Natural materials are on trend for 2020, positioning the hardwood category for steady growth this year—in spite of pressure felt from wood-look products.
The natural look and feel of solid wood flooring, paired with the ability to refinish wood floors over a period of time are contributing to an expected global wood flooring market size of $90.46 billion by 2025, according to a Grand View Research report shared by the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA).
“Our consumers want wood,” said Matt Rosato, director of category, Anderson Tuftex. “We do see LVT continuing to increase, but for the most part, people are still aspiring to wood and they want the real thing and that’s really our customer base.”
Heralded as the aspirational flooring product, both solid and engineered hardwood are the number-one desired product among consumers, says Neil Poland, president, Mullican Flooring. “It’s flattering that we have all these wood visuals that are duplicated by LVT, laminate and ceramic. That’s a compliment to your product.”
However, solid continues to lose share and is being replaced by the engineered wood platform, which is dominating new home construction as well as remodel, according to Jason Randolph, vice president of sales, Mohawk Industries.
Forecasting modest growth, Randolph says engineered wood is allowing for different species and different style aesthetics that are not cost effective with solid: “It also allows you to be a little bit more environmentally responsible so that you’re not taking that really thick piece of wood. You’re using a smaller veneer on top and then you’re building that up with plywood on species that are more readily available. What engineered also does is it creates a more dimensionally stable product and that’s probably the most important. It eliminates a lot of claims and callbacks that both the dealer and the consumer would experience.”
Operating in the medium to upper wood categories, Anderson Tuftex has yet to be affected by what a lot of LVT is taking away and threatening, which are the opening price points.
“We feel very fortunate with the progress that we’ve made through the last couple years with Anderson Tuftex,” Rosato said. “One of the good things that was pleasantly surprising was talking to customers and our dealers, and their optimism going in to 2020, which in 2019, we didn’t really that. If our customers are doing well, we’re doing well.”
According to Poland, no matter what’s taking place in other product categories, the key is to not be distracted and to stay focused on hardwood, telling more of its story. “We need to talk about the fact that wood is naturally renewable, recyclable, upgrades the value of the home, and has been around in many old homes for hundreds of years.”
Since people that buy solid hardwood typically aren’t going to consider SPC, Amber Stringer, Mullican’s director of marketing, says the company is directing its attention to elite hardwood flooring dealers who solely focus on selling wood flooring, with the continuation of its newly released platinum merchandising displays.
Stringer says that as more manufactures are abandoning the hardwood category, Mullican’s goal is to continue to pick up market share on hardwood. “We hope to gain some of those sales,” she said. “A lot of small retailers are putting in SPCs with laminates and vinyls. Typically for high-end hardwood retailers, that’s all their focus is, so that’s where we are trying to place these displays and that’s our focus for the year.”
Experts agree that telling hardwood’s story is important to the continued success of the category, and it’s the duty of RSAs to help tell that story and set customer’s expectations.
“If you look at a 20x30 panel of an LVT or a laminate or something that is mimicking hardwood, they look really good,” Rosato said. “But when you see a vignette or an open floor, you have pattern repeats, so you might see a dot or a split that looks good on a product that’s not wood, but when you see true hardwood you get a variety of character, all the beauty of a natural product. I think [RSAs] have to set that expectation to the consumer.”
Karastan doubled down on the storytelling of hardwood with the launch of Belleluxe. Through imagery, words and video, the company tells the story of craftsmen who follow a 100-step process to create the engineered wood flooring. From scouring the globe to find the perfect forest to diamond cutting and precision brushing to staining each plank, the goal is impress upon consumers that the floors are true works of art.
To support its retail partners as they dive into the new category, Karastan showroom updates include merchandising units that are an interactive experience. Additionally, dedicated web pages for each line have been added to Karastan.com, where consumers can watch videos and find a local Karastan retailer. The national spring Karastan event, which runs late April through middle of June, gives retailers more ammunition to sell wood floors.
“That event is where we book a high proportion of sales,” Randolph said. “We give the dealers national advertising, we give additional spiffs to RSAs, and our goal was to have all of our displays up prior to that event.”
Also helping retailers to better tell the story of hardwood, AHF Products brought back its Hartco brand with 90 new choices across six collections this year. Exclusive to independent flooring retailers, the collection offers a deeper, more targeted portfolio than before, along with stronger sales and merchandising support, says Brian Carson, president and CEO, AHF Products.
“This is good news for customers, said Carson. “We are delivering more choices across the spectrum—from premium hardwood floors to more affordable, high-quality floors to help those pinched by higher costs. We will continue to innovate products that are relevant to the market and in character with the brand.”