Laminate Flooring — The Game Changer

(The following article appeared in Floor Covering News’ 25th Anniversary Edition on May 16, 2011)

A game changer in terms of performance, warranties, value

by E. C. “Bill” Dearing
President, NALFA
nalfa.com

Laminate Flooring emerged in North America in the fall of 1993 promising previously unheard of qualities.  Imagine, a floor that was warranted against wear, fade and stains for an unheard of 10 years.  And, it did not stop there.  Laminate Flooring continued to grow in design, technology and sustainability to obtain incredible success and provide significant benefits to the consumer and flooring industry.

Prior to Laminate Flooring’s introduction in North America in 1993, it had already made significant inroads in Northern Europe, especially Sweden, Norway and Germany, and its value and performance were recognized by residential and commercial clients for several years.  In fact, as early as the mid-1980’s, products like “Perstorp Super Flooring” were successful in Sweden.  In case you don’t recognize the name, Perstorp Super Flooring was the forerunner of Pergo®.

Not many companies were manufacturing Laminate Flooring when the category was introduced into North America.  Pergo arrived in 1993 and soon Witex® entered the market.  Pergo experienced a welcome reception – its first major customer was Color Tile, which at the time was a national chain. Major groups, such as Carpet One® saw the potential of Lamiante Flooring early and soon a number of players vied for recognition in this startup category which quickly moved into all the retail chanels of distribution at that time. Most of these “first movers” didn’t come from the traditional flooring industry.  Instead, they were producers of decorative laminate or MDF and HDF pannel manufacters.  The primary goal for these pioneers was establishing a new use for an existing product.

North American flooring manufacturers were close behind the first wave of Laminate Flooring from Scandinavia.  Credible and innovative manufacturers from both North America and Euorpe began their expansions into the market. These brand names included Wilsonart®, Formica®, Alloc®, Uniboard® and Fausfloor®.  Within two years major flooring companies in North America either had their own offering or was in development of an offering.

THE DYNAMIC INTRODUCTION OF LAMINATE FLOORING

Arguably the top six reasons for the success of Laminate Flooring’s introduction period and the start of its positive influence in North American flooring were:

  1. High performance values attributes backed by transparent warranties.
  2. Styles and colors with no dye lot restrictions that were not previously available.
  3. Floating floor technology.
  4. Installation that was simple (for the time) for both the professional and DIY markets.
  5. Packaging that used a highly transportable box or carton that could be inventoried easily and without noticeable breakage.
  6. Excellent recognition from publications and aggressive consumer advertising with dealer enthusiasm.

The landscape of flooring dramaticaly evolved once more when well established North American flooring producers became involved with their own Laminate Flooring brands which generated an even more astounding growth and acceptance level.

By the fourth year following the introduction of Laminate Flooring at Surfaces, ’97, the entire flooring industry was paying considerable attention to style, color and warranties to demonstrate a range of choices for the consumer.  Hard Surface products especially began to market products with added protection value in the area of wear resistance.  In many instances, packaging was dramatically altered to the new consumer friendly, shorter cartons.

The successful launch of this new category was good for the entire market.  It positively influenced the flooring industry by holding up to promises at a fair price, with honest margins for all. The consumer’s appreciation was apparent because Laminate Flooring volumes grew by double digits while its share of market increased each year.

THE FIRST CONFUSION AND THE SOLUTION

By 1997, we all knew what constituted Laminate Flooring. It was very straight forward, right?  The answer was a resounding “no.”  Several forces that could have destroyed the category in its infancy were swirling around chief among these were two major items that were causing mischief and needed to be addressed:

  1. There was no definition of Laminate Flooring.  In other words, anyone could make any product and call it a laminate floor.
  2. There were no measurable performance standards.

In 1997, a group of motivated individuals, manufacturers and importers who were dedicated to the success of the new category took the initiative to face these dangers for all and developed the trade association called the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA) whose primary mission was to develop voluntary performance standards for laminate flooring and recognize those products.

In due course, other manufacturers and importers joined.  A membership tier was added for Associate Members, those firms who provide material or services to the Laminate Flooring industry. Today, the Associate Members participate fully in NALFA committees and are valued because of their specialty focus.  Presently, NALFA’s membership consists of some of the most recognizable brands in the laminate industry:  Columbia Flooring®; Fausfloor; Mannington Mills®; Mohawk®; Pergo, LLC; Quick Step®; Shaw Industries, Inc.® and TORLYS, Inc.

There is no equivocation with NALFA Standards and testing. They are ANSI Standards and every NALFA Certified product must conform to exact testing thus providing assurance of performance that benefits the industry and consumer.  NALFA developed its NALFA Certification Seal for product packaging to help the end user identify products that have passed its testing.  The association has also expanded to help establish consistency and quality in installation of Laminate Floors with the NALFA Installer Certification School and the NALFA Inspector Certification School.  For more information, you can visit the website at www.nalfa.com.

PERFORMANCE TIMELINE

  1. Desirable designs.
  2. Incresed flooring performance attirbutes.
  3. Consumer friendly packaging.
  4. Transparent warranties.
  5. Floating floor acceptance.
  6. Glueless installations
  7. Demonstrable sustainablility.
  8. Dealer Enthusiasm..
  9. Transition improvements.
  10. Constant improvements in quality and presentation.

Reflect back to1992, or immediately pre-Laminainate Flooring, and you will recall a far different flooring lanscape with regard to design, warranty and packaging offerings.  All that changed with the introduction of this of this upstart category and thanks to our innovative manufacturers and limitless technological opportunities, Laminate Flooring will continue to improve and benefit the entire industry.

Laminate Flooring’s producers consistently demonstrate that our category is not limited by nature or a “we always did it that way” mentality.  From innovative designs and demonstrable sustainablility to quicker and more secure installations, such as the another major “game changer”: glue-free locking systems, we continue to push the envelope, an  attitude that will continue to impact our industry byond the category.

The future is what one makes of it.  From our personal vantage point of being involved in Laminate Flooring in North America from its start, we believe that the category is nowhere close to being a mature category, in fact Laminate Flooring is just getting warmed up!

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