Woodcuts: The NWFA launches a campaign to promote real wood products - April 2020
By Michael Martin
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the wood flooring industry has a lot to be proud of. As has been the case for several years, the flooring market is inundated with wood-look products. It seems that every hard surface category-laminate, resilient, ceramic tile and LVT-has numerous options available that offer a wood look without any of the actual attributes of real wood.
To say that these wood imposters have impacted the market is an understatement. Wood flooring has lost marketshare to look-alike products for multiple years now. According to the U.S. FLOOReport 2020, produced by Market Insights, wood flooring represented 14% of the floorcoverings market in 2014. By 2019, wood flooring dropped to 11%. Further, in 2016, the total U.S. marketshare for hardwood flooring was about $3.2 billion. In 2019, that figure dropped to about $2.8 billion.
Anecdotally, the impact on some individual businesses has been staggering. During the National Wood Flooring Association’s (NWFA) Wood Flooring Manufacturer Summit last fall, one manufacturer of traditional solid strip oak flooring shared that his business would make no profit in 2019. At the same time, he was hesitant to reduce hours or lay off any of his employees because replacing them when business picked up again would be a significant challenge. Sadly, his experience is not an isolated case. Other wood producers are facing similar situations.
Much of the loss of hardwood flooring marketshare has been caused by the concerted marketing efforts of other product categories, specifically those that have promoted their products as being waterproof. Yet the truth is that waterproof flooring is a marketing concept, which can mislead consumers into buying something that will give them false confidence and, in the long term, also create bad will.
After all, even if a flooring installation is itself impervious to water, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the baseboards and moldings are, as well. Because these generally are not sealed, water could travel through or past them. This presents two problem scenarios. First, the water will then have access to the seams or ends of the flooring material that are not sealed. Second, the water will travel to the subfloor material below the floor itself. And as we all know, subfloors are not waterproof, so any damage they have will need to be repaired or replaced, which will affect the flooring material installed over them.
A recent study by Clemson University, in partnership with the Tile Council of North America, addressed both of these issues. The report analyzed the waterproof claims of several flooring materials, including resilient floorcoverings, luxury vinyl tile, luxury vinyl planks, vinyl composition tiles and tiles comprised from wood polymer composites, stone polymer composites, clay polymer composites and rigid core boards. The products tested all claimed to be 100% waterproof. Each product was tested a minimum of three times under controlled conditions, and all of the products tested failed. The report cited that not only was each product not waterproof as advertised, but all of them supported the growth of mold.
What is even more revealing, however, is that the report indicated the flooring material did not need to be saturated with water to experience mold growth. Normal moisture exposure from cooking, showering, cleaning and even condensation can promote mold growth. The bottom line is that the marketing of some of these look-alike products as being waterproof is simply not true.
The wood flooring industry recognizes that it must meet consumers where they are and provide products that meet their needs. To help address this, the NWFA developed a “Real Wood. Real Life” marketing campaign that promotes the positive attributes of real wood floors: they contribute to a healthy indoor environment, are durable, easy to maintain, offer long-term value and are an environmentally responsible flooring choice.
Campaign materials include a variety of elements that can be used in different ways and for different purposes.
The “Real Wood. Real Life.” logo was developed to provide our members with a quick and easy way to differentiate their products as being made from real wood. It can be used on product packing, websites, marketing materials, social media channels, trade show events, etc. As more and more members use the logo, it will become familiar to consumers and expand its reach.
Digital ads were developed for members to use across all their social media channels. Individual ads speak to a specific attribute of wood floors, including durability, sustainability, health, maintenance and value.
Print ads were developed for members to use in their local print markets: magazines, newspapers, special advertising inserts, etc. These ads are high-resolution, print-ready, and like the digital ads, they promote the benefits of wood floors over other flooring options.
Fact sheets were developed for members to use for a variety of purposes, including home show handouts, direct mail inserts, showroom handouts and even face-to-face meetings. Each sheet details one aspect of the real wood story: ease of maintenance, how wood floors support environmental responsibility, how wood floors increase the value of a home, etc.
Trade show graphics were developed for members to use when participating at consumer trade shows. Many small wood flooring manufacturers participate in local and regional home shows. These graphics can be used to create table-top displays or even banners that promote the benefits of real wood floors.
Media outreach templates were developed for members to use for establishing themselves as an information resource in their local communities. Items include press releases that can be distributed through local media outlets, invitations to tour facilities, op-ed articles and sample media pitches.
The “Homeowner’s Handbook to Real Wood Floors” was developed for members to use as a consumer marketing brochure. It outlines all the benefits of real wood floors and provides a checklist for consumers to use when choosing wood floors for their home. The brochures can be used as-is or can be customized with a company logo.
THE REAL WOOD CAMPAIGN
One of the intentional things about the NWFA’s “Real Wood. Real Life” campaign is that it is not only about wood floors. It is a real wood campaign that can be used by the entire wood products industry to promote the value and benefits of real wood products of all sorts. This is because, sadly, wood floors are not the only product category feeling the pinch from look-alike products. The same is true for furniture, cabinets, doors, trim, moldings and more.
As a result, the NWFA recently joined the Real American Hardwood Promotion Coalition. This coalition is a voluntary industry-wide domestic promotion initiative developed by 30-plus industry associations and organizations in an effort to increase awareness of and demand for real American hardwood products.
To date, the group has secured funds to conduct research that will establish consumer perceptions about real wood products. This research has included targeted focus groups, online surveys and interviews with consumers, architects, builders and designers. Once the information is compiled and reviewed, the coalition will then work to develop an industry-wide campaign that will promote the benefits of real wood versus imposter products.
Chances are, the situation is going to get worse before it gets better. In addition to the competition from look-alike products, the industry also is dealing with the fallout from the trade war with China as well as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world economy.
The trade war impacted the supply chain early on. U.S. hardwood exports to China were down 60% from the second quarter of 2018 to the third quarter of 2019. When compared to the previous five quarters, the hardwood export market is down $820 million.
Then there is the coronavirus pandemic that all industries, indeed, all nations, are dealing with. The outbreak appears to have started in Wuhan, China some time in November. Since then, the virus has spread to more than 150 countries. Many have either closed their borders or mandated sheltering in place to minimize the spread of the virus.
For its part, the NWFA canceled its annual Wood Flooring Expo scheduled at the end of April in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As the only trade show in the world dedicated exclusively to wood flooring, this will create a real void for our industry. Yes, other flooring trade shows exist and the NWFA and its members participate in many of them, but wood tends to get lost in those shows; at the expo, it’s all wood and only wood all day. Alternatives to the expo currently are being explored, but face-to-face meetings at events continue to be the preferred and most effective way to conduct business. Wood is a tactile material and will continue to be sold that way for the foreseeable future.
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