Headquartered in Mountville, Pennsylvania, AHF Products is the largest hardwood flooring manufacturer in North America and has experienced rapid growth across a range of additional flooring categories, including vinyl plank, laminate, and commercial flooring products. AHF Products announced its purchase of certain assets of Armstrong Flooring, Inc. in July. The deal included the rights to license the Armstrong Flooring brand name as well as the purchase of three U.S. manufacturing facilities: Lancaster and Beech Creek, Pennsylvania, and Kankakee, Illinois.
Floor Trends interviewed AHF President Brian Carson to find out what the Armstrong acquisition means for the future of AHF Products and the legacy of the Armstrong brand.
Floor Trends: You’ve had a long history with Armstrong. Can you tell us about it?
Brian Carson: Armstrong was how I got into flooring. That was over 30 years ago. I started in flooring as an engineer in the Lancaster [Pennsylvania] factory making VCT—Imperial tile. Thirty years later, AHF is in the VCT business with the [Armstrong] acquisition. I was a production manager and then became a plant manager of the plants in Lancaster. I got moved to Kankakee [Illinois]. The Lancaster plant is one of the plants we wound up buying through the acquisition. When I went to the plant, I saw some familiar faces.
I was the Kankakee plant manager for a number of years in the late 90s. I was there when the plant celebrated its 50th anniversary. I went back there two weeks ago and the plant was celebrating its 75th anniversary. I ran some of the Armstrong plants; I went to Europe and was responsible for international operations. Then I came back and became responsible for the hardwood operations in North America and then the vinyl and hardwood operations for North America. Then I left to go to Mohawk.
Floor Trends: What does the acquisition of the Armstrong assets mean to AHF Products?
Carson: Three years ago, I came to AHF as Armstrong was selling the wood business. It was a business I knew. It was plants I knew. We had obviously acquired a lot of things along the way. Armstrong was then selling off its vinyl business. We bought three plants, the Lancaster plant, the Kankakee plant and the Beech Creek, Pennsylvania, plant. Beech Creek is a printing plant that makes films that both the Lancaster and Kankakee plant use.
The Armstrong brand and all of the sub-brands that go along with it—the sub-brands are as important as the master brand. Imperial Tile is synonymous with VCT. Medintech, Medintone, Diamond 10…the collection names have been around and are as embedded in the industry as the Armstrong brand itself. With the Armstrong brand, we now run 14 brands, and we also have those wonderful collection names.
AHF Products actually sells to a broader distribution base and retailer base than the Armstrong brand. It really is a hand-in-glove fit in that we have customers that would desire products our plants can make. And we now have new customers that would like products that our other plants make. We can cross leverage that to grow the business.
Floor Trends: How’s the transition going?
Carson: There’s certainly no shortage of things to do. We are getting all the customers on to the AHF order entry systems and we also had to get all the Armstrong products into our warehouse management systems to service the customers in very short order.
I'm proud of the team in what we've been doing so far. I'm proud and pleased and thankful for the customers—dealers, the flooring contractors and the distributors—because they've really been our biggest cheerleaders in this whole thing. We couldn't have done it without the customer base and the channel partners.
Floor Trends: Armstrong is a legacy brand. What’s your vision for its future?
Carson: We’re going to strengthen the brand. We’ve got a wonderful commercial sheet offering that we were already beginning to bring to the market. The specifying power of the sales team that we brought along will grow that. We also have some really world-class SPC that comes out of both our Cambodia partnership and our United States partnership. And we're going to be strengthening the Armstrong residential line with products, as well as wood and laminate as time goes by.
Armstrong is really commercial and residential vinyl, but it doesn't have a wood assortment. It doesn't have a laminate assortment. In time, we will strengthen and build that brand.
Armstrong will be a workhorse brand for us. If you think about Bruce today, we have wood and laminate. Armstrong is really commercial and residential vinyl, but it doesn't have a wood assortment. It doesn't have a laminate assortment. In time, we will strengthen and build that brand, and in short order, use our factories to produce for the other brands we already have.
When we think about the Armstrong distributors or the Armstrong flooring contractors, these businesses, our channel partners, their livelihood, the core of their business and what they did in large part had their roots and their economics invested in this business. So, this was not only good for the folks in the towns and good for AHF. This was really an important acquisition for our channel partners, for the Armstrong distributors, for the Armstrong flooring contractors.
Floor Trends: It’s another vote for domestic manufacturing?
Carson: Yes. We’re clearly expanding our domestic footprint. The supply chain situations are better than they were a year ago, but they’re still not normal. Freight's still more expensive; it's still less certain. If you tell me what the supply chain situation is going to be six weeks from now—let alone six months from now—you know more than I know. There are just inherent uncertainties, particularly with China. The Lancaster plant makes commercial and residential LVT. It also makes residential sheet vinyl, which really is a product that's made in America.
Floor Trends: What’s next for AHF Products?
Carson: We'll have some new equipment to make a new type of flooring in the Lancaster plant. We would expect to start bolting in that machinery in the October timeframe, so we'd have that product on the market at Surfaces. It'll be an innovation for us in residential sheet—the ability to make that in plank form and to do some other things. We are already down the path of investing in these plants. We are looking at the Kankakee as well. In fact, we have engineers out there right now looking at that. We bought the business to grow it, not only in terms of growing the customers with the products that it does today, but to give the plants the ability to make new types of products.
What else is in store for the future of the flooring industry?