The past several years have been exciting ones for the hardwood flooring industry. The incredible growth the industry experienced during this period was fueled by a robust economy, the consumer's desire to have the look and feel of natural products in her home and - last, but not least - the industry's successful efforts to bring to the marketplace more choices and improved products.
The many major product improvements that were introduced in recent years will ensure better value for the wood floor owner of the future. Whenever such improvements come to the marketplace, it is incumbent on our industry - including everyone from manufacturer to retailer - to effectively promote these new features so that the benefits are fully understood by the consuming public.
Flushed as we are with the excitement of our success, the hardwood industry has gotten a little ahead of itself in terms of expressing what these benefits really mean to the wood floor owner.
Greatly improved, but not indestructible
The great strides that were made in wood floor finish formulations represent one of the more significant improvements the industry developed within the last five years. The quality of the finishes, for both job site- and factory-applied varieties, has established new standards of durability throughout the industry.
Don't get me wrong - when we can increase the value of our products, we all benefit. However, it is our responsibility to manage the expectations of the buying public. After all, they look to us for our knowledge and expertise. But I am concerned that we have unintentionally sent the message that, compared to their predecessors, the new high-durability coatings play by a different set of rules.
Well, the truth is they don't.
However, consumer responsibility for the maintenance of the floor - and the fact that recoating is part of that maintenance - is still a reality.
Debunking overblown expectations
It is important to realize that a wood floor consumer measures product durability according to gloss retention, not wear through. When a floor coating begins to lose the gloss level it had when originally applied, the floor owner says (and rightfully so), "My floor is beginning to show wear."
Although she may exist, I have never met or talked to a homeowner who measures a coating's durability by its resistance to wear through. For this reason, we as an industry still need to preach the message of proper maintenance and the great likelihood that the floor will require a recoat in the future.
Turn a perceived negative into a positive by emphasizing the advantages and benefits that a future recoat will bestow on a wood floor. What other floor covering can be made to look new again just by spending a couple hours to apply a new coat of finish? It is this renewal process that gives wood flooring an exceptional lifetime cost, particularly when compared to alternative products, that translates into true long-term value.
We need to give the consumer the proper information and reinforce realistic expectations about the performance of the product or, over the long term, we will create a dissatisfied wood floor customer. If we don't pass along our knowledge, the recoating process may no longer be a reality.
If a floor becomes contaminated, a recoat is subject to a much higher probability of failure. The majority of finish problems on recoats is the result of poor or improper maintenance. So ultimately, the life of a wood floor depends on the proper maintenance of that thin coat of finish on top of the wood.
Remember: if you take care of the finish, the finish will take care of the wood. The bottom line is that proper maintenance - including recoats - will only improve the value of hardwood flooring to the customer.
And improving value to the consumer is what will pay back our industry over the long-term future.