Quick-Step's new 600,000 square foot plant in Thomasville, N.C.

Piet Huyghe, co-president of Quick-Step (center) cuts the ribbon at the grand opening of Quick-Step's new Thomasville plant. He is flanked by two Unilin officials: Frans De Cock, chairman of the board (left); and Bernard Thiers, managing director.
Moving to become the first fully integrated laminate floor maker in the U.S., Quick-Step unveiled what it describes as a breakthrough-an impregnation line run entirely in-house by a U.S. laminate maker. Impregnation, a process in which raw paper is converted into backing, décor and overlay layers for laminate flooring, was previously handled by Quick-Step's parent company, Unilin Flooring in Belgium. The new production line was unveiled at the grand opening of Quick-Step's new 600,000 sq. ft. plant in Thomasville, N.C.

With guests gathered under a tent to shield them from the remains of a recent tropical storm, Quick-Step co-president Piet Huyghe and vp of sales & marketing Ken Peden assured those on hand that the new facility was a major step forward. Huyghe noted that the new plant signaled "how bright the future is going to be for us in this business."

Peden added that glueless products accounted for only 6 percent of laminate business in 2001 but have grown to become the industry standard. "Quick-Step changed the entire glueless laminate business," Peden told those on hand. "Thank you for believing in us. This new facility shows that we are committed to the business, and that we are committed to the U.S."

The company's enhancement efforts also won praise from Jeff Lorberbaum, chairman and CEO of Mohawk, which is finalizing an acquisition of Quick-Step. He assured distributors that Mohawk would leave Quick-Step alone to follow its own business plans.

"We are buying, more than anything, not the assets of the company, but the (experience of its) people," Lorberbaum said. "We will continue to invest in the company, and it will remain independent."

Huyghe told NFT that the new plant was bankrolled entirely by Unilin money which was making a "huge investment" in Quick-Step's U.S. manufacturing capabilities. He noted that Unilin's Belgium headquarters, which is more than four times the size of the Thomasville operation, would most likely remain the center for new design innovations and ideas that would ultimately be brought to the U.S.

"Our research & development is in Belgium, and a majority of the technology is in Belgium," he said. "It makes the most sense to keep them there. It requires a lot of resources to make an idea big enough and varied enough to fill out an entire flooring line."

Situated on a 72-acre campus near Interstate 85, the new Thomasville plant includes press, cutting and milling, and packaging lines, as well as a 65,000 square foot distribution center. About 65 well-wishers representing 14 distributors were on hand for the early October grand opening. Bruce Burns, product manager for Augusta, Maine, company N.R.F. Distributors, told NFT the new plant would prove helpful to his business.

"With this new plant, we'll be seeing a substantial savings on our inventory dollars," Burns said. "There will be fewer container counts, and we can rely on Quick-Step for even greater service."

Gary Garris, general manager of CDC, a distributor in Cincinnati, agreed that the new plant could only boost his business. "This facility means quicker deliveries and shorter lead times," he said.

The new 600,000 square foot facility, along with Quick-Step's nearby 80,000 square foot plant, brings the company closer to its goals of having its products made completely in the U.S. Plans call for the new facility to be expanded to 1.1 million square feet over the next few years with the ability to product 500 million square feet of flooring a year. Currently, the plant produces 100 million square feet a year, with an additional 50 million square feet produced at the company's other Thomasville plant.