By Mallory Cruise-McGrath
After experiencing modest gains in 2017, hardwood suppliers are positioning themselves for another year of steady growth by banking on strong consumer demand, favorable economic conditions and new engineered and specialty products.
In fact, Michael Martin, president and CEO of the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA), said wood’s “growth will be controlled and will be sustainable” in 2018, adding that raw material shortages experienced in recent years are not expected to be an issue next year and therefore the industry should be able to meet growing consumer demand.
And according to Paul Rezuke, director of U.S. sales for Wickham Hardwood, one potential boost for domestic suppliers could come from new trade regulations. “Should new taxes or tariffs be implemented, the demand for North American manufactured products will be significant,” he shared.
New home and multi-family construction markets too should bring growth for the wood market in 2018, noted Brenda Cashion, hardwood product development and market strategy, Swiff-Train Company.
“Retail is still a very viable market channel for us in upgraded products, but the volume continues to be coming from the building sector,” she said.
Investments on the supply side should also support growth this year for the category.
“We made a lot of capital investments in 2017 and we feel good about moving ahead with expenditures including various equipment purchases to allow us to expand our specialty products offering. For instance, 8-inch to 10-inch-wide specialty solid products — that’s a strong, growing market,” said Tommy Maxwell, Maxwell Hardwood Flooring.
Armstrong too put significant muscle behind its solid hardwood offerings with the introduction of its Paragon line last fall and soon-to-be-introduced Appalachian Ridge line which will make its debut at The International Surfaces Event in Las Vegas this month. Both lines feature the company’s proprietary Diamond 10 Technology for increased scratch and stain resistance.
But specialty solid products aren’t the only growth opportunity for 2018. The demand for engineered wood continues to rise, particularly as this construction is well-suited for today’s most popular trends including bigger planks and cleaner visuals.
“We continue to see a bigger acceptance of wider plank products across the country. We also see a move toward cleaner visuals, lighter scrapes and different staining techniques with veneers taking on different looks,” offered Mohawk’s president of hardwood and laminate Gary Lanser.
And engineered products in white oak and hickory, today’s most sought after domestic species, will remain in demand as the industry moves into 2018, according to Dan Natkin, senior vice president of hardwood and laminate at Mannington Mills.
Drew Hash, Shaw’s vice president hard surface product portfolio, said there is also great opportunity in high-end hardwood products for next year. The launch of Shaw’s new premium brand Anderson Tuftex in 2018 is geared to meet the need for premium products in 2018.
Part of the opportunity for hardwood in 2018 is due to the demands of eco-conscious consumers, said Chris Moore, Armstrong Flooring’s senior product manager.
“Hardwood flooring comes from a natural resource that can be maintained and replaced, is not petroleum-based and releases no pollutants into the home. These sustainable factors cannot be overlooked and play a particularly important role with buyers,” he said.
Lauzon’s marketing manager Priscilla Bergeron also pointed out the market’s desire for environmentally responsible products as the “buy local” movement remains strong.
“Local, honest, healthy and sustainable flooring demand is increasing as consumers are more concerned and aware of the impacts of their choices,” she said.
What about imports?
Imports remain a viable segment of the hardwood market but have slowed in recent years due to the enforcement of the Lacey Act and growing consumer concern for environmental issues.
“There has been a strong shift toward domestic species, which was not the case just five years ago. In addition, legislation regarding forestry impacts the industry in a variety of ways: biomass, conservation, recycling and VOC emissions,” according to National Wood Flooring Association president and CEO Michael Martin.
But a ruling made earlier this year stated importers of engineered wood flooring don’t have to pay the same high deposit rates on shipments into the U.S. from China as they had been. “This has raised the question of whether we’re seeing product dumping coming out of China as we’ve seen recently an increase of low end aggressively priced hardwood products in the market,” said Mohawk’s president of hardwood and laminate Gary Lanser.
As well, there has been a shift in where products are coming from, said Mannington’s senior vice president of hardwood and laminate Dan Natkin. “We are seeing an increasing amount of product coming from Vietnam and Cambodia as the Chinese relocate factories there,” he said.