Wood Cuts: A new level of trickery in wood-look products - Apr 2018
By Michael Martin
We have all watched the growing trend of wood lookalike products in the marketplace, a trend that has been growing for years. Until photography advanced to be really, really good, most people, including consumers, could tell the difference with the naked eye. But now, with improved visuals, it seems there are several players in the market that have taken the marketing of wood-look products to a new level of trickery.
Walking the show floors at Domotex in Hannover, Germany and Surfaces in Las Vegas, it was startling to see all the wood lookalike flooring options on display. There were tile lookalikes, laminate lookalikes, LVT lookalikes, resilient lookalikes, multi-layered polymer composite core lookalikes and even carpet lookalikes. In fact, it seemed that every product category featured a wood look, and even more startling was the promotion of waterproof wood products.
Anyone in the industry certainly knows there is no such thing as waterproof wood products, but what about consumers? Most consumers who are in the beginning stages of buying flooring barely know the difference between real hardwood and a photograph of wood on a manufactured core. But now chances are that their knowledge will be muddied even further by murky marketing.
YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR
If anything, these lookalike products tell us with absolute certainty that consumers want hardwood. That may be easy for a hardwood guy to say, but it was recently corroborated with data. This past December, the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) released the results of a third-party consumer survey that was conducted to determine consumer preferences for flooring products. The results of this survey, facilitated by Public Opinion Strategies, were overwhelmingly positive for hardwood. They revealed that U.S. homeowners love hardwood floors, and those who don’t have them want them. So, what is the barrier most often cited to acquiring hardwood floors?
According to The U.S. FlooReport, it is price. The report states, “Market research has shown that each year a body of consumers equal to one-fourth of the current market is turned away from the product because they cannot afford it.” With this knowledge, it is easy to see why flooring manufacturers are filling the consumers’ desire for hardwood products with less-expensive alternatives that look like wood. There is just one problem with that thinking: like the difference between a diamond and a cubic zirconia, you get what you pay for.
There are many advantages of real hardwood floors versus look-alike products, the most significant being that hardwood can last for hundreds of years when it is properly maintained. Hardwood is the only flooring option that can be refinished to look new. When other flooring options start to look worn, they must be replaced. Hardwood floors can be recoated, resanded and even restained to achieve an entirely new look. No other flooring product has this versatility. Hardwood’s longevity is also remarkable. In fact, there are many examples of castles in Europe that are more than 300 years old with original hardwood floors that are still in service today.
Hardwood floors are also sustainable. This is because the raw materials used to make hardwood floors-trees-can be regrown. According to the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, two trees are planted for every tree harvested in the U.S., and standing timber inventories have more than doubled over the past 60 years.
Indoor air quality is also improved with hardwood floors. The United States Environmental Protection Agency reports that hardwood floors do not harbor allergens, microorganisms or harmful pesticides that can be tracked in from outdoors. In addition, dust, mold and animal dander contamination is minimal with hardwood floors, which makes them ideal for allergy sufferers.
While these and other benefits may be significant to those who make purchases based on a product’s environmental impacts, they are not necessarily what attracts a typical consumer to hardwood floors. In the consumer survey mentioned earlier, consumers overwhelmingly identified the look of hardwood as a reason for choosing it as a flooring option. In fact, of all the flooring categories available, hardwood scored the highest with consumers on its attractiveness (68%). The influx of wood look-alike products currently on the market would seem to confirm this finding. Other primary considerations cited were the durability of hardwood (67%), and its ease of maintenance (58%).
When asked which type of flooring material they believe helps increase the value of their home the most, consumers selected hardwood as the top choice (79%). When asked to define that value further, 66% ranked hardwood’s value as being “excellent.”
The survey concluded that hardwood floors are the top flooring preference of homeowners. Hardwood scored the highest (66%) of all flooring types when consumers were asked which flooring material they would want in their dream homes.
The survey also revealed some areas for improvement. As reported through the research conducted by Market Insights, price is a barrier to hardwood flooring. In the consumer survey, consumers reinforced this message by scoring hardwood low on affordability when compared to other flooring options (18%). The Public Opinion Strategies researchers concluded that this was an area that could be effective in a consumer media campaign when coupled with the message about hardwood’s long-term value: the lifespan of a hardwood floor can exceed 100 years, making it an excellent value, and a lower-cost alternative when viewed as a long-term investment. While other flooring options may be less expensive initially, their lifetime replacement costs will far exceed the lifetime cost of hardwood.
Another area for improvement is communication. Most consumers, regardless of age group, socioeconomic group, ethnic group, gender and other factors, turn to the Internet to educate themselves about flooring products (59%). Unfortunately, much of the information available on the Internet is misleading or even completely wrong. For example, the consumer survey revealed that nearly half of consumers believe hardwood floors should be cleaned with either soap (19%), water and/or vinegar (12%), steam cleaners (8%) or wax (6%). The truth is that any of these cleaning methods can actually damage a hardwood floor, but many consumers believe what they read on social sourcing networks as opposed to contacting a professional who can steer them toward the right cleaning products and methods. This is an area of tremendous opportunity for our industry to be a conduit for disseminating the correct information as well as a resource for finding qualified tradespeople.
EDUCATION IS KEY
The NWFA is currently researching ways to effectively and affordably reach a consumer audience to better educate them about the benefits of hardwood as a flooring material and, in particular, about the benefits of real hardwood versus look-alike products.
One way to accomplish this is to provide NWFA members with the resources they need to educate their customers. The NWFA provides a number of consumer-focused marketing materials that can be branded with a member company logo. These materials provide information on the different types of hardwood flooring available, what to consider when selecting the right hardwood floor for the consumer’s lifestyle and budget, and how to properly care for the floor so that it will last a lifetime and beyond.
In addition, the NWFA also hosts a consumer-focused web site, woodfloors.org, which includes information on wood species, the environmental and health benefits of hardwood floors, design options, maintenance and troubleshooting. It also provides a searchable database that helps consumers find hardwood flooring professionals in their area.
We also realize, however, that we need to do more, especially as online research continues to be the consumer’s go-to information resource. To that end, we’re looking at creating consumer-focused social media content that our members can post to their own social media channels. This will help to distribute accurate information to consumer groups, while establishing NWFA member companies as the expert in their local markets.
During the NWFA’s Wood Flooring Expo in Tampa (April 11 to 14), the NWFA will be meeting with its board and its members to determine the feasibility of a national consumer marketing campaign. Once these parameters have been identified, funding discussions can take place to determine and schedule next steps.
Preliminary consumer research confirms that hardwood is the preferred flooring material for U.S. consumers, and market research shows that up to one fourth of the current market wants hardwood floors but is hesitant to buy them. This presents a tremendous opportunity for lumber and flooring manufacturers to meet market demand and increase sales. The NWFA is positioning itself to help members accomplish just that.
Copyright 2018 Floor Focus