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All Systems GO! - European Laminate Flooring Producers are not resting on their Laurels

1 January 2000

The laminate flooring industry had approached 1999 with cautious optimism according to its Domotex press release a year ago. The first half of 1999 made even these predictions look a bit shaky but the second half wiped out all pessimism, because sales developed very well with two digit growth-rates in Western and Eastern Europe, also in Germany, the strongest European market, and overseas markets, according to the end of the year projections.

Although the members' turnover survey of the EPLF could not be finalized this early after the New Year, there is a projection based on qualitative estimates from EPLF members, painting a realistic scenario: According to these figures the total production of all European laminate flooring producers will, after about 140 million m² in 1998, exceed 170 million m² in 1999. Sales inside Europe will account for three quarters of all sales. Even Germany, the turnover related leader in the European market, has after a weak phase in the first half of 1999, further expanded and is estimated to come in with a result of around 38 million m² which represent an increase of 10 %. From the viewpoint of the EPLF members - all of them are very much internationally orientated - there is the following ranking according to volume: France, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Austria and Belgium. Overseas markets are mainly the USA and China, with a huge sales potential. The EPLF board estimates the market share of their members in Europe to be around 65 - 70 %.

Strategically Use of Market Potential

According to assumptions from EPLF members, laminate flooring has reached, despite good growth rates, only a market share of 5% of the world-wide sales of flooring materials, indicating that there is an enormous growth potential. It all depends on the industry and their representatives how these opportunities are utilized. According to Ulrich Windmoeller, C.E.O. of the Witex AG (Augustdorf/Ger-many) and Chairman of the EPLF: "Leading in quality, price or innovations 'Every single laminate flooring producer has to ask himself, which way will I go?' when it comes to set his strategic profile!"

The increasing weight of the EPLF within the laminate flooring industry makes the membership in this association more interesting. The EPLF is not only aiming at the producers of laminate flooring, but is also a stage for a useful dialogue with the suppliers of this industry. This prompted the concentration on gaining more extraordinary members: New arrivals in 1999 as producers of laminate flooring are Decolam (Mouscron/Belgium) and as extraordinary members from the supply industries the companies Arjo Wiggins (Paris/France), Casco Products GmbH (Essen/Germany) Kueberit Kuenne GmbH & Co. (Luedenscheid/Germany), Mepa n.v.-s.a. (Oudenaarde/Belgien), schattdecor (Thansau/Deutschland), Stora-Enso Laminating (Imatra/Finland) and WKP Wuerttembergische Kunststoffplattenwerke GmbH & Co. KG (Unterensingen/ Germany). This increases the number of EPLF members as per January 1st, 2000, to 18 ordinary and 20 extraordinary members of which 5 members represent institutes and specialists related to this industry. The board and the members are further aiming at winning over the remaining producers of laminate flooring in Europe giving the association the stature to represent the complete industry. Non-European laminate flooring producers can, in accordance with a member vote in Brussels, join the Association as extraordinary members.

New Standard accepted by the Market

In the future the task of the EPLF will focus more on the strategic position of the industry and their members, after the development so far concentrated (the EPLF was founded in 1994) to achieve consent regarding the classification and regulations within the European Standard EN 13329, and commonly accepted installation and cleaning guidelines. The introduction of a laminate flooring standard which's implementation is anticipated to take place in the next few weeks was according to the head of the technical committee, Bengt Almqvist (Perstorp Flooring AB, Trelleborg/Sweden), 'much smoother than expected!' It is obvious that the trade is happy to finally have a clear classification, resulting in widely switching over to standard-conform product descriptions reflecting the new standard long before its implementation. This was commented by Peter H. Meyer, Managing Director of the EPLF: "We are very happy that the European trade has widely accepted the new standard. We have no intention to become a 'spoiler', meaning walking along the legal venues, but if provoked we naturally will show what we are made of."

Positioning was an important topic on both member gatherings of the EPLF in 1999 in Brussels and Klingenthal (close to Strasbourg/France). Relatively quickly there was a united view regarding the five pillars of work of the association which had been already widely addressed in the past and which will become even stronger internationalized as a guideline for the future.

Speaker for the Industry

The EPLF sees itself as an international stage for the exchange of opinions and experiences of laminate flooring producers and their suppliers. These cover a wide spectrum - from woodworking material suppliers over paper manufacturers, decor printers, and impregnators to manufacturers of machinery. The EPLF demands to be the speaker of this industry representing it in national and transnational bodies of the public sector, regarding standardization, international trade relations etc. This spirit, and after the successful implementation of the EN 13329, puts the development of an ISO-Standard onto the program with the midterm view of achieving a world-wide standard for the industry. Another milestone will be the concept and direction of all activities of technical and ecological relevance regarding the laminate flooring industry.

Following this, there is an all-encompassing statistical system envisaged, recording the situation of the laminate flooring industry and its markets. Covering this topic, Ralf Eisermann (aczenta Paneele + Profile, Kaisersesch/Germany), deputy EPLF-Chairman and head of the marketing committee, says: "A comprehensive statistical backup is of benefit to the whole industry, creating the necessary market transparence crucial for strategic decisions. This makes it vital for us to win over the remaining European laminate flooring producers to become EPLF members."

Internationalization of EPLF's Public Relation Efforts

One of the essential tasks of the association is public relations. Especially to facilitate product orientated information for all interest groups like trade and consumer press, professional manufacturers and installers, handymen, architects, developer, and end-users. This is why in 1999 the finely tuned approach of all relevant media addressing the public and a systematic European approach of the PR work was paramount. The EPLF produced a three language CD-Rom with a variety of copy and pictures referring to laminate flooring, which was greatly appreciated by representatives of the trade and consumer press, here and abroad. Numerous publications in the relevant media evidence this, encompassing always the furthering of quality consciousness for laminate flooring on consumer and trade levels. The EPLF was in 1999 for the first time present on the leading exhibitions of the industry (Domotex, Interzum) with its own stand. The many questions from consumers, journalists, and buyers show clearly that there is an information gap, which needs to be filled. The EPLF supported these exhibitions by supplying actual data showing trend and actual developments of the laminate flooring market.

1999 was overall a positive year for the EPLF and its members. To give a further prognosis from this point is not easy but with all due caution and all these opportunities within Europe and Overseas, optimism should prevail. Conditions are good, laminate flooring has conquered a favorable position within the flooring market but alertness is necessary because the largest danger for a positive development in the future comes from mistakes within the industry itself.

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