Chart 1.
More than ever before, laminate floors are being installed in glueless format rather than with adhesives, according to the just completed 2002National Floor Trends'Laminate Flooring Market Study. Today, 53 percent of laminate floor installations are glueless compared to just 39 percent in our October 2001 laminate study.

Consumer demand and awareness are two key reasons why a whopping 92 percent of the dealers/contractors we polled expect residential laminate floor covering sales to either increase (52 percent) or stay the same (40 percent) in 2002 compared to the previous year. Monthly laminate sales per store are increasing, with a current study mean of 9 sales and a median of 5. In our October 2001 study, the mean was 8.2 sales per month and the median was 4.

According to our results, the top-selling brand of laminate floor covering is Wilsonart, with a 27 percent share, compared to second-place Mannington, which came in at 15 percent. Alloc ranked third with 10 percent; followed by Armstrong, 8 percent; Pergo and Quick-Step, both at 7 percent; Witex, 5 percent, Formica, Mohawk and Shaw, 4 percent each; Bruce Laminates and Columbia, 3 percent each; and BHK, Classen, Congoleum, Faus, Tarkett and Uniboard splitting the remaining 3 percent. (See chart 1.)

The specialty floor covering dealers who responded to our study said the key components underpinning the success of the Wilsonart laminate floor line are quality and selection, followed by name recognition. The top reasons for Mannington's popularity, according to the survey, are selection/styles and name brand.

Our survey respondents also mentioned their second best-selling laminate floor covering brand. The results are as follows: 16 percent said Mannington was the No. 2 seller; 12 percent said Armstrong; Wilsonart, 11 percent; Mohawk and Pergo, 7 percent each; Alloc and Formica, 6 percent each; Shaw, Quick-Step and Witex, 5 percent each; Columbia, 4 percent; BHK Uniclic, Bruce Laminates, and Classen, 3 percent each; and others -- including Award, Congoleum, Faus, Harris-Tarkett, Kahrs, Tarkett and Uniboard -- totaled 7 percent.

Eighty-two percent of respondents consider laminate floor coverings a profitable alternative compared to ceramic, wood and vinyl floor coverings. Points cited by the other 18 percent as negatives for the laminate segment include low margins and callbacks. According to respondents, 92 percent of their laminate sales are for residential applications and the remaining 8 percent are installed in commercial environments.

Fifty-five percent of dealers said they always or often recommend laminate floors when showing flooring products to customers. According to the survey, customers' respond to laminate floor covering in the following ways: 14 percent react very positively; 50 percent, somewhat positively; 30 percent, neutral; 4 percent, somewhat negatively; and 2 percent, very negatively.

In addition, 73 percent of customers perceive laminate floors as having high durability, while 26 percent said the product has average durability. The quality of laminate floors is perceived as high by 39 percent of consumers, and average by 54 percent.

Chart 2.
In addition, 24 percent rated laminate's selection/styling as high, and 67 percent said it was average. When it comes to ease of maintenance, respondents said 47 percent of their clients rated laminates high, 26 percent said they were average and 27 percent gave the product a low rating. Price is viewed as high by 29 percent of consumers, and average by 61 percent.

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

The ever-increasing number of big-box channels, cited by 51 percent of respondents, remains the single most important issue facing the laminate floor covering industry today. Dealers are seeing their laminate business impacted negatively due to a variety of factors. Forty-four percent cited eroding profit margins; 38 percent mentioned other flooring types; 35 percent pointed to increasing competition from other flooring channels; consolidation of retailers and manufacturers was a key factor for 15 percent; and 12 percent of respondents cited consumer brand switching. (Multiple responses were allowed for this survey question.)

And during the next two years, the biggest challenges for laminate floor covering manufacturers will be (multiple responses allowed): product innovation, cited by 46 percent of respondents; alternative hard-surface flooring, 43 percent; installation services, 21 percent; and ability to meet consumer demands, 14 percent.

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 17 percent response rate.

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 next 18 months; and more.