EDITOR'S NOTE: The North American Laminate Flooring Association is working to elevate the profile of the category and educate the trade about quality and performance issues. Included will be an ambitious new awareness campaign tied to NALFA's "Seal of Standards." National Floor Trends recently asked the trade group‘s president, Bill Dearing for an update on the category and NALFA's activites.

How would you assess the state of the laminate flooring segment and what do you feel are the biggest challenges facing those involved in the category?
The laminate flooring business continues to grow as a category and now purchasing decisions are starting to be made on its own values; not as a "substitute." Challenges are up to individual companies to make certain that their product stays in front of competitive products with style and technical innovations. The introduction of laminate flooring to North America has resulted in an overall increase in both style and performance in all flooring products in order to compete. Good for the consumer, and our industry at all levels of the supply chain and it must make us even sharper in our developments.

NALFA was formed in 1997. What has the group accomplished over the last decade and how have those efforts translated to the retail environment?
We were formed as a standards setting group. Product standards, as you know, in North America, are voluntary, however, the people involved in NALFA, both Regular and Associate members have tirelessly worked to set first residential standards and now commercial standards. As you know, while standards are voluntary here (as opposed to the EU, where they have the force of law), the major manufacturers and importers realized the value to the industry and to the trade and consumer if they were aware that the laminate flooring industry through voluntary standards produced products that met an acceptable level of production. These NALFA standards are used by specifiers, architects and other professionals as their base line for decision making. NALFA represents the North American Laminate industry at all ISO meetings as this group moves forward with international standards.

In addition to this technical work, NALFA is recognized as the voice of the laminate flooring industry for North America and it has participated in PR of every sort while also establishing relationships with other laminate associations, such as the European Producers of Laminate Flooring (EPLF).

What is the significance of the NALFA Seal of Standards and how do manufacturers go about obtaining it? Who performs the testing involved? How many seals have been awarded thus far?
The Seal shows the product it is on has met or exceeded the standards to which it was tested. Full details on testing, procedures and current holders of the NALFA Seal are found on the NALFA website at www.nalfa.com.

Tell us about the "brand awareness" campaign NALFA is planning over the next 18 months. What is the message?
The purpose is to primarily make the trade aware of the value of the NALFA seal so they in turn may use this in their message to their customer or consumer. Laminate flooring is no different from any other product manufactured in that they are all not created equal. The campaign will address the importance of this fact.

What advice would you offer to retailers and contractors who want to maximize the potential of the laminate category?
Know the category and know the products you are merchandising as well as their eventual use and NALFA is there for your category reference at any time to assist you with this process.