2017 Hardwood Report: Imitation may be a form of flattery, but it doesn't sell hardwood - Apr 2017
By Jessica Chevalier
Hardwood aesthetics have never been hotter. The irony, of course, is that hardwood isn’t necessarily driving this trend. The proliferation of wood-look products in laminate, LVT and ceramic have pushed wood visuals into locations where the actual material’s performance is challenged: commercial settings; wet areas, such as kitchens and baths; and environments that endure abuse, like under heavy loads or in homes with large pets.
Ultimately, hardwood manufacturers largely hang their hats on the belief that the bulk of customers desire the authenticity, permanency and unique beauty of a real hardwood floor, the comeliness of the natural product accentuated via the manufacturers’ combination of technology and art, says Don Finkell, founder and CEO of American OEM Wood Floors. But with cost and performance factors often driving them toward inorganic wood-look flooring options, is that desire enough to keep the hardwood category humming?
A COMPETITIVE MARKET
Across the board, when questioned about the competitive advantage that hardwood holds against the many me-too products hitting the market today, hardwood category players typically point to the beauty of the product as its greatest asset, often followed by an anxious laugh and comment like, “But the other products’ visuals are getting pretty good.”
That addendum sums up the significant challenge that the hardwood category is facing at present. Its aesthetics are considered its greatest differentiator, yet industry leaders readily admit that competing faux products are doing a pretty good job of knocking it off.
Along with the product’s beauty, hardwood purveyors often refer to the material’s warmth as a differentiator. It is true, of course, that hardwood has a somewhat elusive visual and kinetic “warmth” that is hard to replicate and taps into humans’ fundamental psychological reaction to natural materials. Humans crave nature and perform best in natural environments, and a wood-look product typically will not generate the same response, just as a picture of the beach does not generate the same feelings of ease and relaxation that sitting on a beach does. Hardwood conveys a particular impression, has a particular sound and feel underfoot, carries a particular natural quality that is hard to imitate, and creates a feeling of warmth and well-being-though imitators are hot on the category’s heels with attempts at duplicating this dynamism.
Innovation plays an interesting role in relation to hardwood. Typically, in a situation such as this one, the industry “under attack” is actively experimenting with and utilizing innovation to make it better and stronger. Consider the continual iterations of the Netflix and Amazon platforms or of Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy as examples. In both situations, the competitors keep spurring one another on with new features and improved interfaces toward greater programming.
Obviously, we’ve seen some of this with regard to expansions in engineered hardwood platforms going longer and wider, as well as in the category’s color palettes moving from the long-standing red and orange tones towards greys and taupes, but we were surprised to find that when asked about the next frontier of hardwood innovation, most manufacturers had little to say. Hardwood isn’t technology, after all; it’s a natural product, and the concept of “improvements” in hardwood is complicated.
Product innovation comes on two fronts: aesthetics and performance. On the aesthetic front, hardwood is hemmed in by the fact that its natural look is its greatest asset, so it stands to reason that innovation in aesthetics hinges on making hardwood look more like itself. That is the trend we see currently with preferences for matte finishes that essentially make the flooring appear unfinished, though of course the finish is necessary to protect the wood. This is something that many hardwood players are continuing to work on, essentially achieving a less finished look while at the same time offering a durable, long-wearing product.
Printed overlays are a technology that a few manufacturers mentioned experimenting with, though only one-Mannington-actually utilizes. Printed overlays can be used to create accents on a product, as Mannington does, or to make a common wood, like oak, for example, look like something less common. The technology could also conceivably be used to create hybrid looks, wood-concrete visuals for instance, as we see in ceramic. Roger Farabee, senior vice president of hardwood and laminate for Mohawk, reports that, for a time, he saw some Asian manufacturers utilizing the technology to make inexpensive woods, like bamboo, look like expensive and exotic hardwood products that are largely unavailable to the general consumer. But overall, U.S. hardwood manufacturers seem hesitant to introduce a technology that may, in some regard, take away from the natural beauty of hardwood and be construed as essentially lowering the category to the level of its look-alikes-and potentially contributing to consumer confusion.
In past years, on the performance innovation front, manufacturers often pointed toward endeavors related to increasing performance in commercial environments, including more durable finishes and acrylic impregnation. This year, only one manufacturer mentioned its work in this area, leading us to wonder if the category has, perhaps even without realizing, ceded that territory to the wood-look products that boast an inherently stronger performance story. With wood-looks available today even at the commodity end of the porcelain spectrum, it seems unlikely that a mall retailer, for example, will spring for a costly commercial-grade hardwood-many of which carry only a ten- to 15-year commercial warranty-over a bulletproof wood-look porcelain that will last decades with little to no degradation of its visual. Yes, porcelain can be costly to install, but it requires minimal maintenance even under heavy foot traffic. Does wood-look porcelain impart the same visual warmth as real hardwood? Typically, no. But that may be a quality some are willing to forego for the sake of ceramic’s performance.
So how can the hardwood industry capitalize on and maintain the product’s natural qualities, while also moving the category forward? Manufacturers are taking varying approaches to meet this challenge. Lauzon, for instance, has Pure Genius, a light-activated, air-purifying titanium dioxide agent that is integrated into the flooring finish. We have seen similar technology in the ceramic category, and time will tell whether the technology, which is now automatically included on every Lauzon hardwood floor, drives sales. The benefits, after all, are invisible, and that can be a challenging sell to consumers.
Similarly, Kährs is working on a finish that protects hardwood from the effects of the sun, a particularly troublesome problem that often changes the tone of the hardwood. As of yet, the technology is not perfected, but Kährs is hopeful that its efforts will result in a finish that solves a perennial problem in the category.
In addition, for the past few years, Preverco has been working on developing a variety of platforms-at varying price levels-by utilizing different substrates. Etienne Chabot, vice president of marketing for the company, says, “A real challenge for us in the past few years is that the main competition is from replicate products. The end user prefers hardwood, the natural look, the warmth. That’s why we have invested so much in our engineered product platform. With that, we can reduce the cost of a hardwood floor, using different substrates under the wearlayers to reduce cost for the end user and still have the look and feeling of natural wood floor.”
Manufacturers hope that these sorts of differentiators provide hardwood a leg-up against competitors, without diminishing the natural quality of the product itself.
Dan Natkin, vice president of hardwood and laminate for Mannington, offers an honest perspective on the current state of hardwood-versus-lookalikes. “I’ve always believed that a consumer who wants hardwood will get it unless they are influenced otherwise,” he says. “I never believed that even the proliferation of wood looks would move a consumer from choosing hardwood-until last year. But as wood looks have evolved, certain consumers in certain price points are considering lifestyle and moving away from hardwood. We have seen, in certain consumer and price segments, a cooling off of the consumer from hardwood. In other segments, consumer preference for hardwood is still extremely strong.”
Sean Swanson, president of Kährs International, believes that, in the long term, hardwood will prevail, “The wood category is growing. Other categories are making wood looks because, ultimately, the consumer wants hardwood but, for cost or lifestyle reasons, may be willing to take a substitute. This started with laminates, and ultimately, we will see LVT follow the path of laminates: production will increase more than demand, the Chinese will come in, and prices will bottom. All these products that try to look like hardwood will fight each other until they can’t make money anymore. Through it all, hardwood will stand. It’s sexy to see an oak floor from the 1800s. You can’t mimic that with WPC or laminate.”
Wade Bondrowski, director of U.S. sales for Mercier, agrees, adding, “No one says, ‘Wow, I got a plastic floor that looks like wood!’ LVT made its run. Now WPC’s having its turn. All the categories, even ceramic, are playing a part in taking a piece of the pie. They all have their place, but hardwood will continue to shine.”
Christopher King and Michael Barnett, who manage the engineered and solid hardwood businesses for Armstrong, respectively, agree. Says King, “Genuine hardwood flooring will continue to be desired by homeowners because of its natural beauty, enduring quality and durability. This is an investment that lasts for years and offers timeless style. True hardwood has emerged as such a strong consumer preference over the last few decades, and we do not see this diminishing. There is nothing like real wood. Hardwood is at the top of the list for most homebuyers and homeowners in terms of flooring products that they want in their homes. It is still a tremendous long-term value for people in terms of lifecycle costs and return on investment.”
Barnett adds, “As long as hardwood itself is desirable, aspirational and even inspirational, there will continue to be a proliferation of wood looks, whether in resilient, tile or laminate.”
Bill Schollmeyer, CEO of Johnson Premium Hardwood Floors, cautions that the proliferation of wood looks may, at some point, overwhelm both dealers and consumers, something that may prove to be a boon for hardwood. “On the consumer end at least, I believe growth in wood looks will max out at some point, but right now it’s still growing.”
One thing that truly sets hardwood apart is its ability to be refinished. That means today’s matte grey can become tomorrow’s mid-gloss taupe or piano-finish chocolate. No other flooring type offers the same possibility with regard to re-invention.
In addition, as a natural product, no two hardwood boards are exactly alike, so while wood-look products have fewer repeats today than they once did, hardwood displays the impressive dimensionality and variation of Mother Nature. A hardwood floor is a design element, not simply a canvas to be designed upon.
What’s more, hardwood flooring comes from a natural resource that can be maintained and replaced, is not petroleum-based and releases no pollutants into the home. These sustainable factors cannot be overlooked and play a particularly important role with Millennial buyers. Hardwood that is harvested from responsibly managed U.S. forests, then milled and finished by U.S. businesses on U.S. soil, is one of the greenest flooring products available-even without considering its lengthy lifespan and the fact that, once its useful life is over in one location, it can be pulled up and used in another. Armstrong’s Barnett adds, “Hardwood floors can last for generations, which make hardwood a highly sustainable flooring option. It’s a story that should be told across the channels.”
What’s more, if properly managed, the forest’s resources last forever, notes Kährs’ Swanson, adding, “We plant five trees for every one we take down. If you use the resource correctly, it is inextinguishable.”
Priscilla Bergeron, communications manager for Lauzon, points out that the hardwood industry has the ability not only to maintain the forests but to improve them, “While they are growing, trees transform carbon dioxide into oxygen [and carbon]. But once trees become mature, the process stops. When a tree dies and rots in the forest, it releases all of its accumulated carbon back into the environment. So a tree whose growth period has ended no longer releases oxygen and ceases to help clean our air. Cutting it down creates room for younger trees that will. When we transform a mature tree into a floor, the hardwood flooring actually stores the carbon indefinitely. That is why, in alignment with our approach to forest stewardship, we take great care to help with the lifecycle of the forest in clearing wood and allowing new growth, responsibly.”
Somerset’s Paul Stringer notes that the hardwood industry has not only a moral responsibility but also a personal investment in caring for the forest, adding, “I want the forests to be here in 50 years. Our jobs depend on it.”
“Fifteen years ago, the people who worked in this industry couldn’t defend themselves when attacked about deforestation,” recounts Mullican’s Poland. “Now, because of the Responsible Procurement Program, because of the Forest Stewardship Council, because of the industry study by U.S. Forest Service, we have data that we didn’t have 15 years ago. We just need to tell the story better.”
Bergeron points to the long lifecycle of hardwood being a challenge in this regard, “Manufacturers are doing what they can to put [the green] story out there, but with an average purchase of one to two times in a lifetime at the consumer level, it will be an ongoing education process.”
The proliferation of wood looks in the market has presented another challenge for the hardwood category, making it increasingly difficult for consumers to both understand the product categories and determine which is best suited for their needs. Unfortunately, these challenges aren’t always solved once the customer enters the retail environment. In fact, sometimes a customer isn’t sure exactly what type of flooring they have purchased-even when it’s installed in their home.
Michael Martin, president and CEO of the National Wood Flooring Association, says, “I believe some customers think they have hardwood when they don’t. We answer a lot of consumer phone calls, and, when we drill down, we realize that they have laminate or another wood-look product. With photography becoming so good on manufactured product, it becomes more difficult to tell the difference between products from the consumer perspective.”
This, of course, is problematic for a number of reasons, the most significant being that a poor performing laminate, for example, may become a black eye for hardwood. And don’t assume that that black eye is limited to a single household. Consumers talk; angry ones talk more-and post their gripes on Facebook. If your college roommate publishes a rant about how they went away for the weekend and came home to find their “hardwood” floor ruined because of an icemaker malfunction, you-as well as her other 350 friends-might think twice about choosing hardwood.
What’s more, there is a percentage of consumers who mistakenly believe that engineered hardwood isn’t a real hardwood product, which further complicates the matter. If a homeowner views solid-with its cost and installation limitations-as the only “real wood” option, they may conflate engineered and wood-look products like LVT, laminate and WPC into a single category, considering hardwood out of reach for them, and ultimately making a choice based on faulty or partial information.
Farabee explains how the long buying cycle for hard surface flooring contributes to this problem. “Consumer confusion is absolutely a problem, and it comes down to how much research customers have done before they purchase,” he notes. “This is why it takes so long for consumers to make decisions on hard surface flooring-they are trying to understand the offerings. If you think about it, 20 years ago, hard surface flooring was pretty easy: solid hardwood, sheet vinyl and simple ceramic. That was pretty much it. Now, we have engineered and solid hardwood, laminate, LVT, rigid products, sheet vinyl, ceramic, porcelain and thin porcelain-all these new product categories that didn’t exist the last time the consumer was in the market, given the long purchase cycle. We need to look at further training for retail sales associates (RSAs) to get them to understand. At the end of the day, it is incumbent on all of us to make this web of products more easily understood.”
RSA education is a historically difficult problem to tackle. The NWFA has launched two programs to help address these issues: its lookbook brochure, which explains the differences between the flooring types, and offers a checklist that consumers can use to determine what type of flooring is best suited for them; and NWFA University, launched last July, a retailer certification course for hardwood sales. But these programs alone can’t solve the larger problem. The fact is that the hard surface flooring market is changing rapidly, and all the new products and terminology are confusing-even for retail specialists, and especially if they are new to the profession. The retail sales business is, after all, a profession rife with changing faces.
Manufacturers have a particularly hard time ensuring that the message they work so hard to craft is communicated properly on the sales floor. Says Finkell, “Reaching the RSAs is difficult. We have such carefully crafted messaging, but what they say on the retail floor may be completely different. The manufacturer has to keep it fairly simple.”
Neil Poland, president of Mullican Flooring, elaborates on the challenge and its outcomes, “It’s still our belief that wood flooring is the most desirable flooring type. It’s just that not everyone can afford it. People want the real thing, but they are settling for alternatives. I think the industry fares pretty well when the facts are presented properly in a retail or builder design center setting. If the consumer gets the correct facts about wood versus the alternatives, we compete very well. The American consumer still has an affinity for wood. The problem is when the consumer is confused and thinks they have bought a wood floor when they haven’t.”
While much of this confusion is simply a failure in education, Swanson believes that some may be intentional, “There is a lot of confusion about exactly what people are getting. That’s on purpose. Big companies have oil-based products that they want to sell.”
As a manufacturer, Preverco has worked to reduce consumer confusion within its own line by simplifying the terminology associated with hardwood products. “In 2013, we changed our ten or 12 grades into four different appearances: pure, nuanced, variation and variation with knots,” explains Chabot. “Along with this, we invested a lot of time and effort into changing the mindset of the sales association.” Chabot points out that many manufacturers put species, at the forefront of hardwood sales, but consumers don’t typically approach the sales process looking for a specific species but for an aesthetic that they like.
Chabot entered the hardwood industry in 2011, after several years in furniture, and found hardwood to be exceedingly complicated. He implemented changes to Preverco’s go-to-market strategy under the belief that “the industry needs to stop thinking about grades and species, and think like an interior designer.” He reports that sales results support this transition and that “retailers who start with our line don’t want to stop, because it’s simple.”
Several manufacturers pointed out that though it may be harder to sell a higher-priced product like hardwood, higher ticket sales typically yield a higher commission, so there is an impetus for RSAs to move these products if they are educated on how to do so. “Often for $1 more per square foot, customers can get real hardwood instead of a knock-off product,” says Eagle Creek’s vice president of marketing, Chris Dillon. “A good RSA wants to sell higher-ticket items because 95% of them are on commission.”
Paul Stringer, vice president of sales and marketing for Somerset, agrees and points out that very often style sells, even if it comes with a higher price tag, adding, “As an industry, we have to be conscious of style. Somerset has the highest price engineered on the market, yet our wide-plank handscraped Hand Crafted line, which is $7 to $8 per square foot, is our fastest growing line. When we get samples out there, people buy it. Everything doesn’t have to be fifty cents. It’s about doing transactions for $12,000 rather than $1,200. Often times, retailers take the easy sell. Hardwood can make them more money than WPC. WPC may be easier to sell, but it doesn’t make them the money that hardwood does.”
Interestingly, most of the players that sell multiple wood-look flooring products have their product category design teams collaborate or simply have a single design team. This only makes sense. If a product design is selling well in engineered hardwood, it stands to reason that it will also sell well in LVT. What’s more, it means that the design teams aren’t doubling up on the same research. But it also means that the best looks in one category are interpreted in another, both increasing confusion and, in a sense, commoditizing the look-but that is, of course, the cost of synergistic business.
“Our design teams collaborate a lot,” says Drew Hash, vice president of hard surface category management for Shaw Industries. “If we have a look doing well in a category, we look at where it might fit into another. Consumers don’t even see products as LVT, hardwood and engineered. They see them as wood looks, and that is certainly how we are trying to approach the market, around budget and lifestyle. We are selling LVT into places I wouldn’t have dreamed, like to production builders such as Lennar and D.R. Horton. ” At the same time, Hash points out that many top luxury builders have transitioned from solid to engineered product, another move that he wouldn’t have anticipated in the market.
As is the case with every industry and category, there are varying types of manufacturers in the hardwood market. Some, like Somerset, Mullican, Lauzon, Mirage and Preverco, focus solely on hardwood and manufacture in North America. Others, like Johnson and Kährs, import hardwood from their own manufacturing facilities abroad. And still others, like Shaw, Mohawk, Mannington and Armstrong, sell both hardwood and other wood-look products.
These differences mean that the manufacturers have widely different goals with regard to the hardwood category. Those that sell only hardwood have a vested interest in promoting the category, while those that sell both hardwood and wood-look products view hardwood as one of many choices. Both of these perspectives have benefits and shortcomings. Certainly, there is not any one-size-fits-all option in flooring, but with so many cheaper wood-look products in the market, the value of the higher-priced authentic product must be promoted if it is to compete.
“The wood-look and hardwood categories are different animals,” says Schollmeyer. “We also sell LVT and WPC; I love the categories. It’s plus business, and it gives the consumer options. We try to differentiate with hardwood versus WPC. Hardwood has more intrinsic value. WPC is worlds apart from the old sheet vinyl, but it still doesn’t have value of real wood. It’s like comparing a luxury vehicle to an economy car. Hardwood carries a perceived value.”
One hardwood-only player with whom we spoke expressed his frustration that, in his opinion, the multi-product players basically just maintain the hardwood programs, putting little into promotion, and thereby push the category toward commoditization. What’s more, with so much investment in LVT and rigid product manufacturing-and with the threat of over-capacity in the market-these firms must move product in these categories.
U.S.-based hardwood specialists have to run a lean operation to compete with importers and larger multi-category flooring manufacturers, according to Stringer. “We have to reduce cost however we can,” he says. “We don’t have any high-pay employees. We’re pretty lean and mean, and that has helped us. We have to continue to look for ways to reduce cost.”
One factor that has, ironically, been a benefit to these players, according to Stringer, is the fact that several unfinished brands have dropped from the hardwood flooring market, including Shaw-owned Zickgraf and Stuart, as well as Linden. “We are lucky to have the synergy of unfinished flooring in our portfolio,” he says. “Mullican has the same advantage. In the downturn, lots of unfinished plants downsized and lots of capacity was taken off the unfinished market.”
All that said, what U.S.-based manufacturers do not want to see is the dumbing down of engineered hardwood for the sake of competing with low cost wood-look products. “This industry likes to take good products and value engineer them,” says Hash. “We are beginning to see more hardwood products with extremely thin wearlayers. Some larger retailers are selling product with a 0.6mm face-and calling it hardwood-for $1.99/yard. We all remember when carpet got a bad name because builders would install cheap, base-grade carpet in a $350,000 house. [When the carpet wore poorly], consumers started thinking that carpet was a bad product. I’m hoping hardwood doesn’t end up like carpet.”
THE LIFELONG QUESTION
The hardwood industry is fond of saying that hardwood flooring is a floor, while laminate and vinyl plank products are floorcoverings. That statement speaks to both the permanence of hardwood and the value that it adds to a home. Some question, however, whether that permanence is of value to today’s consumer. In other words, are consumers looking for a lifelong solution?
Chabot isn’t sure. “More and more people are buying hardwood like they buy furniture,” he notes. “It is no longer a lifetime purchase in their minds. They want good durability for everyday use but don’t think of it as 50-year purchase anymore. They know they will be renovating to new trends later. If they put wide boards in today, the trend might be toward narrow tomorrow. People want real hardwood but don’t want to pay the big price for it.”
Consumer research conducted by Shaw supports Chabot’s belief. Nicki Rayburn, director of communications for Shaw, says, “In 2016, we initiated consumer research, which included spending time in homes, and we saw this commonality: consumers are finally getting a comfort level for creating an environment that is custom to them. We are seeing more and more that they are buying what they like-not thinking I want something forever. They want to express their needs, looks and desires now. The whole mindset has shifted, and they are realizing, I don’t have to keep this forever.”
However, Poland notes, “There is a hesitancy from the consumer to select a look that they feel is trendy. I still think that they are going to choose a hardwood floor that they feel will be in for quite some time. I don’t think people think ‘lifetime’ anymore because many don’t even plan to stay in a home that long. With the Baby Boomers, we are seeing a resurgence of people who, when they sell their family home and move into their retirement home, won’t skimp on upgrades. The general feeling I get is that Americans are seeking homes that are not as expansive but spending money on upgrades.”
On the flip side of the coin, NWFA’s Martin raises a concern about the fact that ever-thinner wearlayers on low-end hardwood may ultimately yield a product that doesn’t offer lifelong service and lowers the low-end of the hardwood market toward disposability. “Is hardwood becoming more disposable?” Martin asks. “Is it just another option? Most people who invest in the product want a lifelong solution.”
There is no question that wide and long is where it’s at in hardwood today. “Wide and long planks are hot and in demand,” says Misael Tagle, co-founder of DuChateau. “The wider, the longer, the better.”
Armstrong reports that the classic 21/4” or 3” strip flooring that was the standard for so long is still selling, to some degree, though the wave of demand has migrated towards 5” width product.
Finkell characterizes this trend as “extreme wood” and suggests that it is based not only on consumer demand but on the hardwood market’s drive to differentiate itself from wood-looks, “Ceramic can’t go that big,” he says. “Neither can LVT or WPC.”
Long and wide products were often imported from Asia or Europe until recently, but now some U.S. manufacturers are making them domestically. “We are excited about starting production of wider and longer engineered products at our Melbourne, Arkansas location, where we previously made only solid,” says Farabee. “We feel that these sawn face, longer, wider [planks] will go after the hottest part of the market.”
Hash points out, however, that the trend can present a challenge to the manufacturer. As widths and lengths increase, less of the tree can be utilized, leaving more for waste. “Even though technology and plants have gotten better, minimizing the excess, the industry is hurting because of byproduct we can’t move. If you have to dispose of it, that’s a waste.” In response to this need, Shaw has developed a series of products made of three pieces of hardwood glued together to form an 8” wide product. Shaw has had iterations of the product, which looks like a butcher block from the side, in the market for ten years. Hash reports that even though it is dimensionally stable, distributors and retailers still worry about cupping, a perception that has been difficult to overcome, though the product has had no history of problems. “It’s one of those things that they have to trust us on,” says Hash. “It’s not an inexpensive product either.”
Along with that, demand for grey tones continues. Says Hash, “If you go to the High Point Market or any furniture store, you realize that this mindset is not going away. People are changing entire rooms to fit it. You can debate whether a floor is a permanent change, but if consumers are moving their whole house away from red, I think we can agree that grey isn’t going away.”
Bondrowski points out that market demand has shifted from rustic to cleaner, more subtle looks, and Schollmeyer agrees, “We are seeing the most growth with next generation handscraping, a light wirebrushing on the face, hand-distressed on edges. The heavy handscraped trend is sliding more toward softer texture in many markets. We also notice a preference for two-tone staining.”
“Today, we use many textures-handscrapes, wirebrushing, skip sawn-to create subtle differences,” explains Finkell. “Also, we’re building layers of color onto wood to build depth and richness. That is hard to duplicate in a faux product. It’s all about how to make it beautiful without sacrificing performance. It’s both technology and art.”
Along with this, the trend is toward matte finishes. Finkell adds, “One thing that we have seen is the acceptance of oil finishes, a low build, low gloss that almost looks nonexistent. The difficulty of true oil finish is that it stains and wears out. Consumers have to do maintenance. In Europe, people accept that, but in the U.S., consumers don’t want to polish a wood floor. I think it’s in everybody’s interest to remove maintenance. We try to achieve that look but still have the stain resistance of an aluminum oxide finish. We feel we have achieved that, and we are seeing good acceptance in sales of those products.”
Chabot adds, “Our standard finish is 40º (a semi-luster), but the bigger trend is towards 10º and 20º, which are matte. This is far from 60º or 80º finishes of the ’80s and ‘90s. Today, 90% of new products are 10º or 20º, and 35% of annual sales are from new products. Consumers are accepting new looks very quickly in our customer base.”
Several manufacturers mentioned the market preference for white oak as a compelling trend.
“Exotics have almost disappeared,” says Natkin. “White oak is the iPhone in the hardwood market; everyone wants it. And the supply of white oak globally is becoming a challenge. Anytime a species pops, the Chinese-because they have half the market in the U.S. for engineered hardwood-log out the area. The Russians in Siberia clamped down on logging of white oak, then Europe and Eastern Europe started clamping down too. Over the next 12 months, there will be a relative shortage of white oak globally.”
Copyright 2017 Floor Focus