Pictured (from left): Butcherblock Beech from the Pergo Select laminate line; Travertine from Alloc Commercial; and a selection from Formica's Mediterranean-influenced Mythix Collection.

In the aggregate, the growth outlook for laminate flooring remains strong, with more than half of the dealers who participated inNational Floor Trends’just-released 2003 Laminate Flooring Market Study projecting increases for residential laminate sales compared to last year.

A comparison of this year’s results with those of our 2001 and 2002 laminate surveys showed a rather stable, growth-oriented trend for the product segment. If anything, exclusive NFT research data compiled over the past three years paints a portrait of a maturing product category that, while no longer posting the exponential growth of its early years in the U.S. marketplace, has firmly established its position in the North American flooring industry.

The overwhelming majority of dealers, specifically 80 percent, still consider laminate floor covering a profitable alternative to ceramic, wood and vinyl products. However, that majority has diminished slightly. In the 2002 and 2001 editions of our laminate study, 82 percent regarded the product to be a profitable alternative.

In addition, dealers’ reported laminate sales volume has leveled off over the past three years. This year, as in 2002, our survey determined that participating dealers logged a median of five laminate floor sales per month. In 2001, that median figure was four sales. In a departure from previous practices, our 2003 study also asked dealers to declare their annual dollar volume of laminate sales as well as the value of their average laminate sale. Our survey yielded median figures of $30,000 in yearly laminate volume at a median ticket of $1,000 per job.

For commercial applications, the growth outlook is improving, albeit incrementally. For the past three years, 68 percent of survey respondents said they expected their commercial sales to remain the same on a year-over-year basis. However, the ranks of those who expect commercial sales to increase came in at 24 percent this year, compared to 23 percent in 2002 and 22 percent in 2001.

Paradoxically, dealers indicated that an increasing proportion of their laminate sales are for residential applications. This year, dealers said 93 percent of their sales were for residential rather than commercial use. That’s up from 92 percent in 2002 and 85 percent in 2001.

In terms of the overall flooring pie, laminate flooring -- with a 10 percent market share -- remains the No. 5 seller following, in descending order, carpet/area rugs, ceramic tile, sheet vinyl, and hardwood flooring (chart 1). Laminate held an identical rank and market share in our 2002 survey. Our 2001 survey results, in which the product edged out hardwood for the No. 4 ranking, showed that laminate commanded an 11 percent market share.

Unlike the aforementioned areas of inquiry, other topics addressed in this year’s survey showed significant shifts. Perhaps the most dramatic change related to glueless vs. adhesive-applied installations. Participants in our 2003 survey said 80 percent of sales were of the glueless variety and the remaining 20 percent were installed with adhesive. In 2002, sales were split almost evenly with 53 percent of sales being glueless product. In 2001, only 39 percent were glueless installations (chart 2).

There’s also been an ongoing shakeup among the ranks of top-selling laminate brands. According to our 2003 survey results, the segment’s five best sellers and their market share percentages, in descending order, are Wilsonart at 22 percent, Columbia at 13 percent, QuickStep at 10 percent, and Mannington and Shaw at 9 percent each(chart 3).

Except for Wilsonart’s top ranking, the roster of top sellers was considerably different in previous years. Last year, Wilsonart topped the list at 27 percent, followed by Mannington at 15 percent, Alloc at 10 percent, Armstrong with 8 percent, and BHK Uniclic/QuickStep tying for fifth place with Pergo at 7 percent each. In 2001, top sellers were Wilsonart at 31 percent, then Pergo at 14 percent, followed by Mannington at 11 percent, Formica with 9 percent, and Alloc at 7 percent.

Another trend that should raise eyebrows is consumers’ declining regard for the product. In our inaugural 2001 laminate study, dealers said that 69 percent of their customers responded very positively or somewhat positively to laminate flooring. By 2002, and again in 2003, only 64 percent of their clients held the same opinion of the product.

When it comes to consumer perceptions of laminate durability, dealers this year said 68 percent of their client base viewed the product as highly durable, compared to the 73 percent and 72 percent who held that opinion in 2002 and 2001, respectively. A similar magnitude of decline occurred in consumer perceptions of laminate quality. In 2001, dealers said 44 percent of their clientele considered laminate products to be of high quality. In this year’s survey, that figure had fallen to 35 percent of the client base (chart 4).

In all three editions of our laminate survey, dealers said the No. 1 issue currently impacting the laminate flooring business was the increasing number of big-box channels. And their concern has grown over the years -- in 2001, 48 percent of dealers saw the big boxes as their top threat; in 2002, 51 percent held the same opinion; and by 2003, 57 percent ranked the mass merchandisers as their primary current concern. Other impacts on respondents’ laminate business in 2003 are, in descending order, eroding profit margins, increasing competition from other flooring channels, other flooring types, consolidation at the retail and manufacturer levels, and consumer brand switching(chart 5).

When asked what were the biggest challenges facing the laminate segment over the coming two years, participants have remained steadfast in their outlook. In 2003, they identified the top four challenges as product innovation, followed by alternative hard-surface flooring, installation services, and ability to meet consumer demand. The ranking of these four challenges was identical in both the 2002 and 2001 surveys.

These are just a few highlights of our 2003 Laminate Market Trends Study. The complete, unabridged report is available for $225 each or $195 each per multiple copies.

Editor’s Note: National Floor Trends commissioned another in our ongoing series of market studies to help flooring retailers and contractors enhance the success and profitability of their businesses. Identifying current product and sales trends, and projecting the industry’s future direction, is vital to making strategic decisions that ensure growth and prosperity.

Our 2003 Laminate Flooring Market Study is based on responses from a representative cross-section of flooring retailers and contractors. The study was conducted by the market research department of Business News Publishing Co. in conjunction with the NFT editorial staff. 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. The study had an 18 percent response rate.

Topics addressed include: the number of laminate floor sales per month per retailer; types of floor coverings sold currently and projected 18 months into the future; percentage of floor space devoted to laminate products; frequency with which dealers recommend laminate flooring; customers’ response to laminate floor coverings; customer perceptions of laminate flooring characteristics; Nos. 1 and 2 best-selling laminate flooring brands; ranking of 12 different attributes that affect dealers’ decision to sell/promote a particular laminate floor brand/manufacturer; issues that currently impact dealers’ laminate flooring business; biggest challenges facing laminate manufacturers over the next two years; dealer expectations for laminate flooring sales in 2003; and more.