Consumer demand and awareness are two key reasons why a whopping 89% of dealers/contractors expect residential laminate floor covering sales to either increase or stay the same in 2001 compared to 2000. This was just one of the findings unearthed in the just-completed 2001 National Floor Trends Laminate Flooring Study.

According to survey results, the top-selling brand of laminate floor covering is Wilsonart, with a 31% market share among respondents. This compares with a 14% share for second-place Pergo. Mannington ranked third with 11%, followed by Formica at 9%, Alloc at 7%, Armstrong at 6%, and Bruce Laminates, Mohawk and Shaw at 4% each. The remaining 10% of the market was split among BHK, Columbia, Pickering, Uniboard, Witex, Congoleum, Fibo-Trespo, Kahrs, and Tarkett.

Our laminate flooring findings are based on responses from a representative cross-section of the dealer/contractor segment of NFT's subscriber base. The study was designed and conducted by the market research staff of Business News Publishing Co., in conjunction with the editorial staff of NFT. A sample of 1,500 active qualified floor covering dealers/contractors was selected on an Nth name basis from the domestic circulation list of NFT subscribers and the study had a 21% response rate.

Our survey participants also mentioned their second-best selling laminate floor covering brand. This tally yielded the following results: Mannington and Wilsonart, 15% each; Formica and Armstrong, 10% each; Pergo, 9%; Mohawk and Shaw, 7% each; Alloc and Bruce Laminates, 4% each; Columbia, Tarkett and Witex, 3% each; and others - including Pickering, Quick Step, Congoleum, BHK, Classen, Fibo-Trespo, and Uniboard - turned in a combined total of 9%.

Eighty-two percent of respondents consider laminate floor coverings a profitable alternative when compared to ceramic, wood and vinyl alternatives. Some points cited as negatives by the remaining 18% include: low margins and callbacks. Laminates are being used 85% of the time in residential applications vs. 15% in commercial.

Dealers "always" or "often" recommend laminate floors 61% of the time when showing floor covering products to customers. According to participating dealers/contractors, consumer response to laminate floor covering is varied. Twenty-two percent reported that customers respond "very positively," 47% said they responded "somewhat positively," 25% were neutral, and 6% responded "somewhat negatively."

In addition, survey participants said 72% of their customers characterize laminate floors as highly durable; 44% said the products are of high quality while 54% said they have average durability. In terms of selection/styling, 41% of customers rated the product as high and 52% viewed laminate as average in this regard. When it comes to method of installation, 61% of respondents are installing laminates with an adhesive 61% and the remaining 39% opt for the glueless format.

"Quality of product," "brand name" and "styling/selection" were the top three most frequent comments we received in the survey as reasons for Wilsonart's popularity. For Pergo, the top two comments were "brand recognition" and "advertising."

Floor covering retailers and contractors ranked product quality as the most important attribute in determining whether to sell and promote a particular brand/manufacturer of laminate floor covering. Ranking next in descending order of importance were product design and styling; price; ease of installation/maintenance; distributor service/support; customer request; sales representatives; merchandising support; technical support; training; rebates; and incentive plans.

Forty-eight percent of survey respondents identified the ever-increasing number of Big-Box channels as the single most important issue facing the laminate floor covering industry today. In addition, 44% of dealers are seeing their laminate business impacted negatively due to other flooring types. Forty-one percent identified the category's biggest negative as eroding profit margins, 39% pointed to increasing competition from other flooring channels, 19% cited consolidation of retailers and manufacturers, and 17% said it was consumer brand switching. (Multiple responses were allowed for this survey question.)

And looking out over the next two years, participants said the biggest challenges for laminate floor covering manufacturers will be (multiple responses allowed): product innovation, 51%; alternative hard-surface flooring, 50%; installation services, 27%; and ability to meet consumer demands, 16%.

Editor's Note: National Floor Trends commissioned another in our ongoing series of market studies to help retailer/contractors enhance the success and profitability of their businesses. Identifying current product/sales trends and projecting the industry's future direction, is imperative to making strategic decisions that ensure growth and prosperity. The complete laminate flooring survey is available for $225 each or $195 each per multiple copies.

Topics covered include: Laminate Floor Covering as a Profitable Flooring Alternative to Ceramic, Wood or Vinyl Floors; Customers Look at Laminate Floor Covering; Average Number of Laminate Floor Covering Sales per Month; Floor Space Devoted to Laminate Floor Covering Products; How Salespeople Recommend Laminate Floor Covering; Expectations for Floor Covering Sales in the Next 18 months; and more.