Domotex asia/ChinaFloor recently launched a series of interviews with key people in the flooring industry to highlight news, trends, and updates. They talked with Thomas Baert, president of CFL Flooring and co-founder and co-owner of Domotex asia/ChinaFloor. He has been active in China for more than 20 years. Having started his career as vice president of exports for Beaulieu of America, Baert has over 25 years’ experience in the flooring industry. Below, Baert answers questions about current state and future of the industry.

What are you expecting for the global economy in regards to the flooring industry for the next 5 years?
The higher end laminate flooring market which we focus on is still strong and we see our business remaining stable in that specific segment. Stone-Plastic Composite (SPC) is another story. I can see it continuing to grow by 25% per year. There is also a trend starting to go towards products with less or no PVC, with more and more innovations that will come like Tenacity, with a mineral core and no PVC.

Traditional flooring categories are getting more and more intertwined, which gives a great platform for innovation, hard surface companies doing more business with tile players, etc. Easy DIY installation will remain a big topic with the shortage of labor in the U.S. The uncertainty is not helping our industry. The industry needs a stable environment where we can create longer term plans.

Do you see Asian market growing in relation to that?
Yes. Demand for water-resistant and waterproof products is gradually gaining momentum in the Asian markets. The focus in Asia is less related to installation and more linked to a need for easier maintenance, performance, and durability.

Where will your company focus the efforts in 2020 and beyond?
We will continue to focus on environmentally friendly solutions as well as solutions suitable for DIYers.

How do you see the future of hard flooring and what products are becoming more popular lately?
Resilient flooring will definitely continue to grow and continue to take market share from what was traditionally ceramic tile market. Also the trend in PVC-free will become more and more important in the next years.

Which flooring innovations of the recent years do you find the most important?
I think the main innovation is rigid core disrupting the flexible LVT market.

How has the tariff situation impacted the flooring business and your business in particular?
The tariff situation has slowed down new introductions to customers in the U.S. It took a while before the market was able to absorb these changes. Since some of the most recent US 301 tariffs have recently been withdrawn, categories that are overwhelmingly manufactured in China will likely be able to push through to the next stage.

How do you see the future of manufacturing in Southeast Asia? What are the countries in the Asian region that are becoming attractive for flooring distributors/wholesalers?
Tariffs have resulted in manufacturing being developed in countries in Southeast Asia, mostly though Asian manufactures expanding into different countries. With certain tariffs falling away, there is a more level playing field and each region will have to find its own niche to be able to survive.

We read that CFL moved some of the production lines to Vietnam. What is the result so far? Was the decision connected to the U.S. trade situation?
Uncertainty will not disappear anytime soon, even if certain 301 tariffs have recently been rescinded. Our target is to be able to continue to provide flexible solutions that are above geopolitical risks.

What were your impressions of Domotex asia/ChinaFloor 2019? What do you think is the strength of the show and why would you recommend somebody to visit or exhibit at it?
Domotex asia/ChinaFloor has become the absolute top leading platform for hard surface categories around the world. A growing and vibrant industry needs a yearly gathering where ideas are being exchanged and here new initiatives are being taken to the next level.

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