Mallory Cruise 2016-04-22 01:02:31
Sales of hardwood flooring remain steady at anywhere from 5 percent to 7 percent, but industry executives expect that rising consumer confidence, low mortgage rates, lower fuel prices and consumer preference for hardwood will help push growth further this year. “The hardwood market is stronger in 2016 thanks to a steady increase in single-family new home construction, which is always a positive environment for hardwood. We are also continuing to see consumers willing to spend in order to get the visual look they want,” said Drew Hash, vice president of hardwood, Shaw. The remodel side too is strengthening, said Dan Natkin, senior director of residential products at Mannington Mills. “We’re seeing some renewed customer confidence in the value of the home and wood tends to be the number one choice when considering a home remodel,” he said. But challenges do remain within the hardwood market. In particular, labor shortages and an overall increasing cost of doing business, according to Mark Casper, national sales manager, Hallmark Floors. Managing demand As more products are being added to the market, it has become an opportunity as well as a challenge for manufacturers and distributors to manage product supply and demand. “Part of that is due simply to the popularity of wood flooring,” said Torrey Jaeckle, vice president of Jaeckle Distributors. “But part of it is also due simply to a proliferation of product choices.” And those with steady stock and supply will benefit as more products are being added at distribution and retail, noted Hallmark’s Casper. But while the consumer still has a strong affinity for wood flooring, Neil Poland, president, Mullican Flooring, said it is the supplier’s job to “deliver the proper styling, color and surface texture in order to tap into that affinity.” And while suppliers must be quick at adapting to the latest trends and launching new products, they must also be quick about exiting older product, explained Harry Bogner, senior vice president of hardwood at Unilin. “Retailers aren’t able to easily expand their showrooms to show product and they look to us to consolidate and use the same display vehicle, and keep their investment costs at a minimum. That’s their number one line of thought and we as manufacturers and distributors have to think in those same terms,” he said. Pricing also continues to play a role in the selection process. Armstrong’s Brian Jones, vice president of product management, hardwood, said that raw material costs have moderated from their peak in 2014, but they remain above historic average rates. “That said, buyers are more comfortable spending again, and they want an attractive, quality product for their dollar,” he said. Shaw’s Hash added, “On the one hand, we see a value conscientious consumer where price plays a larger role in her selection process. On the other end of that spectrum, we are also now seeing the consumer who is less concerned with price and more concerned with getting the particular look she desires for her home.” Product preference, trends As new styles enter the market, consumers are making their preferences known. “The new offerings are broader, giving consumers a wider selection and a greater aesthetic variation. Certain looks, lengths and widths can be achieved with engineered that either do not exist with solid or are more challenging to produce. Not to mention, engineered hardwood tends to be easier to install with fewer restrictions,” explained Shaw’s Hash. Tommy Maxwell, president of Maxwell Hardwood Flooring, said solid too is growing slightly this year — up 1 percent in volume versus this time last year, adding that pricing is also lower in the 3/4 inch unfinished business, allowing it to be more competitive. Wirebrushed too continues to dominate trends, said Unilin’s Bogner. “We’re seeing the same looks in other product categories and the same looks in furniture. Scrapes are softer and that is something that is trending across the country,” he said. And, in addition to gray and neutral colors gaining steam, another popular trend this year is the transition toward less-shiny, low-gloss floors. “This is both an aesthetic and practical trend since offerings with a low-luster or matte finish tend to hide small scratches and dents better than higher-gloss choices,” noted Shaw’s Hash. Wide-width planks also continue to grow in popularity as, according to Armstrong’s Jones, they create a sense of openness for a more sophisticated visual. But while long and wide continues to trend, pricing for these products is up while pricing for shorter and less wide profiles is down. “This presents a supply issue since long and wide wood is available in limited quantities,” explained National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) president and CEO Michael Martin. And, Mannington’s Natkin added, “We’re seeing some interesting things at the baseend of the market where there’s a flood of inexpensive birch hardwood flooring coming out at low prices. How long that will continue is hard to forecast but it is definitely having some impact on traditional base grade goods in the U.S.” U.S.-made is indeed another important trend, explained Maxwell, noting that consumers are looking for safe, quality products. “People want to feel they’re getting a locally-made domestic product and that’s a positive thing,” he said. NWFA’s Martin said it is likely that wood’s positive health benefits and environmental impact will continue to increase demand for real wood floors as opposed to look-alike products. “Certainly the formaldehyde controversy has affected the entire flooring market, but the overall impact on wood has been positive. The media firestorm has allowed us to reiterate wood’s positive message,” he said.
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