Hardwood Flooring Report: Hardwood flooring tackles supply chain issues and labor shortages – April 2022
By Darius Helm
Last year, the U.S. hardwood industry posted its first year of revenue gains since 2016, buoyed by elevated housing and remodel markets. Gains were driven by a narrower delta versus SPC at the low end that boosted engineered wood revenues, price increases averaging 16% that inflated solid hardwood revenues, product enhancements that drew attention to the category, and, as a hedge against further supply chain constraints, investments (where possible) in inventory, some of which is yet to be sold downstream.
“The biggest issue last year was finding enough people,” says Paul Stringer, vice president of sales and marketing for Somerset. There was no actual shortage of containers, trucks and ships-the issue was and continues to be that these assets have been tied up, in large part due to insufficient manpower to load, unload and transport (for instance, at U.S. ports)-and there was plenty of hardwood too.
Into 2022, headwinds remain, some that are unique to the wood flooring business and some that are more generalized. Labor remains one of the major issues in the U.S. in general, and from sawmills to wood flooring mills to trucking-despite wage increases and added benefits-it’s still causing huge bottlenecks in the production and delivery of hardwood. And oceanic shipping delays, port slowdowns and container costs-all of which are interrelated-also impact the domestic flooring market, since 52% of the hardwood flooring consumed in the U.S. market, in terms of cost, is imported. And the biggest importer is China. (For more on the state of freight, State of the Supply Chain starting on page 69.) China’s recent Covid lockdowns of various provinces and cities, including Shenzhen, may lead to more bottlenecks over the next couple of months.
As Brad Williams, Mirage’s senior vice president of sales and marketing, puts it, “Every three months there’s a new challenge.” And, in fact, the new year has brought with it new adversities. In terms of business impacts, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is causing major global disruptions, roiling financial markets, driving up energy prices and inevitably maintaining inflationary pressure. In response to sanctions imposed by the international community, on March 10, Russia announced a string of export bans, including lumber. According to TimberCheck, a wood-focused research and data firm, Russian wood accounts for about 10% of hardwood plywood.
When it comes to wood flooring, Russian birch, also known as Baltic birch, is far and away the single most popular core material for engineered floors, due to its strength, grain regularity and price. Russian birch is grown in other eastern European countries, like Poland, Finland, Latvia and Estonia, and demand on these volumes will drive up prices and likely create more bottlenecks. And it’s worth noting that well before Russia’s invasion, a year ago or more, there were already significant disruptions to Baltic birch imports, so many manufacturers were already looking for alternatives.
At a National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) and Floor Covering Institute (FCI) webinar in the middle of last month, flooring producers discussed the issue and potential solutions. An NWFA survey prior to the webinar revealed that 95% of respondents were using Baltic birch in their engineered flooring. According to Brian Beakler, president of International Certified Flooring Installers Association (CFI), “The reality is Baltic birch is a highly stable platform; it has a good density to it; and it’s very homogenous and predictable. Not all plywood structures that you’ll be able to source, either domestically or from Southeast Asia, will provide those same attributes,”
“Many NWFA members are looking for answers about how this situation will impact supplies, potential legal or social issues, and alternatives,” says Michael Martin, NWFA’s president and CEO. He notes that some firms have switched to Douglas fir or other softwoods coming out of Canada, while others are turning to eucalyptus. Also gaining attention is poplar. And some manufacturers are considering switching to HDF cores. Both Shaw and Mohawk are leaning on eucalyptus as an alternative.
No matter what the material, manufacturers can expect a lot of price inflation, in part due to the wide use of these products. As Neil Poland, president of Mullican, says, “With Russian birch and HDF, the flooring industry is like a blister on the body,” with most of the volume going to case goods like furniture, desks, bookshelves and other interior elements.
And as Dan Natkin, CEO and managing director of Boen North America, points out, the issue goes beyond engineered cores. “Russia and Ukraine represent 50 to 60 million square feet of lumber, an annual volume they produce specifically for flooring,” says Natkin, noting that a lot of European white oak is sourced from both countries.
Issues with the delivery of imported products over the last couple of years has driven demand for domestically manufactured products-this, despite the fact that transportation within the U.S. is also overburdened. But it still conferred an advantage to hardwood, with over half of U.S. hardwood consumption coming from North American production.
However, as Somerset’s Stringer points out, “Distributors are looking for domestic production, and while that includes wood, it notably includes more LVT domestic production.” In fact, the U.S. is in the midst of a massive wave of investments in domestic rigid LVT production-from Shaw, Mannington, Mohawk, Engineered Floors, CFL, Wellmade, Novalis and Huali, among others. For more on investments in domestic flooring production, ‘Made in America’ Investments starting on page 55.
Looking back, 2021 was a successful year for the hardwood flooring industry. “2021 was a great year but a weird year,” says Wade Bondrowski, Mercier’s director of sales for the U.S. Despite a raft of challenges, the hardwood flooring industry surged last year, making gains across most price points, driven by the strength of the remodel and builder markets. This year, while some conditions have measurably improved, new challenges have cropped up that could make for a difficult year, including the sourcing of cores for engineered wood.
Growth on the order of 23% in dollars-we’ll present finalized numbers in next month’s Annual Report-belies the true state of the industry. For instance, that 23% is compared to 2020, a chaotic and volatile year where hardwood was down by high single digits. Also, price increases pushed wood’s gains in dollars well ahead of gains in volume-the producer price index for domestic hardwood was up 16% year over year. In addition, Santo Torcivia from Market Insights reports that last year a lot of players in the industry-from manufacturers and distributors to large retailers and home centers-invested heavily in building up inventory to get the jump on continued supply chain disruption and price increases.
THE ISSUES WITH OAK
While the white oak trend continues seemingly unabated, Martin notes that by 2021, for the first time in several years, “red oak surpassed white oak as the market leader, 30% and 25%, respectively.” He adds that, while some of this is due to availability, it’s also because of the growth in remodel work on properties that predominantly have red oak floors.
When it comes to European producers, the vast majority of their products are white oak. For Boen, for instance, 92% of its products are European white oak. Kährs is also all about white oak. And many of the big multi-category players are also heavily focused on white oak, though not so much at the lower end. While Shaw Floors is more heavily weighted toward red oak, its higher-end Anderson Tuftex is mostly white oak. It’s the top species for Mannington. However, hardwood specialists, from Lauzon and Mercier to AHF Products, Somerset and Maxwell, tend to lead with red oak.
Part of the issue is availability and price-for use in flooring, white oak is over 50% more expensive than red oak. There’s just not enough white oak in North American forests to satisfy demand, and there’s also competition from bourbon barrels. Whisky consumption has been on the rise for several years, and higher-grade white oak provides an ideal, leak-proof barrel for aging whisky. Also, North American producers churn out a lot of solid hardwood, which is heavily weighted toward red oak.
Imports tend to have higher ratios of (European) white oak, much of it harvested in Europe and Russia and assembled there or shipped to Asia to be turned into engineered wood.
The rise in white oak over the last decade is in many ways a story about color. Mullican’s Neil Poland relates a story about a half-million-square-foot job in New York City about five years ago. The firm produced samples of sawn-face engineered white oak in the specified grey stain, and while the designer said she was satisfied with the stain, she insisted on using it on white oak instead, because red was out in the design world, and she didn’t want to take the chance of “someone reacting against a hint of red.”
Oaks, in general, offer distinctive open and regular graining. White oak certainly offers a cleaner visual, less pronounced than red oak, whose coarser grain structures are porous-that’s one reason why bourbon barrels use white oak. And in terms of color, red oak has a light reddish cast while white oak is often described as having a light olive or yellow. And then there are the European white oaks, which don’t have that yellow cast. (Another species with strong grain patterns not unlike oak is ash, which is in high demand, but the invasive emerald ash borer is decimating the population throughout its native habitat, i.e. everywhere east of the Rockies.)
There’s much more to it when it comes to grain differences, tannin content, performance, ability to take stain and even the type of cut, but color is arguably the biggest driver of the white oak trend. And the strong movement toward lighter colors in general over the last few years has strengthened white oak, since it’s a lot harder to hide red oak’s hue in paler colors.
Considering that the limited supply of white oak is anticipated to extend into the foreseeable future, likely becoming even more constrained, manufacturers are taking another look at red oak and experimenting with ways of neutralizing its rosy hue. Preverco, for instance, just launched two colors in red oak designed to match the colorations of pale white oaks, and it intends to add a few more to match its white oak bestsellers. Lauzon also has red oaks in the same color palettes as its white oaks.
While the main trends in hardwood flooring are still centered on pale and natural hues, there is growing demand for mid-tone browns. Since it’s easier to hide the pink of red oak in darker stains, should these darker hues start to trend, it opens the door for increased use of red oak-reducing pricing pressure and boosting margins for producers and purveyors.
In last month’s Surfaces review, Floor Focus noted a related counter-trend, namely the showcasing of warm and almost bright medium-toned woods, from gunstock and rich honey to more orange-hued colors. Feedback from wood producers suggests that these colors do not represent a new trend as much as an echo of the colors popular 15 or 20 years ago. And they’re likely popping up now because of the surge in the remodel and sale of existing homes.
Many consumers are trying to match existing floors, says Kyle McAllister, Shaw’s hardwood and laminate category director. He notes, “There’s high demand for gunstock, what you see in a lot of the Northeast.”
And John Hammel, Mannington’s senior director of hardwood and laminate, adds, “Some of it is driven by people matching existing cabinetry.”
As AHF CEO Brian Carson points out, “Housing stock is heavily in the Midwest, Northeast and some other areas,” noting that in those more traditional markets, colors tend toward these richer hues.
INNOVATIONS IN PRODUCT CONSTRUCTION
Over the years, there have been a handful of key innovations that have transformed the wood flooring industry. The first was the introduction of engineered wood, first developed by Kährs in Europe in the middle of the 20th century and introduced soon after to the U.S. market by Anderson Hardwood, a firm acquired by Shaw in 2007 and ultimately incorporated into its higher-end Anderson Tuftex brand. The first engineered woods used a core of thin fillets of soft wood adhered in perpendicular grain direction to the top veneer and bottom balancing layer, a construction that hugely increased the dimensional stability of the product-and also used a lot less hardwood per board. Over the years, engineered constructions have developed, with a wide range of veneer thicknesses and core layers. These days, many engineered cores are made with plywood in a wide range of qualities. About a dozen years ago, engineered wood surpassed solid wood in the U.S. market.
Also central to the growth of engineered flooring has been that it accommodates the trend toward long and wide planks. Solid hardwood can only go so big before it succumbs to warping, and today, all of the big planks out there are engineered.
Another major development has been in what the NWFA calls composite engineered woods, which allows any type of core construction as long as it’s topped with a real wood veneer (of any thickness). The first expression of this construction came from Shaw in 2006 with Epic, a real wood veneer adhered to an HDF core. In recent years, with the development of rigid core products, some manufacturers started putting real wood veneers on these rigid cores. Shaw, for instance, has Coretec Wood, with a magnesium oxide core topped with real wood, and under Shaw Floors’ Floorté, with an SPC core topped with wood. And Mohawk’s UltraWood uses a hardwood veneer atop an HDF core.
Another early adopter of composite engineered wood constructions was Wellmade, a Chinese flooring manufacturer with U.S. headquarters in Portland, Oregon. Although the firm is best known for its rigid LVT products made with its proprietary HDPC core, it actually started out in bamboo, including strand bamboo, transitioning into rigid core products around 2015, and its current raft of rigid core products includes those topped with strand bamboo and hardwood veneers.
While the firm has national coverage through distributors for its rigid LVT, its composite woods are for now largely sold in home centers and to the DIY market through online and in-stock programs. The firm’s new rigid LVT facility in Cartersville, Georgia is already producing flooring and will soon more than double its current capacity of 120 million square feet a year. Its wood products, however, will continue to be manufactured at its facility in China.
What could be another major development in wood flooring construction comes from two firms, AHF Products and Välinge. Both use a compressed top veneer on composite bases. AHF uses heat and pressure in a patent-pending process to compress its veneers by up to 50%, and those veneers are then fused to HDF cores to create its Dogwood product. And for its Woodura, Välinge presses its veneers into a wood powder layer atop an HDF core, with the melamine-infused powder filling and essentially reinforcing the voids in the graining. (For a closer look at these products, see Innovation: Surface Technology in last month’s issue, starting on page 76.) Both Woodura and Dogwood more than double the hardness of the veneer, essentially conferring laminate-like dent- and scratch-resistance to their products without sacrificing their authentic visuals.
If they live up to their billing, the Dogwood and Woodura technologies may end up having their biggest impact in the commercial market. Architects and designers love both the look of wood and its authenticity as a natural product, but most commercial environments require higher performance than most hardwood products can provide, so designers are forced to compromise in one direction or the other, using faux-wood products like LVT or authentic materials like concrete. There could be significant demand for a product that delivered in both visual and authenticity.
There are a range of wood flooring firms supplying the U.S. marketplace. Some of the biggest volumes come from multi-category firms like Shaw, Mohawk and Mannington, relying both on domestic production and overseas sourcing. Then there are the domestic specialists like AHF, Somerset, Mullican and Maxwell, which by and large focus on domestic production. Another distinct group is the Quebec contingent-Mirage, Lauzon, Preverco, Mercier and many more-generally known for their clean visuals and often classic looks, and also for their maple. Most of these firms do little or more importing, and several are vertically integrated with sawmills. There are also several prominent European producers, led by Boen and Kährs, that offer fashion-forward styling-generally speaking, design trends emanate from Europe. There are also several foreign producers from Asia and Latin America, like Johnson Hardwood, Ark Floors and Indusparquet, and others that entirely rely on overseas manufacturing partnerships.
While all the specialists on this list have their roots in hardwood flooring, some have branched out in recent years. Mullican, for instance, introduced an SPC product in 2019. And over the last couple of years, AHF has added laminates and vinyl products and is anticipated to further expand its offerings.
Kentucky-based Somerset, which started out in 1985 as a solid hardwood producer, introduced sawn-face engineered wood a decade ago, and it now makes up a huge chunk of the business, though solid is still the bigger piece. All of Somerset’s products are made of Appalachian lumber harvested within 300 miles of the plant, mostly red oak, followed by white oak and hickory, as well as some maple, though only for engineered construction.
All of Somerset’s products go through distribution to the specialty retailer, targeting the middle to higher end of the market-retailing from $5 to up to $12 per foot. The firm does a little private label, but it’s mostly branded.
Like many hardwood producers, the firm uses Baltic birch in its engineered cores, coming from countries like Russia and Poland. And it is currently looking at alternative core constructions.
Last year, Somerset saw strong double-digit growth, and it looks like this year will again see growth, though likely in single digits. The biggest challenge last year was finding enough people to run all the shifts. Staffing has improved somewhat this year, but there are still backorders, particularly for engineered wood. Lumber supply is keeping pace, despite sustained worker shortages at sawmills.
In the three years since AHF Products split off from Armstrong to form a separate wood flooring business, the firm has been extremely active, rejuvenating its legacy brands, introducing new brands, acquiring other businesses and investing in its operations. Its wood flooring business is split about even between solid and engineered. Two months ago, American Industrial Partners sold AHF to Paceline Equity Partners, a Dallas, Texas-based private equity manager. “Our team will leverage its prior expertise, including long-standing industry relationships, to help AHF grow both organically and inorganically,” said Leigh Sansome, Paceline’s chief investment officer.
AHF now has eight manufacturing facilities, including one in Cambodia and seven in the U.S.-in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky and two in Tennessee. It acquired Asia’s LM Flooring as well as American OEM, a domestic operation with a massive private label business. And it has three domestic distribution facilities.
The firm has 14 brands, including legacy brands like Bruce, Robbins, Hartco and Homerwood; brands through acquisition, like LM, Raintree, Hearthwood and Emily Morrow Home; newly developed brands like Tmbr and Autograph, targeting Millennials; commercial brands like Parterre (another acquisition), AHF Contract and Bruce Contract; and its value-oriented and private-label focused Capella. Bruce, AHF’s largest brand in revenue and volume, targets the builder and home center channels. Hartco, Robbins and LM also do substantial builder business. Some brands, like Hartco, go direct to retail, while others go through distribution.
Also noteworthy is that AHF has been getting into vinyl flooring and laminate, so its offering is starting to resemble the Armstrong of old. It sources both LVT, rigid and flex, as well as sheet goods. By the end of this year, all of its brands will be offering vinyl flooring, and half will offer laminate.
The other big innovation news at AHF is its introduction last year of Dogwood, an engineered product with a compressed top veneer for high-performance applications, under the Bruce brand, and now it’s been rolled out in Hartco as Dogwood Pro.
Mullican has four facilities-one in Johnson City, Tennessee, where the firm is headquartered, and the others in Virginia, West Virginia and New York. Like many of the leading hardwood specialists, Mullican started out in 1985 producing solid and added engineered wood 16 years ago, first through an Asian manufacturing partnership, and then, starting in 2012, with its own engineered production.
Solid hardwood is still the bigger part of Mullican’s business, and because price inflation has been heavier on solid than engineered and lower-end rotary cut engineered wood is more vulnerable to SPC gains at entry-level price points, solid has showed more revenue growth.
Mullican’s engineered woods have traditionally relied on Russian birch, which the firm is currently transitioning away from, instead focusing on species like poplar. The firm already offers some click system wood products with HDF cores.
In terms of new technologies, Mullican recently invested in a dual stain system, with the first level in the grain itself-it works best with grainy woods like red and white oak-and the other after sanding or wirebrushing. Products using the technology will be introduced later this year.
Last year, Mullican posted strong growth, and backlogs from 2021 have continued into this year, though conditions have improved. However, Covid impacts in late 2021 and early 2022 delayed a lot of remodeling work.
Maxwell Hardwood Flooring was formed in 1992 by Tommy Maxwell, an industry veteran who had worked for Anderson, Robbins and Bruce, through his purchase of an existing hardwood mill in Monticello, Arkansas. Maxwell started out as a producer of unfinished solid hardwood strip flooring, expanding to planks and specialty constructions in 2005 in nearby Warren and adding engineered wood capacity, also in Warren, in 2011.
About 60% of Maxwell’s lumber is harvested in Alabama, and the balance comes from neighboring states. Red oak dominates its offering, followed white oak, then hickory and walnut, along with some maple. All of its flooring is unfinished. Maxwell’s products cover the gamut of price points, and last year the middle to higher-end was strongest, with builder business outpacing residential remodel.
By July of last year, Maxwell was fully staffed again, and it started to make progress with backorders, and as of last month, it had pretty much caught up. Strip flooring demand is lower than it was last year, but specialty products like wide plank white oak are still back ordered.
Several flooring manufacturers offer a wide array of flooring types. Some, like Shaw and Mohawk, started out as carpet mills and expanded into hard surface over the last few decades. Others, like Mannington, started out on the hard surface side and moved from there into soft surface. Most of these generalists offer both resilient and hardwood flooring, and often laminate as well, and they tend to cover a wide range of price points.
Among the largest hardwood players is Shaw, whose wood products go to market through both Shaw Floors and the higher-end Anderson Tuftex brand, and it also offers high-performance composite engineered woods in both Coretec and Shaw Floors’ Floorté, using a 2mm veneer in Coretec over a magnesium oxide core and a 1.2mm or 0.6mm veneer in Floorté over an SPC core. The firm sold off its solid hardwood facilities three years ago and no longer participates in that market.
The firm produces engineered wood in its facilities in Tennessee and South Carolina, accounting for the bulk of what it sells, and also sources from overseas partnerships. And its Coretec and Floorté products are manufactured in Asia.
The larger volume of wood goes through Shaw Floors, where single-family builder business dominates over residential remodel. And in Anderson Tuftex, most of the business is in residential remodel, along with some custom builder business. In Anderson Tuftex, white oak is the main species, and in Shaw Floors it’s red oak, particularly at the entry-level price points.
Shaw’s hardwood business was robust last year in both the builder and remodel markets, and while 2022 is poised to be another growth year, some moderation is expected as consumers shift their focus beyond their homes.
Mohawk serves the hardwood market with its TecWood brand and also with its higher-end Karastan brand, and it also offers its UltraWood as a standalone brand. All of its wood products are engineered or composite engineered constructions. The firm’s engineered facility in Danville, Virginia has been retooled for UltraWood production. Asian-sourced TecWood products don’t use Baltic birch, instead focusing on eucalyptus and some other species.
The bulk of TecWood products retail from about $4 to $9 per foot, while Karastan products are priced higher. UltraWood retails from $4 to over $6, across several formats. Veneers range from thin rotary peel to 4mm faces on longer, wider boards. The main species for face veneers is white oak, then hickory and maple, along with a smaller volume of red oak. TecWood, in about equal parts, serves both the remodel and builder/multifamily products, with builder dominating over multifamily, and UltraWood goes to both remodel and builder.
According to David Moore, senior product director for wood and laminate, 2021 was Mohawk’s best year ever for engineered and composite engineered wood sales, though managing the supply chain was a challenge. And, Moore adds, “We don’t see anything to slow the path we’re currently on.”
Mannington, a family-owned business launched over a century ago, started manufacturing hardwood in the mid ’80s, all engineered. Two years ago, the firm sold its engineered facility in High Point, North Carolina and shifted its hardwood business to a sourcing model, mostly relying on established partnerships-even before selling off its hardwood facility, the firm had sourced about half its offering-in Guatemala and Vietnam, as well domestically sourced hardwood. And its new TimberPlus high performance wood flooring is sourced from Välinge in Sweden.
Most of Mannington’s wood flooring retails from $4 to $10 and up per foot. The firm mostly goes through distribution to specialty retailers, and its lower price point products have a strong position in the builder and multifamily markets. It is also focusing on going direct in some regions. The firm doesn’t sell to home centers. All of its products are FSC certified.
Business was strong last year, and so far this year is showing continued growth, with sustained demand still held back because of supply constraints. While middle and higher-end price points were strongest, the lower end has also been posting gains. White oak dominates Mannington’s offering, followed by hickory and then red oak. In response to recently strengthening demand for hardwood products from consumers, Mannington put more emphasis on this category in its 2022 product introductions.
QEP, a different sort of generalist, is a global firm with a broad background in flooring accessories like underlayments, adhesives and tools. It got into the wood business in 2010 through its purchase of Harris Wood, a brand that dates back to 1898, from ArborCraft, whose business was formerly part of Tarkett. And in 2018, the firm added another flooring business, Naturally Aged.
Naturally Aged is a higher-end brand, with some of the products sourced domestically but most coming through overseas manufacturing partnerships. Harris Wood is entirely made in the U.S. from its facility in Johnson City, Tennessee. Naturally Aged products retail from $5 to $10 per foot, while Harris Wood starts in the low $3s and goes up to $5 or $6. Naturally Aged goes direct to retail. All of its products are sawn face, and most are made of European white oak. Harris Wood, traditionally sold through distribution, is now being relaunched direct to retail, as well.
All of QEP’s hardwood products have traditional engineered core constructions-no HDF cores-and some of Harris’ best-selling products also feature a locking system. In fact, at this month’s NWFA expo, the firm is unveiling an upgraded Välinge click system for its products. Cores are typically made from species like poplar and ash.
The other big news at QEP is that it has launched a strategy of leveraging its brand name across all product categories as a one-source, one-solution company, from its hardwood lines to its Roberts tools and accessories programs.
Canadian hardwood producers, largely based in the province of Quebec, play an outsized role in the U.S. market, accounting for 12% of all imports-and imports account for over half of U.S. consumption. The most prominent Quebec firm is Mirage, formerly known as Boa-Franc (see box below). Other major players include Lauzon, Preverco and Mercier.
Mercier, with facilities in Montmagny and Drummondville, was founded in 1980, producing both unfinished and prefinished solid hardwood, with the prefinishing process developed by the founder, Marcel Mercier. The success of its prefinish, which by 1999 included the use of aluminum oxide, eventually led it to stop producing unfinished wood. Mercier added prefinished engineered wood in 2005, and it now accounts for nearly half of its total offering.
Both solid and engineered hardwood are milled and profiled in Drummondville, which has its own sawmill, and the products are finished in Montmagny. The firm sources its lumber, mostly red oak and maple, from the Appalachian range in the U.S.
Mercier’s flooring retails at mid to high price points, mostly between $6 and $12 a foot, and about 80% of its revenues come from the residential remodel market, with another 15% in builder and the rest in commercial. In the U.S., the firm is strongest in the Northeast and Midwest, and it’s making big gains in the South through J.J. Haines, its distributor partner.
The firm has grown its business every year since 2013. And Wade Bondrowski, Mercier’s director of sales for the U.S., credits some of its recent gains to a merchandising program it developed about three years ago that not only includes an improved display with bigger samples but also rebate programs, quick-ship samples and other features and benefits.
Lauzon, headquartered in Papineauville, was launched in 1985 by David Lauzon. The vertically integrated mill, which has three facilities for the production of solid and engineered wood and its own sawmill, and also manages a huge tract of forest. It also sources some engineered white oak.
The firm has recently rebranded its offering its two programs, the Lauzon Collection and Expert by Lauzon, with its 7/16” to 9/16” engineered wood under the Lauzon Collection and its hefty 3/4” engineered wood (with a 5.2mm veneer) and its solid wood line under Expert by Lauzon. The engineered products manufactured in Quebec feature locally sourced plywood cores.
Its products retail from $5 to about $13, with the more affordable price points coming from the Lauzon Collection. Lauzon has developed and launched websites for both brands. About 60% of its products are sold to the residential remodel market, and the balance is builder.
Last year, Lauzon’s business was up by high double digits and gains have continued into 2022, with builder business already booked out. The firm is in the first year of a three-year optimization plan across all its facilities, which will include, among other things, more automation.
Preverco, headquartered near Quebec City, manufactures both solid and engineered wood flooring, in about equal amounts. The firm makes all of its products out of one facility and has another facility, where it recently expanded capacity, for the manufacture of its quarter-sawn pine core. Fortuitously, the firm stopped using Baltic birch in January 2021 and its products and components are now entirely harvested from North America. The firm also owns a sawmill on the outskirts of Quebec City.
Preverco’s hardwood retails from $4 and goes up to about $13 a foot for products like rift and quarter sawn white oak. Currently, its main species are maple and red oak, with white oak accounting for less than 20% of sales. The firm mostly sells direct to retailers.
Canada accounts for 60% of revenues, and the U.S. makes up the other 40%. Preverco is currently looking to expand in some regions, like the U.S. West Coast. The firm continues to invest in its facilities, with about 14 robots so far on the production line to take on tasks that are hard on laborers, like those that cause repetitive stress injuries.
Many of the leading trends in the U.S. market, like ultra-wide and -long planks, dry matte finishes, and pale colorations, not to mention the white oak trend itself, originate in the European market. Many sell under their brands names, while others supply U.S. flooring firms.
In 2013, Norway’s Boen was acquired by Swiss firm Bauwerk to form the largest wood-only producer in Europe. Over the last decade, Boen has focused on growing its U.S. business, and just last year the firm hired Dan Natkin, who had been with Mannington since 2006, as its North American CEO and managing director. The firm’s U.S. headquarters is in Daytona Beach, Florida, with warehousing in California and Dalton, Georgia. It sells in the U.S. through distribution, mostly under the Boen brand, though it does private label with one distributor. In the U.S., Boen’s primary market is residential remodel, followed by mid to upper-end builder, then multifamily.
Boen specializes in sawn-face engineered wood, which is manufactured at its main facility in Lithunia along with its operations in Croatia and Switzerland, with engineered cores and backings made of spruce. The firm also produced composite engineered wood with HDF cores, though the line is not currently offered in the U.S. Over 90% of Boen’s hardwood is white oak, and the balance is maple, walnut, ash and beech. A smaller but sizeable part of the business is focused on sports flooring, used in YMCA gyms all across the U.S.
Last year, Boen’s U.S. business posted strong growth, only limited by supply. According to Natkin, by the end of this year, revenue from U.S. business will be “triple what it was two years ago.”
Sweden’s Välinge, an innovation firm best known for its locking systems for hard surface flooring and walls, developed a technology over a dozen years ago to produce high-performance flooring using wood powder pressed onto HDF cores. The technology yielded two constructions-Nadura for products with digitally printed designs atop the wood powder and Woodura for products with a real wood veneer pressed into the wood powder. The wood powder, mixed with melamine, presses into the voids in the grain of the wood veneer, which is compressed from 0.8mm down to 0.5mm to 0.6mm.
The firm built a facility with a capacity of 50 million square feet adjacent to its operations in Viken, Sweden, which has been producing flooring for over a year. And it is building another facility in Croatia, vertically integrated with HDF core production, that should start up within the year initially with the same capacity and the goal of quadrupling production within a couple of years.
In the U.S., Välinge sells its product under its Hardened Wood brand, and it is also developing private label partnerships, including with Mannington, which came out with its first Woodura product, TimberPlus, at this year’s Surfaces.
One of the leading European hardwood firms, and the original developer of the engineered wood construction, is Sweden’s Kährs. In addition to engineered wood, which is largely manufactured in Sweden, with facilities in Romania and Poland, as well, the firm also makes resilient flooring in Finland. In the U.S., the firm’s hardwood program has a strong position in multifamily, as well as in residential remodel, along with a smaller volume of custom builder work.
Remodel business was strong throughout 2021, and toward the end of last year, multifamily business started to surge, with the momentum carrying into 2022. Back orders have slowed the pace of business, and it’s likely that this year will see some continued bottlenecks.
The firm’s new Life collection, a composite engineered wood with a sliced wood veneer atop an HDF core, offers waterproofing and commercial-grade features through an enhancement of its longstanding Linnea engineered line.
In the U.S., its most popular species is white oak, and it also offers a range of products in maple, FSC-certified Brazilian cherry and walnut, as well as a single, but popular, line of red oak.
Boa-Franc, Canada’s leading hardwood producer and one of the top five producers in North America, has for years sold its products under the Mirage brand name. Its acquisition of Tembec’s Vintage Flooring in 2011 added another brand. And in 2019, the firm acquired Ten Oaks, a solid hardwood manufacturer based in Stuart, Virginia, a third brand. Boa-Franc is headquartered in Saint-Georges, Quebec.
Now, on the cusp of its 40th anniversary, Boa-Franc has decided that the time is ripe to change its corporate name to match the name of its prominent premium brand. Over the years, the Mirage brand has been successful at establishing itself as a purveyor of quality products-in fact, in the last 16 years of Floor Focus’ annual retailer survey, when it comes to quality, Mirage has been the top hardwood choice for retailers for 12 of those years.
Taking the Mirage name to the corporate level not only streamlines brand identity, but it also positions the company with its market. The U.S. is Mirage’s biggest market, so it makes sense, according to the firm, to have a name that is easy to understand, pronounce and spell in English. Also, the Mirage brand has achieved a degree of visibility such that it’s common for people to assume that it’s the name of the company itself, so the name change also eliminates that confusion.
The firm goes to market with four construction platforms: solid hardwood, engineered wood, composite engineered wood with a locking system and TruBalance, the firm’s 3/4” premium engineered product. All products are manufactured, assembled and prefinished at the firm’s North American facilities, and all of its materials are 100% wood based. TruBalance, which was first introduced to the U.S. market about two years ago, has a three-ply construction, with a 4mm top veneer and a 2mm veneer on the bottom sandwiching a core of quarter-sawn finger joints-the quarter-sawn core construction drives any expansion takes place along the vertical axis, ensuring the stability of the entire product. According to Mirage’s Williams, the next step is to come out with a 1/2” TruBalance some time in the next year or so, depending to some degree on the outcome of the Ukraine invasion and material availability.
Mirage is among the many firms that use Baltic birch, sourced from a range of suppliers in Finland, Latvia, Russia and Estonia. However, the firm has been steadily shifting away from plywood platforms.
Last year, Mirage’s sales were up by high double digits, though margins were narrowed due to both the inflation in material and production costs, and also the speed of inflation. However, it has for now caught up with all backlogs.
Copyright 2022 Floor Focus
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