Laminate market challenged but still saw gains
Wednesday, December 30, 2020 from Floor Covering Weekly
Indeed, laminate has found its sweet spot with DIY, a niche that helped guide the market through a turbulent year. “The upside of the year was that because people were staying home, they were more interested in performing DIY projects,” said Mohawk’s director of hardwood and laminate Adam Ward. “The DIY-nature of laminate was perfect for people stuck at home but wanting to update their home.”
Laminate, in fact, is uniquely positioned in the market because of its visuals coupled with a complete DIY capability, said executive vice president of sales at Swiss Krono USA Travis Bass. “Our internal customer service metrics show significantly increased traffic for laminate installation information, which tells us that more people are willing to try the at-home project of floor installation,” he said.
And with more people spending time at home, there is a need for a dedicated work-from-home space. “Newly created home offices are the perfect place for experimenting with laminate, and homeowners ventured to the DIY stores in droves, with floor purchasing at the top of their list,” Bass added.
Suppliers have made great strides in laminate technology, positioning it as a go-to for DIY projects. “Forgive the flooring pun, however, laminate has proven to be the most resilient product through 2020,” Mannington Mills vice president of hardwood and laminate Dan Natkin shared with FCW. “As consumers sheltered in place and looked at remodeling their homes, laminate flooring surged in popularity.”
A Challenging Environment
But like many other business sectors, the laminate market saw several challenges in 2020, explained Inhaus CEO Derek Welbourn. “It started out extremely strong going into [TISE] at the start of the year, and took a giant step back during March/April as people and businesses tried to figure out what operating in a global pandemic really meant,” he said. “However, since that time, the most surprising thing has been the fact that business has continued and, in many regards, has been quite strong.”
Bass said Swiss Krono USA’s biggest challenge centered on the supply chain and “getting product to market quickly in the first weeks after state and local shelter in place mandates.”
The uncertainly caused by the pandemic certainly did bring its own unique set of operational challenges.
“With business, there is always a level of uncertainty and risk, but dealing with COVID, and trying to calculate peoples’ reactions along the way with ever-changing governmental regulations and overall effect on the economy, made the standard level of uncertainty go exponential,” explained Welbourn. “Many businesses, fearing a slowdown, curbed inventory and/or production capacity while, in fact, the opposite occurred.”
Where gains are made
Despite challenges, however, there were bright spots. For instance, laminate is a good flooring option from a cost standpoint, offered Beauflor’s regional manager Ray Thornton.
“Most of the popular laminate options are made in Europe or the U.S., so they are not subject to tariffs. In addition, the education coming from manufacturers and distributors is helping to drive some of the success and change past beliefs the RSA and customers have about the category,” Thornton said.
As well, Thornton said Beauflor is seeing an increase in laminate sales as an alternative to entry level imported engineered hardwood, as well as an LVT option for multi-family.
“Today’s laminate looks more like real hardwood compared to LVT. We are remembering what we liked about laminate — easy to install, superior scratch resistance and cost effectiveness,” he said. “We are seeing the industry dramatically improve on the things we did not like — unrealistic look and feel, sound and significantly better core board construction that naturally resists moisture.”
Growth also came primarily, but not exclusively, from residential remodel, offered Natkin. “The improvements in water resistant technology combined with the easier to install nature of the product helped to fuel growth. New home construction was challenged during the COVID downturn but has more recently come back strongly,” he said.
The builder market too is seeing growth. “Builders see [laminate] as a great value and as a way to put a in better performing floor while they look to control the cost of the home,” Natkin added.
Hard surface sales contender
The laminate category continues to bring to market all those attributes today’s consumer — and retailer — are looking for, namely when it comes to performance and moisture resistance. These two key attributes along with beautiful visuals position laminate as a tough competitor for other hard surface flooring moving into 2021.
“The laminate business continued to focus on innovation,” said Inhaus CEO Derek Welbourn. “For example, standard laminate has continued to be engineered as water-resistant, and water-resistant laminate has been engineered to be waterproof.”
What’s more, laminate continues to see enhanced designs through high-definition printing and embossed-in-register textures.
“The combination of thermal fused melamine and engraved stainless steel plates are unique to laminate and allow flexibility in design that other categories don’t have,” explained Welbourn.
Advanced core board construction has been another improvement, noted Beauflor’s regional sales manager Ray Thornton. “At the end of the day, we are selling the core,” he said.
As well, laminate is easy to install, a feature manufacturers have focused on in recent years, noted Mannington Mills’ vice president of hardwood and laminate Dan Natkin. “From what we saw with COVID, consumers are looking to make home improvements so that message of total performance has resonated through the retail channel down to the end consumer.”