Hardwood Industry Update: The U.S. hardwood flooring business is an industry in flux - April 2021
By Darius Helm
The hardwood flooring category is in the midst of its most significant transformation in decades, with erosion at the lower end dampening growth but also elevating average price points. At the same time, new product constructions are building a bridge between faux wood products and traditional hardwood, challenging assumptions about what qualifies as authentic and real.
In the short term, the issues dogging the industry are supply disruptions and their impact on prices. Logging, domestically and globally, ground to a halt last spring, causing sawmills to shutter. And even when demand surged back, wet weather hampered progress. Some sawmills went under. Also, many mills, noting the summer spike in softwood for new home construction, shifted away from hardwood to follow the market. These disruptions have impacted sawmill labor, as well; once demand ramped up, labor shortages presented another barrier to meeting demand.
It’s worth noting that once the lumber is cut, it has to be cured. Kiln drying takes about three months. So the ramping up had a built-in delay that created more bottlenecks. And the hardwood flooring manufacturers also had to contend with labor issues in the midst of the pandemic, like getting enough workers to run production or do second shifts. And there have been major delays in getting product from one place to another due to transportation bottlenecks.
In terms of global production, the issue of freight across the water has been crippling. Container freight costs have more than doubled. West Coast ports are choked, creating huge delays, and East Coast ports are also slowed.
Many manufacturers are backordered by hundreds of thousands of square feet, and in many cases the backlogs are still growing. Some manufacturers are hopeful that conditions will return to normal later this year, but it’s likely that there will be challenges until 2022.
Also, it’s not just solid hardwood and engineered wood veneers facing supply-side problems. A key component of engineered wood is its interior plies, where the material of choice is Baltic birch, an imported product. And there have been huge disruptions in Baltic birch imports. Also, products like staples are in short supply as well as nails for nail guns. And due to the Arctic weather this winter in Texas, the heart of American fossil fuel refining, the supply of polymer-based materials, including adhesives, has been disrupted, and in addition, after bottoming out last April at about $18 a barrel, crude oil prices have rebounded, climbing to over $60. Every one of these disruptions and bottlenecks have impacted costs, and most of the leading hardwood producers have announced mid-single-digit and double-digit price increases to help sustain margins.
Another issue is China and the tariffs imposed by the U.S. over the last few years, as well as China’s retaliatory tariffs. While most of the solid hardwood consumed in the U.S. is produced domestically, engineered hardwood heavily tilts toward imports, and China has been at the heart of that volume for years. The tariffs have driven production to other East Asian nations, like Cambodia and Vietnam. This volatility has disrupted supply chains and also impacted costs.
Most of the hardwood producers report that sales for 2020 were down marginally, with the boom in activity in the last five months of the year unable to offset the losses during the onset of the pandemic. U.S. mill production was down an estimated 10%, and imports only rose by about 2%, so total U.S. wood flooring consumption for the year was likely down around 4%. (Floor Focus’ Annual Report in next month’s issue will offer final 2020 numbers and more industry statistics.) So far this year, manufacturers report high demand, though they’re still having trouble getting what they need when they need it. But there are some concerns that as the nation gets out from under Covid, the remodeling wave may stall as consumers shift their spending to vacations and other previously restricted activities.
The biggest pressure on U.S. hardwood flooring consumption, however, is not due to the conditions wrought by Covid. Rather, it’s about marketshare loss to rigid LVT, specifically SPC. Hardwood consumption has been falling for the last four years, and most of the damage has come from the single-family builder market, where SPC has effectively forced out hardwood at the lower end. But the hardwood category has also suffered in the remodel market, where the waterproof story of SPC combined with the wood looks most consumers crave have driven the market away from hardwood flooring, again largely at the lower price points.
An interesting development has come from innovations of a hybrid flooring, defined by the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) as a composite engineered wood (see box below). These wood-topped products currently range widely in quality and price. According to the producers of these products, market reception has been strong. It’s not yet clear where these hybrids will end up settling in terms of price points, but there’s a good chance they’ll be clustered in the space between SPC and engineered wood.
Looking ahead, if market trends continue unabated, hardwood could lose the lower end of the market. But the good news is that the higher end is secure and unchallenged by these rigid core and composite wood developments. SPC, a commoditized product, has essentially created a bulwark against hardwood commoditization, elevating the value of the category and cementing hardwood as a higher-end flooring product.
The big unknown, though, is how much muddier the waters will get in terms of what’s an authentic wood flooring. For instance, some manufacturers are already leaving off “composite” when marketing their composite engineered woods. And some laminate producers make the case that their HDF cores are wood byproducts. And wood-look products, from LVT to laminates to ceramics, are more convincing and realistic every season. So the question is how the consumer will respond. If it becomes too challenging to discern faux from real or to determine where to draw the line, authentic hardwood flooring could suffer. But if the consumer’s craving for authenticity rebels against the marketing mayhem, the hardwood category would likely flourish.
There are dozens of hardwood producers with strong positions in the U.S. market. Floor Focus spoke with several of the leading firms, as well as those bringing innovation to the market, to provide an overview of the hardwood flooring landscape.
Over the last few years, carpet mills have added hard surface flooring to meet market demand, and in most instances that has meant adding rigid LVT. But in the case of The Dixie Group, its premium Fabrica brand has instead added engineered hardwood. Fabrica Fine Wood focuses on white oak, along with hickory, maple and even birch, in a range of styles and surface textures.
THE DOMESTIC PRODUCERS
The largest domestic hardwood producer is Shaw Industries, which sold off its solid hardwood facilities two years ago. The firm still sells solid hardwood through partnerships, and it has engineered hardwood facilities in Tennessee and South Carolina with both sliced and rotary peel veneers. The firm also sources some engineered woods, mostly with sliced and sawn faces. And importantly, Shaw also produces composite engineered wood, in the form of Coretec Wood with a magnesium oxide core and Floorté Hardwood with an SPC core. According to the firm, its composite engineered wood offerings are resonating with both independent retailers and consumers.
Shaw was actually the first major producer to come out with composite engineered wood with its introduction in 2006 of Epic, featuring a high-density fiberboard core topped with a rotary-peel wood veneer, and it mostly goes to the remodel and single-family builder markets. Epic has been enhanced with Repel technology for water resistance and sliced veneers.
Shaw’s hardwood covers a wide range of price points, with the most affordable offerings under the Shaw Floors brand and the higher end captured by Anderson Tuftex, which has been focusing on some less commonplace species, like ash. Its solid offering goes mostly to higher-end custom builders, along with some remodeling, mostly in the Northeast and Midwest.
Last year, total wood sales were down marginally, and 2021 should be a year of growth, in part due to the strength of the single-family new home market, which is where Shaw Floors is strongest, and activity at the higher end of the remodel market. Composite woods are strongest in the remodel market, though Floorté Hardwood also goes to the multifamily high-rise market.
Another market leader is AHF Products, which was Armstrong’s hardwood business prior to its acquisition by a private equity firm, American Industrial Partners, at the end of 2018. AHF’s portfolio of brands includes Hartco, Robbins, Homerwood, Capella, LM Flooring and Bruce, which is the most prominent hardwood brand in North America. While most of the firm’s business is branded and sold both through specialty retail and big boxes, the firm also has a substantial private label business.
LM Flooring, acquired in 2019, is a Chinese manufacturer, and when AHF acquired it, the firm was manufacturing near Shanghai and building a facility in Cambodia. Since then, the Shanghai operation has been shut down due to costs, including tariff impacts, and all production has shifted to Cambodia. LM has been selling to the U.S. market for 30 years and is well established on the West Coast, targeting the mid to high price points with a range of species.
AHF is also in the process of launching two new brands targeting the Millennial new homebuyer: Tmbr and Autograph. And it’s also now in the LVT business, both through its acquisition of the assets of Parterre, a Massachusetts-based commercial LVT firm and through private label sourcing.
AHF is a major solid hardwood producer through its facilities in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Missouri and Arkansas across several of its brands, and it produces engineered wood, both rotary peel and sawn face in Kentucky and Pennsylvania, as well as in Cambodia. Also, AHF makes composite engineered wood. It started with Bruce Hydropel a year and a half ago, then added Robbins HydroGuard and Harto HydroBlok.
The firm has been investing in domestic production, expanding its Somerset, Kentucky facility, and it also put out 6,000 new displays last year and came out with 700 new products. And it’s hiring to expand crews in three of its facilities.
Mohawk Industries is another player in domestic hardwood production, with a focus on engineered woods. Toward the beginning of this year, the firm stopped producing solid
hardwood, most of which was sold in the Midwest and Northeast for remodels and custom builds. And this year, it is launching a composite engineered wood product called UltraWood, which marries an HDF core to a 0.6mm sliced hardwood veneer. Like the firm’s RevWood Plus laminate flooring, UltraWood is part of Mohawk’s Wetprotect warranty system designed for waterproof installation.
Most of Mohawk’s hardwood is sold to independent retailers. According to the firm, Mohawk’s hardwood business grew by low single digits last year, despite its limited position in the builder market, citing a strong start before the pandemic and a return to high volumes in June. Higher single digit growth is expected for this year, which also started strong.
Most of Mohawk’s wood flooring is sold under the TecWood brand, with widths from 5” to 9”. On its consumer-facing website, the firm also sells laminates in its wood flooring category. It also sells wood flooring under the Pergo brand.
Mullican, one of the top five domestic hardwood producers, manufactures a range of solid and engineered woods, both prefinished and unfinished, and it also has a wood-look SPC program. Most of its wood flooring is made from red oak, white oak and hickory, and its engineered products range from rotary peel veneers to sliced and sawn faces. Mullican started out as a solid hardwood producer, then added 3/8” engineered 15 years ago, which it sourced from Asia until 2012, when it opened its facility in Tennessee. The firm also has a small program of composite engineered wood-wood veneers over an HDF core-but it’s not currently an engine of growth. For Mullican, 2020 was a growth year, and it anticipates the same for this year.
The firm has four facilities in the U.S.-in Johnson City, Tennessee; Norton, Virginia; Ronceverte, West Virginia; and Holland, New York-where it produces well over 90% of its product. The balance is imported. Products are sold through distribution to specialty retailers as well as to home centers.
Another top-five producer is Kentucky-based Somerset, which, like Mullican, started out as a solid hardwood specialist before adding engineered capabilities in 2012. Its engineered products are all 1/2” thick with a sawn face. Somerset, operating out of three facilities in Kentucky and Tennessee, targets the mid to high end of the market with both strip and plank products.
Last year, following a robust first quarter, the pandemic, along with programs in Kentucky supporting lower income workers and Covid restrictions at the plant, held back production through July, and by the time business started booming in August, Somerset was backordered by close to two million square feet. Lumber shortages followed, though the firm hopes to catch up later this month.
In terms of species, red oak is the biggest piece of the pie, followed by white oak and hickory. Solid hardwood is still bigger than engineered, and its unfinished solid, which mostly goes to new construction along with some remodel, has been in high demand, and the firm is considering adding a line to handle the volume.
One firm that used to be a manufacturer but now relies on sourcing is Mannington, which sold its High Point, North Carolina engineered hardwood facility in early 2020. The firm sources product from existing partnerships (and one new partnership) in the U.S., Central America and Southeast Asia in a range of engineered constructions-its entry-level product is 3/8” thick with mostly rotary peel veneers; 1/2” products, mostly with sliced veneers; and its top of the line 9/16” and thicker products, which are all sawn face.
The firm has been focusing on reinforcing the mid to upper end of its line, including the introduction of the Latitude collection of sliced face hickory in an ultra matte finish. The 1/2” product is 7-1/2”x7’. And it enhanced its Mountain View Hickory with a larger format, 6-1/2”x7’, called Mountain View XL. And late last year the firm introduced a higher-end product called Sanctuary, in a width of 9-1/2” and lengths up to 7’ in a premium white oak with a soft, subtle character.
Maxwell Hardwood Flooring, based in Monticello, Arkansas, was for many years the most prominent unfinished solid hardwood specialist in the U.S. market, and ten years ago it expanded to add engineered wood. All of its products are manufactured in its Arkansas facilities (Monticello and Warren), and about 60% of its lumber, both green and kiln-dried, is also sourced in Arkansas. The balance comes from neighboring states.
Maxwell’s 3/4” solid and 5/8” engineered range in width from 1-1/2” to 8”, and species include red oak, white oak, hickory, cherry, walnut and maple.
Last year, Maxwell’s year started strong, then slowed through most of the summer until it bounced back in September and finished strong. Sales for the year were up from 2019, and it looks like business for 2021 will be strong at least into the fall.
Last year, Maxwell invested in new equipment and technology, and the firm reports that it is already seeing benefits, and it also purchased additional lumber last year, in anticipation of tight supply-particularly on the solid hardwood side-so it hasn’t faced the same headwinds as much of its competition.
American OEM, which focuses on the higher end of the market with its American-made products, had a great 2020, with revenues up an estimated 25%, and the firm anticipates another 20% growth for this year. The firm makes engineered wood-along with Raintree, its waterproof composite engineered wood with an SPC core and a 1.2mm sliced face of white oak or hickory-and despite its name, about 40% of American OEM’s products are sold through specialty retailers and carry its brand name.
Raintree, introduced a couple of years ago to its distribution partners, has turned out to be the firm’s fastest-growing product. Its coating technology, WetWorx, is now being extended to the firm’s engineered hardwood lines. According to the firm, WetWorx improves moisture resistance by 250%.
American OEM’s products are manufactured through prison labor in Tennessee-the 175 prisoners on its payroll are paid civilian wages-but with Covid rates high in prisons, it has been challenging to run enough hours. For instance, the firm can’t run second shifts right now because it can’t get correctional officers to cover the shifts.
New products include Sanctuary, an engineered hardwood made of a refined maple in a range of soft colors, and Enchantment, a white oak with a lot of knotty character that comes in several natural hues.
Emily Morrow Home focuses on the higher end of the market with a selection of engineered white oak, all made in Tennessee from regional lumber. The firm sells products to the independent retailer and has a relationship with CCA Global’s buying groups. For instance, its products are featured in the International Design Guild’s Louis A. Dabbieri hardwood collection, including Atocha, one of the firm’s best sellers. And it also sells through CCA’s Carpet One, Flooring America and ProSource, and also through Abbey Carpet Co.’s buying groups.
The firm’s products range in width from 7” to 9”, in thicknesses from about 9/16” (14mm) to nearly 3/4” (18mm). Its most robust veneer, 4.8mm, is rift and quartersawn, while its thinner veneers are sliced.
Business was robust last year and also saw a record number of online sample orders. And 2021 has started off strong.
Healthier Choice, launched in 1994, is best known for its polyurethane carpet cushions and acoustical underlayments, but in 2013 it launched its Choice Flooring line, first introducing solid and engineered woods, and following that in 2019 with SPC and WPC products.
The Dalton, Georgia-based firm sources its hardwoods through partnerships with Chinese and Vietnamese hardwood manufacturers. The engineered offering, which includes two products with click systems, range from 3/8” to 1/2” in hickory, maple, white oak, Baltic birch and short leaf acacia. And the 3/4” solid products come in Baltic birch and white oak.
Oshkosh Designs, based in Winneconne, Wisconsin, has been in the business for 30 years, and it is best known as the leading producer of hardwood medallions. However, the biggest part of its business these days is in parquet tiles, which typically run from 12” to 3” squares. It manufactures both solid and engineered woods-engineered makes up about 80% of volume-and its most popular species are red and white oak, walnut, America cherry and Brazilian cherry. The firm serves the residential remodel, new home and commercial markets, including hotel lobbies and higher-end retail like Tiffany’s flagship store in New York City.
In addition, the firm does a lot of borders, as well as chevron and herringbone constructions. All of its products are made in Wisconsin, with lumber sourced as much as possible from local sawmills. And it sells mostly through traditional distribution. About 70% of Oshkosh’s products are custom.
What sets epoxy apart:
The National Wood Flooring Association defines a composite engineered wood as any product (that’s not solid or engineered) topped with a real wood veneer. And over the last couple of years, several firms have introduced this type of product, with cores of high density fiberboard (like what is used in laminate flooring), vinyl composite (like SPC) and magnesium oxide.
Shaw Industries has had Epic (with an HDF core) for 15 years, and a couple of years ago it introduced a Coretec product with a magnesium oxide core and Floorté Hardwood with an SPC core. And Mohawk recently came out with UltraWood with an HDF core. Wellmade, a rigid LVT producer, offers both hardwood and bamboo veneers atop its proprietary rigid core. Mirage offers Mirage Lock, with an HDF core. Torlys has Everest XP. AHF Products has composite engineered woods in its Bruce, Robbins and Hartco brands. Kährs just came out with a commercial product with an HDF core. And Välinge, the click system innovator, has now introduced to the U.S. market its Hardened Wood, a unique construction (called Woodura) utilizing an HDF core with a layer of pressed wood powder topped with a real wood veneer.
Composite engineered woods check a lot of boxes for consumers-they get the real wood they crave and the waterproof or water-resistant performance that they believe they need. These products currently range widely in price, but over time it’s likely that they’ll find their strongest position at the low to medium end of the market, where traditional hardwoods are losing share to SPC.
THE QUEBEC CONTINGENT
Canada’s eastern province is known for its large tracts of slow-growth hardwood forests, and most of the hardwood flooring firms that manufacture out of Quebec have a reputation for high-quality products. And there’s an overall different character to Quebec’s hardwood flooring compared to what comes out of the U.S., a cleaner, softer look in part driven by its heavier use of hard maple. And it’s generally more aligned with European aesthetics. For instance, while the region’s producers never fully embraced the rough-hewn textures that trended through the U.S. a decade ago, they were ahead of the wave of grey, and they also led in wirebrushed effects.
Among the hardwood leaders in Quebec from both a volume and quality perspective is Boa-Franc, which manufactures from its facility in Saint-Georges and goes to market as Mirage. The family-owned firm is headed up by Pierre Thabet, who received a Lifetime Achievement award from the National Association of Floor Covering Distributors in 2013.
In late 2019, the firm acquired Ten Oaks, which produces unfinished red and white oak from its two facilities in Stuart, Virginia. Mirage mostly targets the higher end of the market, $8 or more per square foot to the consumer. In the U.S., about 90% of its products go through distribution to independent retailers, and in Canada it goes direct.
In Saint-Georges, Mirage has four hardwood flooring platforms: Mirage Classic is 3/4” solid hardwood; Mirage Engineered is 1/2” engineered with a 4mm top veneer; Mirage Lock, the firm’s most affordable program, is 7/16” thick composite engineered wood with a 2mm veneer and an HDF core, with click system or gluedown installation; and just launching now is TruBalance, Mirage’s most innovative construction.
TruBalance, a 3/4” engineered product with a three-ply construction, has a 4mm top veneer and a 2mm bottom, and the core is a quartersawn SPF (spruce, pine, fir) core produced through a patented process. The product, designed to be extremely stable, can be stapled, glued down or floated.
Most of Mirage’s products are made from red oak, followed by maple and white oak, with smaller volumes of hickory, walnut and yellow birch.
Over the last five years, Mirage has invested heavily in its operations, with a focus on automation (it’s hard to find manual labor in Quebec), along with targeted enhancements for wider and longer boards.
Lauzon, based in Papineauville, makes both solid and engineered hardwood products, and the firm is vertically integrated, harvesting most of its wood from public and private Canadian forests. In addition, it sources some products, including exotics, from Southeast Asia manufacturers.
Lauzon goes to market with two brands: Expert Hardwood Floors by Lauzon, made up of 3/4” solid hardwood and its Solid 2-ply Engineered line, which is stable from 30% to 80% relative humidity, and the Lauzon Collection of designer floors, with a focus on long and wide planks. While the Expert line focuses on red oak and hard maple, the Lauzon Collection offers those species, as well as white oak, hickory, black walnut, Brazilian cherry and Santos mahogany.
In the next couple of months, Lauzon will introduce its Expert Décor series, with a natural palette and an ultra-matte finish. And this fall the firm will add to the Lauzon Collection with long and wide white oak planks featuring its new Time-Worn texture, also in a natural palette.
Mercier, located in Montmagny, a short distance from Quebec City, targets the higher end with its solid and engineered woods, and everything it sells is produced in-house. Its solid line ranges in width from 2-1/4” to 4-1/4” and its engineered line comes in 1/2” and 3/4”, with widths from 3-1/4” to 8-1/8”. All of its engineered hardwood features a 4mm sawn face and a Baltic birch back.
Mercier goes to the U.S. market through distribution, and in Canada it goes direct. In the U.S., its strongest regions are the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, though it’s growing fastest in the South.
Most of the firm’s products come from red oak and maple, followed by white oak, and it also uses hickory and walnut. The firm has its own sawmill, and it buys most of its lumber from the U.S., including the Finger Lakes region of New York for maple.
Over the last three years, the firm has come out with three major introductions. First came Element, featuring a reactive UV stain, then Naked Wood, with a raw, newly sawn appearance, and this year it’s coming out with Atmosphere, that takes the Naked Wood look and adds some earthy tones in a range of species and widths.
Another major Canadian producer is Preverco, headquartered in Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures, which is also close by Quebec City. The firm makes both solid and engineered wood. Its engineered products are three-ply or two-ply, both with a 4mm top veneer. The three-ply product has a core of quartersawn red pine and a white pine backing, and the two-ply product is essentially the same but without the backing layer. That two-ply product, called Flex, comes in 19mm and 16mm thicknesses, and its construction allows it to contour to slightly uneven slab.
Preverco goes direct to retailers in both Canada and the U.S., and its Canadian business is slightly larger than its U.S. business. All of the firm’s products are made in its Saint-Augustin facility, with its Montreal facility providing some components. And it also owns a sawmill about 25 miles outside of Quebec City. And as of January, when the firm discontinued its use of Baltic birch, all of its wood materials come from North America.
Like Mirage, Preverco has been investing in automating its operations. It currently has seven robots on the production line and plans to add more.
THE FOREIGN PRODUCERS
Arguably the most prominent foreign producer is Sweden’s Kährs, which introduced the first engineered hardwood flooring, patented in 1941. Over the last 15 years, the firm has expanded into LVT and a range of PVC and PVC-free floorcoverings, largely through its merger with Finland’s Karelia-Upofloor in 2013.
This year, the firm’s biggest launch is its Kährs Life collection of composite engineered woods designed for the commercial market. The product sandwiches an HDF core between a wood top and bottom veneer, and it offers water-resistant properties and a durable finish suitable for heavy commercial use.
The firm is also expanding its most popular line, the Canvas collection, with new on-trend colors. Also new are the Lux and Capital collections, with wide planks and ultra-matte finishes, and the Texture collection, featuring natural saw marks and an oiled finish.
Kährs sources its oak and maple from Europe, and from the U.S. it sources American cherry, red oak, hard maple and walnut. Its ash and beech come from Scandinavia, and it also sources FSC-certified Brazilian cherry from Brazil. The firm does most of its manufacturing from its facility in Sweden, supplemented by additional facilities in Eastern Europe.
Indusparquet, a family-owned Brazilian business that started in 1970, launched its brand in 2009 following two decades of supplying product to BR-111, a prominent importer that closed its doors a few years later. Indusparquet has two mills in Brazil, producing both solid and engineered wood. In volume, its U.S. business is more engineered than solid, but in dollars it’s about the same. The firm’s most popular species is Brazilian oak.
The firm, which targets the medium to higher end of the market, was originally known for its traditional exotics, but as the trend shifted from the oranges and reds that characterize so many Brazilian exotic species, Indusparquet has turned its focus to low-gloss products and wirebrushed effects.
The firm’s U.S.-bound products are made in an FSC-certified mill, though most of the demand in the U.S. is not for products with FSC-certified chain of custody. Its U.S. offices are in Miami. About 75% of its U.S. business goes through distribution, and it sells unbranded product to the mass retail channel.
The firm only buys lumber from managed forests regulated by IBAMA, the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources. According to the firm, in these heavily regulated forests, the trees are measured and marked, and selected green-tagged trees are harvested from strips (leaving red-tagged and blue-tagged trees untouched to maintain biodiversity and enable strong regrowth), and those strips are then left to regrow for 35 years. Indusparquet is also working on buying native land for vertical integration, which will allow for more chain of custody control.
Another major importer is Ark Floors, the U.S. division of China’s A&W, a timber processing firm head. Ark has been in the U.S. market for 17 years. All of Ark’s engineered products come from its facility in Cambodia, and its solid hardwood is produced in its facilities in Vietnam and Brazil. Its products go through both traditional distribution and direct to some larger retailers as well as to CCA Global’s buying groups.
Ark’s main focus is exotics, sourced through A&W’s plantations in Africa and the Asia Pacific region, and its products are competitively priced. In the U.S., its most popular species are Brazilian cherry, tigerwood and Santos mahogany. It also offers several collections made of European white oak, though it’s a smaller part of the business. Everything it makes in Brazil is FSC certified, according to the firm.
Ark used to do a lot of OEM business but in recent years the firm has focused on its brand, which now accounts for the bulk of U.S. sales. Its engineered hardwood business is marginally bigger than its solid hardwood, which is priced higher.
Founded in 2007 in San Diego, California, DuChateau sources its flooring from China, Mexico and Europe, and some of those products are hand-finished at the firm’s San Diego facility. Its products, which are mostly European white oak, are priced in the medium to higher-end hardwood range, and most notable are DuChateau’s ultra matte products and oil finishes.
In addition to its hardwood flooring, DuChateau also offers wood wall panels and WPC, which is available in both click and gluedown. And coming soon is SPC.
According to DuChateau’s co-founder, Benjamin Buzali, the firm’s residential sales were up last year in spite of the turbulent market, and this year projects delayed in 2020 are now being executed. And the firm reports traction in the commercial market with its engineered select-grade woods, like its Vernal collection, as well as its Herringbone and Palais collections in both corporate and hospitality applications.
There are a handful of long-term trends that remain strong even though they have attained their full expression, like the lowering of gloss levels and the widening and lengthening of planks. Gloss levels have been falling for maybe 15 years, and now, boosted by the enhanced technology of finishes, ultra-matte finishes are ubiquitous. And planks have grown as wide and long as feasible; to go much wider and longer would require residential spaces to themselves grow larger, which is not on trend. But one long-term trend that is finally falling away is greys and cool colors. Instead, colors are moving toward and past greige (beige-grey) to honeys and golden hues. The market wants warmth.
Another long-term trend that’s fallen away over the last five years is handscraping. Most of that is gone, except for subtle chatter marks and horizontal scraping to push the raw aspects of the wood. But by and large, hardwoods are flat again, and it’s the character of the wood that is being elevated. For oaks and maybe ash, that means a lot of wirebrushing. And for most wood species, that means a lot of character-grade products, though there has also been growth in cleaner wood grades. And there’s a trend towards clearer finishes that allow for the expression of the wood itself. The treatments become invisible to allow the wood to take center stage.
The prevalent theme is “natural,” and that means plenty of pale looks moving into gold undertones, gunstock and even some deeper warm browns, but fewer color effects and no painted boards.
In terms of species, white oak is still the strongest trend. Some hardwood manufacturers exclusively use white oak. The trend started in Europe, as most trends do, using European white oak, which experts claim is a little clearer, drier and less creamy than the white oaks of North America. It was better suited to the cool greys that were trending when white oaks first started to sweep through the market, and unmatched in terms of wirebrushed effects. That trend was quickly adopted by the Chinese engineered flooring producers, with white oak from Russia’s massive eastern forests. And domestic producers, for whom red oak had historically accounted for the bulk of its volume, shifted to white oak.
Currently, the supply of domestic white oak, which grows more in the South while red oak is more northern, is one of the biggest bottlenecks in the industry-and that was the case even before the pandemic. According to a recent survey of hardwood flooring producers by Hardwood Floors magazine, in terms of anticipated demand for 2021, over 60% of those surveyed anticipate an increase in white oak demand, compared to about 33% for hickory and 27% for red oak. So the pressure on white oak is poised to continue.
Copyright 2021 Floor Focus
Related Topics:Mohawk Industries, Tuftex, Mannington Mills, Armstrong Flooring, AHF Products, Shaw Industries Group, Inc., Anderson Tuftex, Shaw Floors, HomerWood, Coverings, The Dixie Group, Parterre Flooring Systems, NWFA Expo, Carpet One, Mirage Floors