Wood Cuts: Consumers are owed honesty and clarity as they purchase flooring – Oct 2023

By Michael Martin

Over the last few years, many makers of wood look-alike products have created confusion in the minds of consumers by naming their products with a wood moniker or words that imply that their product is real wood, when it isn’t. How long will the public allow itself to be misled by false claims and tolerate confusion? Maybe the wait is over for action to be taken that will improve the integrity of the flooring industry.

In August, the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) determined that Mohawk Industries was misleading consumers with false claims that its RevWood flooring product was real wood. This determination was made based on two specific statements used to advertise RevWood: “Wood Without Compromise” and “The Perfect Wood for Your Home.” The BBB NAD recommended that the use of these terms be discontinued. Mohawk is appealing this decision.

The advertising claims were brought to the attention of the BBB NAD by the Decorative Hardwoods Association (DHA), which represents the hardwood plywood, hardwood veneer and engineered wood flooring industries. DHA members produce 90% of the hardwood plywood stock panels and hardwood veneer manufactured in North America, all of which are made using real wood.

When considering the “Wood Without Compromise” statement, the BBB NAD found that consumers may be misled into believing that RevWood is real wood flooring. RevWood, however, is a laminate product that simply mimics the look and texture of real wood. The BBB NAD further found that consumers could be misled by the statement “The Perfect Wood for Your Home,” even though the product is disclosed to be a laminate product in other advertising statements. It is the confusion created by these two advertising claims that the BBB NAD used to make its recommendations.

This is the first real progress that has been made to put an end to the false claims and misleading advertising. Based on this recent ruling, perhaps other makers of wood look-alike products with misleading names and claims will soon be asked to cease and desist, as well.

In addition to confusing product names, many producers of non-wood flooring products have also been misleading consumers by promoting their products as being better than real wood by using terms like “waterproof.” While it is true that many flooring products are water-resistant and may be sealed on the face of the product in some capacity, the edges of the installation area are not always sealed, leaving the installed floor susceptible to water damage on the edges and at any unsealed seams.

Once water penetrates these edges and seams, the floors can be damaged by water in the same way any other flooring product would be. The same is true for any water that would seep under baseboards and penetrate the subfloor material-not to mention that any material, like the resin plastics used to seal laminate flooring products, that does not allow water to evaporate from underneath can lead to the formation of mold under the flooring material. In other words, if the subfloor beneath the floor is ruined and needs to be replaced, the material on top will need to be removed to repair the subfloor. Providing such assurances, as the word “waterproof” does, leads to a sense of false security and, with mold, can even put the homeowner’s health in danger.

Another frequent claim made by many producers of non-wood flooring products is that their products are maintenance-free. Again, the truth is no flooring product is maintenance-free. Hard surface floors must be swept, dusted and cleaned regularly to maintain a healthy indoor environment. Fortunately, today’s wood floors are as easy to maintain as any other flooring product on the market.

There is nothing wrong with promoting the truth-water resistance, low maintenance, wood-like, wood-look-all of these terms can be true and are not misleading. Labels such as these help the consumer to make an informed choice and can lead them toward purchasing the product they truly want.

However, real wood has its fair share of work to do when it comes to promotion, as well. We need to get better at telling the story of wood to the consumer-marketing its natural appeal, unique attributes, better indoor air quality and durability. Obviously, this is why it is impersonated: it is the consumer’s preference.

Real estate agents agree. In a nationwide survey, they say that homes with wood floors sell faster and for more money than homes without them, up to 10% more. Think about it. You often will see real estate ads highlighting hardwood floors, but you do not see them mention wood-look floors.

Similarly, research from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) reinforces the value proposition of real wood floors. In their joint 2022 Remodeling Impact Report, they disclose that the cost recovery for refinishing hardwood floors is 147%, and the cost recovery for installing new wood flooring is 118%. No other interior home improvement project yields more of a return on investment.

Additionally, research conducted by the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) disclosed that two thirds of homeowners want hardwood floors in their dream homes, which leads one to wonder: with so much research showing that real wood floors are the desired flooring option, why are so many consumers buying wood look-alike products instead?

Education is the key. We already know that consumers are confused about real wood floors versus the fakes, but many retail sales associates (RSAs) are equally confused. Armed with little more than the marketing materials provided by the manufacturers of these look-alike products, they too can fall prey to the misleading claims of faux wood floors.

To provide some clarity, the NWFA recently developed a “Selling Against Wood Floor Look-Alikes” course for RSAs. The course, which takes only about 30 minutes to complete, provides some effective strategies for competing with vinyl, laminate and LVT flooring alternatives. Specifically, the course looks at interior design trends, consumer studies about wood flooring preferences, how different types of wood look-alike products are made and strategies for selling real wood flooring over the alternatives. Several videos are included that address the many attributes of wood flooring: durability, beauty, value, health, maintenance and sustainability.

The course concludes with a ten-question assessment to verify understanding, thus giving RSAs the product knowledge necessary to sell real wood floors with confidence. RSAs also have the opportunity to earn a Sales Advisor Certification from NWFA Certified Professionals. This certification includes a series of courses, in addition to the Selling Against Wood Floor Look-Alikes course, that can be completed online and covers a wide range of topics.

Courses range from ten to 20 minutes long and can be completed on a PC, tablet or smartphone, so they are both convenient and easy to fit into a busy schedule.

In addition to educating RSAs about the many benefits of real wood floors, the NWFA also is working with 30-plus national, regional and state hardwood associations as part of the Real American Hardwood Coalition (RAHC). The RAHC is a voluntary, industry-wide domestic promotion initiative for Real American Hardwood products established to increase consumer awareness, market stability and industry sales of real hardwood.

The hardwood industry knows that competition from wood look-alike products has greatly impacted business. It also knows that continuing to do nothing to address misleading advertising about the perceived benefits of non-wood products is no longer possible if their businesses are to survive. The RAHC campaign and the BBB NAD ruling are two meaningful efforts being made to combat the trend and educate consumers about the many uses and benefits of Real American Hardwood products.

Copyright 2023 Floor Focus 

Related Topics:The International Surface Event (TISE), Mohawk Industries, NWFA Expo