Looking for new avenues of profitability in hardwood? The answer might be right above you. Consumers are increasingly clamoring for hardwood in unexpected places -- including ceilings. Photo courtesy of Weyerhaeuser.

If you are involved in the hardwood flooring business, there is a good chance you are reading this at the National Wood Flooring Association’s annual convention in Denver, Colo. If so, you are in the right place. This is a hugely important meeting presented by a highly influential trade organization (NWFA’s membership now exceeds 4,000). It promises to be an upbeat meeting. Why? Let’s just say the age-old expression “Wood is Good” is something of an understatement today. Wood flooring has seen a revolution over the past two decades and it may be flooring’s hottest category right now. We are well past describing our beautiful wood flooring products as a great value for the consumer. Consumers have shown that they have a strong craving for wood flooring for reasons that go well beyond value. To this I say Bon appetit.

Yes, value of hardwood is a given. Wood’s luster covers the range of styles, colors, species-and unique applications. Over the past two decades, innovative manufacturers have elevated prefinished hardwood from a silent minority to a vocal majority, thanks to a tremendous growth rate. For wood flooring we used to say the sky is the limit, but that too has changed as more and more, high-rise apartments embrace wood. And it is not simply a matter of aesthetics; our industry has worked to accommodate the time restraints inherent in construction projects. Even when given a small window for installation, our industry has passed the test with flying colors. This is why remodeling jobs have become a major bread winner for installers.

The way I see it, the floor covering market is like a big baked pie. Every one may wants their piece but historically it’s been the big guys who get the largest share. That was then. We are now a global industry and there’s no turning back. We are seeing more and smaller manufacturers reaching for their share. Not only have they found where the pie is located they want a seat at the table.

This begs the question: How can we accommodate all those hands reaching for their slice of the hardwood pie? Well maybe it’s time to head back to the kitchen, grab a bigger pan and rethink our recipe. One hardwood supplier’s growth does not have to come at the expense of another. We need to move from “us vs. us, to “us vs. them” thinking. And the “them,” of course are laminate and resilient floor manufacturers creating products with the look of wood.

Recent developments suggest a steady rise in the number of non-U.S. companies interested in our North American market. Mergers and/or acquisitions are being engineered to secure distribution; even where there is no existing product infiltration. Others continue to tantalize distributors with extremely competitive pricing. Time will tell how all these new players and products will affect our industry.

Earlier, I noted the wide variation of products and species now accessible to designers, architects and ultimately the consumer. I also referred to an increase in the places people are installing hardwood. Our industry has always pretty much stayed away from areas deemed “unsuitable” for hardwood flooring. But now prefinished hardwood (and in particular engineered products) has enabled us to extend our reach.

Now we can go higher (as in the case of high-rise apartments) or we can plunge to new depths with installations below grade. This was once considered taboo. We left it to the carpet industry. But that has changed. Obviously, we need to insist on moisture testing, but looking at these areas and making a case for wood can grow the industry-not just one company’s market share.

And the benefits don’t stop there. You are genuinely improving the home by adding viable living space. Consumers are elated with the invitational warmth of hardwood flooring. Only now are they beginning to understand that it can go well beyond the main living floor of the home. 

Another important trend involves the various widths now available in both job-site and prefinished products. There still remains a market for the traditional 2 1/4” strip in both categories but this is an area were we can literally “one up” the competition.

Wood is usually the number one choice for homes, which is why it is ever-present on the home improvement shows on HGTV. Adding wood can just be a matter of ingenuity. What about replacing bead board with hardwood flooring that can be capped off with the chair rail that coordinates with the baseboard? For years, we have struggled to make certain the kitchen cabinets blend with our installations. Another area often dismissed as lifeless is the ceiling. If they could talk, I am sure they would be saying “what about me?”  Consider using can lights recessed into a 5” plank installed on a cathedral ceiling. I remember the days when knotty pine was used for multiple applications on both walls and ceilings. Sometimes it helps to look back in order to proceed forward. This may be a good way to increase the size of the “pie.” We certainly have the talent for the installation. The products are now available in prefinished, multiple species and they are ready to be installed almost anywhere, right out of the carton.

While we may be seeing a decline in new residential construction, interest rates are still considered extremely favorable. Add to that the remodeling jobs out there and there is still enormous opportunity to increase the size of the hardwood pie. With this in mind, Wood or Wood Knot urges you to remove the blinders and refocus. The ceramic tile industry has been doing that for years with backsplashes and shower installations. Raise your head and start your very own 360 degree “virtual” tour on areas with installation potential.