Jiashan, China -- Creative Flooring Solutions (CFL) is wrapping up a 500,000-square-foot expansion in its China plant for an April 2018 completion. Founded in 2004 by European owners and based south of Shanghai, the company has worked to build a brand message of innovation, reliability, and flexibility to the market. The company recently launched a brand of rigid core board (RCB) flooring called “Firmfit,” which is intended to provide a competitive alternative to wood plastic composite (WPC) flooring.

Floor Trends recently connected with Barron Frith, president of CFL North America and Multilayer Flooring Association (MFA) board member, and Thomas Baert, president of CFL Flooring, to learn more about the growth of multilayer flooring market and CFL.

FT: What is your business outlook for the multilayer flooring category for the United States in 2018?

Frith: CFL’s business outlook for the multilayer flooring category in the U.S. is strong growth for many years to come. The multilayer flooring category, including SPC (solid polymer composite – often referred to as rigid core) and WPC products, is changing and will continue to change the flooring landscape. Growth will continue through both the retail and commercial trade. Other hard and soft surface categories will see market share erode to the multilayer flooring category.

FT: How does the U.S. growth in multilayer flooring compare to other markets globally?

Baert: WPC products have hardly gotten attention in other markets. The inferior characteristics in terms of temperature resistance and indentation have made people quickly understand that SPC is simply the logic next step after traditional LVT. Since Europe is dominated by large traditional LVT producers with large investments made the last year, they have tried to slow down the transition to rigid core products. They have underestimated the consumer preference to this new floorcovering type though. Firmfit was one of the first rigid core brands and is doing extremely well in Europe, Australia and Asian countries.

FT: How is the MFA helping to serve growth of the category in the North American market​?

Frith: The MFA group is looking to bring clarity to the category by collectively defining difference between SPC and WPC products. The water is still somewhat muddy, however the organization comprised of the top manufactures in the industry will clearly send a consistent message to distribution, retailers, and the consumer. We are developing standards for a category that has no standards which again is to bring clarity and consistency.

FT: What is contributing to CFL becoming the largest importer of multilayer flooring to the United States?

Frith: Clearly, our strength is based on several factors: (1) We have great aligned partners; (2) Our management team has a clear go-to market strategy with innovative products that brings speed to market; and (3) With FirmFit, the benefits of our SPC product is in its infancy, the reception by the market is clearly showing SPC is the next generation of waterproof flooring.

FT: When will your plant expansion be completed?

Baert: The full expansion will be finished in April 2018. This will also include an independent certified laboratory and research center. In the extrusion process it is important that recipes are vigorously checked before and during production. CFL puts an extreme importance to safety and consistency of the finished product. Extrusion can best be compared with a big kitchen where many ingredients come in. To safeguard that the raw materials are free of metals and other dangerous substances, FirmFit believes that an extreme discipline and well defined processes are required.

FT: How is plant machinery helping CFL to innovate quicker and at lower cost?

Baert: Large machinery have the disadvantage of losing flexibility. Transfer times are long, investments in press plates or other components are high. Large machinery are optimal when automation is possible. In Asia, we are able to combine the best of both worlds. While we operate nearly fully automated production lines for the standard large productions runs, at the same time, we keep a large amount of smaller machines for experimenting for new innovations. This allows us to play with press plates, change the composition of the ingredients for example for higher temperature resistance. Smaller machines are much more optimal to produce embossed in register products.

FirmFit believes that while brainstorming together with its customer new ideas can come to maturity. It happens that while we brainstorm in the office about the next generation, our people can execute right away and we have first test results ready by the time our customers are leaving us. This is comparable to what is possible in the world of 3D printing.

FirmFit also strongly believes in speed to market when it comes to innovation. This requires a good alignment between production and distribution. A strong partnership with the FirmFit distributors is therefore crucial to success.

For more information, visit www.cflflooring.com.