Pictured is Olde Boston Plank Weathered White Oak, a 5-inch-wide engineered prefinished hardwood floor from Buell Flooring Group.

Today’s consumers have become somewhat “dimensional” in their thinking when it comes to purchasing hardwood flooring products. Perhaps our industry was just a delayed recipient of changing times.

For instance, new home builders in their advertising materials continue to capitalize on promoting the square footage of model homes. A builder once confided in me that the accepted norms in housing construction, especially in tract developments, are quite equal in terms of quality and materials regardless of whether the home is large or small.

All things being equal, a house with more square footage than its neighboring dwelling obviously will command a higher price. But if you delve deeper into the sales price, you’ll find that upgrades have an even greater impact on the delivered price than the costs associated with increased square footage. Flooring dealers/contractors who are actively involved in new home construction rely upon upgrades as their greatest source of enhanced profit.

The notion that “bigger is better” is merely a perception, not a fact-supported statement that takes into account the actual quality of the home. Homes that are furnished with hardwood flooring have enhanced structural integrity, greater market value and, in most cases, increased appeal in the minds of potential homeowners. Whether the home is a modest ranch house or an expansive, two-story dwelling, the interior accouterments become the key factor in determining the true market price.

The role of the hardwood flooring industry in both new home and remodel construction was based traditionally on our solid core of fundamental products. Probably the most significant breakthrough over the years was the development of the tongue-and-groove milling process. And yet when it was first introduced, skepticism abounded regarding this revolutionary advance.

The first product that was produced according to a linear concept was an “expansive” 1 1/2-inches wide. Referred to as “strip” flooring, the product became the wood floor of choice particularly because of its installation advantages compared to the old-fashioned square-edged hardwood flooring that could only be fastened to the subfloor by face nailing and/or drilling, screwing and plugging on wider widths. I have always wondered if the 1 1/2-inch flooring was called strip because there really wasn’t much to it. You might even have considered it a bare-bones essential.

Another prefinished engineered plank offering from Buell Flooring is Chateau Plank Antique Brown Maple, a 5-inch-wide, hand-scraped product available in 45-inch lengths.
From an installer’s viewpoint, 1 1/2-inch strip flooring was labor intensive. For instance, a 12-by-12-foot room requires the racking of 96 linear rows of flooring with approximately 20 fasteners per row, which equates to grand total of 1,900 nails. No wonder this product was soon to be replaced by today’s standard width of 2 1/4 inches, which had the potential increase installation productivity by as much as 50 percent.

The 21/4-inch strip floor, in both prefinished and unfinished varieties, has reigned supreme in the marketplace for several decades now. But just as 2 1/4-inch replaced 1 1/2-inch wood floors, multiple challengers have begun to appear. Strip flooring still remains the leader in both production and sales. Although this “regiment” of strip flooring continues to “march” into the home for installation, we must also realize that strip is beginning to be “flanked by plank.”

Initially, the targeted dimensional width of 3 inches was a mild change from 2 1/4-inch strip flooring. Unlike today’s consumers who possess much greater product knowledge, the increase in size, if not pointed out by the salesperson, was rarely questioned by the buyer. For the hardwood industry, this was any easy soft sell.

Eventually, engineered linear hardwood flooring products began entering the marketplace and probably can be credited for the rebirth of plank flooring. Any manufacturer of merit began producing 3-inch engineered oak flooring. Following the lead of engineered producers, solid-oak manufacturers began adding to or converting production lines to accommodate plank production. The time had come to take a broader view and approach to their individual product lines.

The Katie-bar-the-door resistance to new ideas in manufacturing plank rather quickly was replaced with a get-while-the-getting-is-good attitude. The concept of even wider planks, in both engineered and solid formats, was put on the table to be later, hopefully, installed on the floor. When the theory was put into actual practice -- just as 2 1/4-inch had become a “me too” format for manufacturers -- oak plank also became more common than not.

Still, there appeared to be room for additional product expansion. To increase the potential for greater market share and continue to entice the influential designer/specifier community, additional species of woods suitable for flooring began branching into the once oak-only manufacturing plant. Environmentalists had already begun pressing the issue of utilizing raw materials other than oak. And engineered flooring had already demonstrated its capability for essentially increasing the yield.

When the hardwood flooring industry collectively combines raw resources with its ingenuity and God-given talents, no achievement is impossible. A case in point worthy of mention is the “reclaimed” hardwood supply that is currently being salvaged by specialty hardwood flooring manufacturers. Whether forgotten in the field in the guise of an old barn, or submerged in our waterways waiting to be saved from an extended period of waterlogging, these hardwoods were perfect for reuse and revitalization in the form of plank flooring. Becoming a “pirate” became a noble occupation when searching for “buried treasure” that had been lost at “sea.”

Expanding even further, additional domestic species such as hickory, ash, beech, maple, and walnut became prime candidates for flooring. And obviously, the variations of pine for years had been a part of our flooring heritage. But with the introductions of the other species, pine was perceived by consumers as brand new and exciting. Today, the trends in plank have even gone global -- exotic species increasingly have appeared on the radar screens of wood flooring consumers.

With all this in mind, Wood or Wood Knot is calling you to “sea.” Become a “flooring pirate,” so that you and your customers can “walk the plank” without a “cutlass” pointed at your back.