Wood looks continue to be a highly sought-after trend in both residential and commercial interiors, and technology has given manufacturers the ability to replicate the look of hardwood with stunning realism and outstanding durability. Even with these lookalike products on the market, authentic hardwood flooring is in demand. In this edition of Floor Trends, we take a look at what’s given hardwood its staying power throughout centuries.

The Impact of Imitation

“There will always be products that come up against hardwood flooring, but we do not think hardwood flooring will ever be phased out,” said Allan Singh, general manager, Havwoods International.

According to a 2018 National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) consumer survey, wood continues to be the preferred flooring choice for homeowners, but there is still confusion in the market about lookalike products.

“Consumers recognize that wood is a long-term investment that adds value to their homes, but are sometimes lured by less-expensive imitation products, said Michael Martin, president and CEO of NWFA. “These products do not offer the long-term value or aesthetic of wood, and many of these purchasers later find themselves replacing imitation products with the real thing.”

Although they might be appealing to the eye and budget, these products on the low end, like wood-look alternatives in the LVT/WPC and ceramic categories, have caused some cross-category cannibalization and market erosion at lower price points of the category.

“The low-end of the wood business, as with all other hard surface flooring types, will continue to be challenged by imitation products,” said Dallas Chapman, CRO of Greyne Company. “However, this is not a new issue; laminate, vinyl and tile products have been imitating wood looks for years.”

Chapman says that, in some cases, the increase in visual quality of vinyl and laminate floors has led consumers to believe they are buying a real wood floor but don’t realize the floors are vinyl or laminate until they try to sand and re-finish it.

“Overall, [these products] lead to confusion among consumers about what is and isn’t wood,” Martin said. “When these less-expensive look-alike products fail to perform like real wood, consumers typically look to upgrade to the real thing. It’s much like the impact laminates had a decade or so ago. There was short-term market confusion and impact, but in the long-term, the lack of performance and quality ultimately drove the flooring purchaser back to real wood.”

On the high end, quality lookalike flooring is pushing hardwood manufacturers to innovate at an even faster pace and create a stimulating competition, says Priscilla Bergeron, Lauzon brand manager. “Hardwood flooring manufacturers  are innovating more than ever in their look, advantages and other type of services they offer to differentiate themselves in the market while meeting the customer’s needs.”

Brenda Cashion, hardwood product development and market strategy for Swiff-Train Company, added, “These alternative products have challenged hardwood manufacturers to look at new and innovative ways to market concept products. Wood veneer on alternative core materials; variations in thickness, lengths and widths; advances in finishes and different installation options are a few of the areas that out manufacturers are currently investigating in the manufacturing processes with hardwoods.”

Hardwood’s Relevancy

Although these higher-end lookalike products might look good and perform well in many cases, at the end of the day, they still are not hardwood. “They’re not natural and there is a segment of the population that wants the natural beauty and durability of hardwood,” said Dan Natkin, Mannington’s vice president of wood and laminate. “There are also certain looks that are not easily replicated outside of the real thing.”

Due to its sustainable properties, design capabilities, authenticity, natural variation and lasting quality, consumers seeking these properties in addition to the look of wood on their floors, walls and ceilings continue to revert back to the real thing, and that is evident as wood continues to gain market share.

“Hardwood continues to be one of the most aspirational product categories in flooring,” said Chapman. “The low end has certainly been impacted by the imitation products but the mid to upper end wood products are thriving. Wood has tremendous flexibility with respect to style, design and installation types giving consumers countless visuals.”

A timeless classic, hardwood as a product category continues to evolve and grow, often in areas that other categories simply cannot. “Throughout the centuries, hardwood flooring has been selected for its beauty and durability, and its ability to be installed in a wide range of environments. It is the one flooring category that still increases the value of a home,” said Cashion.

Often a selling point when buying and selling a house, quality hardwood flooring is an added value in interiors. “It’s the only product category that has been proven to add value to the home,” said Natkin. “Look at a realtor listing, one of the first lines in the listing will say ‘hardwood floors throughout’ or ‘new hardwood floors’—they are not saying new carpet or LVT floors. Why? Because of the perceived value of hardwood is so much greater than the other categories.”

Long-term, wood floors will last for a lifetime, and then some, says Martin. “No other flooring alternative can compete in that area. Wood also is a product of nature; so many millennials who are just entering their home-buying years are drawn to products that support environmental sustainability. Wood is sourced from a material that can be replaced time and time again. In fact, for every tree harvested in the U.S., two are replanted in its place, meaning the inventory of raw materials is growing each year, while helping to improve environmental health.”

Martin added, “Wood is produced in a factory called a forest using a renewable source of energy called the sun. Wood floors are manufactured using fewer resources (water, energy) than other flooring products, and are the only flooring product that is 100% recyclable. During their growth cycle, trees produce oxygen, and during their service lives, the products produced using wood continue to sequester carbon dioxide. So the wood flooring in your home, the wood furniture, the wood cabinets, even the wood picture frames, are storing carbon dioxide. Wood floors also improve overall indoor air quality according to the EPA, so they are a natural choice for consumers who are concerned about their health, the environment, and long-term value.”

Selling Hardwood with Confidence

This story of sustainability behind hardwood is important to many consumers today, and one that wood flooring manufacturers are proud to share with consumers through their retail sales associates.

“We are also very diligent about education and the sustainability of hardwood floors,” said Chapman. “We are charged every day to continue to educate the retail sales associate on the benefits of hardwood being naturally sourced (not from petroleum), environmentally friendly, no VOCs and the best flooring investment you can make.”

NWFA’s primary mission is to provide wood flooring training and education both online and in person, says Martin. “For retailers, the importance of assisting a customer toward selecting a flooring alternative that will be a good choice for their lifestyle (and budget) is the key to satisfied customers (not to mention repeat business and referrals). NWFA offers sales training specifically designed for retailers. Research shows that most flooring failures can be avoided with education, so our goal is to give retailers the tools they need to sell wood flooring products with confidence.”