture of the Mayflower identification label, which includes a claim of CARB compliance for formaldehyde; screen shot of the Mayflower listing on Lumber Liquidators’ website; and a copy of Berkeley’s report. Of the situation, the California Air Resources Board, which calls itself ARB, says, "The Air Resources Board is aware of the blog postings on the Seeking Alpha website regarding formaldehyde levels in Lumber Liquidators products, posted last June. We are currently looking into the matter and will be assessing our test results to determine if further investigation is warranted.

"The California regulation establishes emission standards for composite wood panels, the raw materials used to make a variety of finished goods, such as cabinets and flooring. The regulation does not establish emission standards for finished goods, only composite wood products (particle board, medium density fiberboard and hardwood plywood) that are used in making finished goods. To determine compliance with the current California regulation we would only test the composite wood elements that are components of these finished goods.

"The ARB Enforcement Division takes samples of boards, panels and finished goods from a number of retailers. If the finished goods contain composite wood products, we test to determine if the emissions of these composite wood products are compliant with our formaldehyde emission standards."

Hodgson explains how Berkeley isolated the core materials for testing, "This analysis was interesting from a technical perspective. ATCM affects the core materials. This is a composite wood base with a veneer, so how should it be tested? You could machine the finish off, I suppose. But we chose to seal off the surface and tested the backside. We believe that this is the best approach for something like this." 

Interestingly, in the months following Zhou’s report, Lumber Liquidators put its Mayflower Bund Birch product on sale, reducing the price 26% from $2.29 per square foot to $1.69 per square foot.

According to Zhou, there are rumblings of class-action lawsuits by consumers who have purchased Lumber Liquidators’ flooring with high levels of formaldehyde, and a Google search reveals this to be the case. However, it’s hard to tell whether these are legitimate claims or simply ambulance chasers reacting to Zhou’s Seeking Alpha report. Floor Focus asked Lumber Liquidators to address the details of this case specifically—whether it is pursuing legal action against Zhou, whether it is conducting independent testing on Mayflower, what it plans to do for consumers who purchased Mayflower, and how it could explain Berkeley’s analysis—and received this response, “We stand by our products. Period. We’ve got what we believe to be an industry-leading compliance program and we regularly confirm our own product compliance utilizing recognized independent laboratories that test against the industry regulatory standards. This is in addition to other quality assurance measures we have in place. 

"We take every claim seriously, no matter the context or the motivation behind it. We guarantee quality. Our comprehensive quality control system is designed to ensure Lumber Liquidators customers receive the best and safest flooring available. We hold ourselves to a higher standard with our customers and consumers in mind. The result is a product we are confident to put in our own homes and are proud to sell." 

But Zhou counters, "There’s one simple question to answer here. Was the product I tested significantly noncompliant or not? If so, why and how pervasive is the issue? Instead of blaming on my profession or motive, they should be looking at the facts. It’s plain and simple chemistry, not a matter of opinion."


Copyright 2013 Floor Focus 



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New York, NY, Oct. 6, 2014 -- Analyst Stifel Nicolaus believes that third quarter flooring sales will show stronger sales of hard surface flooring and weaker sales of carpet.

NeoCon East Offers Education for Designers   Full Article
Baltimore, MD, Oct. 6, 2014 -- NeoCon East has announced its educational program for design professionals seeking continuing education.

Duncan Appointed President of Mannington's Residential Business   Full Article
Salem, NJ, Oct. 3, 2014 -- Mannington Mills announced today that Ed Duncan will replace Kim Holm, who is retiring, as president of Mannington’s Residential Business.

Services Sector Growth Slows in September   Full Article
Washington, DC, Oct. 3, 2014 -- The services sector of the economy grew at a slower pace in September, according to the Institute for Supply Management.

CRI Annual Meeting Set Nov. 12   Full Article
Dalton, GA, Oct. 3, 2014 -- The Carpet and Rug Institute's 2014 Annual Membership Meeting will be held Nov. 12.

Unemployment at Six-Year Low in September   Full Article
Washington, DC, Oct. 3, 2014 -- The unemployment rate fell to 5.9% in September as the economy created 248,000 jobs, according to the Labor Department.

Foreclosure Rate Lowest Since 2007   Full Article
New York, NY, Oct. 3, 2014 -- The foreclosure rate edged up 1.1% in August compared to July, according to CoreLogic's National Foreclosure Report.

CRI President Yarbrough Goes to Washington   Full Article
Dalton, GA, Oct. 3, 2014 -- Carpet and Rug Institute President Joe W. Yarbrough traveled to Washington, D.C. Sept. 17-18 for two days of back-to-back meetings with congressional representatives.

Dover Rug & Home a Finalist in Association Awards   Full Article
Cambridge, MA, Oct. 3, 2014 -- Dover Rug & Home said it has been named a Family Business Association (FBA) Awards finalist in the category of Fourth Generation Businesses.

Factory Orders Fall on Fewer Aircraft   Full Article
Washington, DC, Oct. 2, 2014 -- Factory orders fell in August on weakness in the aircraft sector, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.