In previous years the EPLF European Producers of Laminate Flooring has always entered the New Year reporting that the laminate flooring market is continuing to grow. In 2009, however, EPLF is having to record its first slight drop in sales. This is revealed by the year-end projection of EPLF’s sales figures for the first three quarters of 2008. However, the results should be viewed in comparison with the performance of other floor coverings.
Unsettled by the crisis in the global economy, a decline in building investments and general reluctance to spend, Western Europe is experiencing a tangible fall in sales. Eastern Europe, on the other hand, is enjoying a slight increase with sales volumes approaching those of Western European markets. Poland and Russia, for example, are now performing almost as well as some countries in Western Europe. The markets are moving and the European laminate flooring industry is well advised to respond accordingly. A number of manufacturers are responding by opening local production plants in these up-and-coming markets, while others are developing new sales and marketing strategies.
Meanwhile, the industry plans to boost business in Western European markets through major investments in design and development. The new laminate floors that will be presented at appropriate trade fairs at the start of 2009 feature some uniquely creative graphics. They reflect consumers’ growing interest in design-inspired environments and the desire to put an individual signature on a room or building. The fast-growing property business, where laminate flooring is becoming increasingly popular, especially in public housing and healthcare, is playing a key role in this respect. EPLF’s participation in the contractworld show at Domotex was a response to this very trend. The association will be taking part in this same event again in 2010.
Sustainability is on everyone’s lips
Sustainability is at the heart of current developments on the laminate flooring market. Consumers not only have higher expectations in terms of design quality and aesthetics, but also in terms of eco-friendliness and sustainability. Last year EPLF was one of the first industry associations to call for the development of environmental product declarations (EPDs) for flooring. These are a key decision-making aid for architects and planners and are included in the sustainability assessments for residential buildings. Several European countries now have certification systems for residential and public buildings.
The new web portal for laminate flooring, www.mylaminate.eu, is an important part of EPLF’s efforts to provide consumers with transparent information about the sustainability of laminate flooring. The portal provides answers to all the common questions that end consumers have: What is laminate made of? Is laminate eco-friendly? Can it be recycled? What kind of decors are available? How do you lay a laminate floor? How much does laminate cost? How do you care for a laminate floor? Is it allergy-friendly? Is it insulated against footstep sound? The portal contains five sections covering all the key topics of interest, from lifestyle to what makes a natural product, and is illustrated with attractive photographs.
ISO laminate flooring standard in the offing
EPLF is also active on an international level, participating in the committees responsible for producing an ISO standard for laminate flooring. The decisive breakthrough was announced in 2008 after lengthy and detailed discussions between the various countries involved. The ISO laminate flooring standard is now being drawn up. It is based on EN 13329 and will retain the system of usage classifications. However, classes 21 and 22 and classes 23 and 31 will be merged and a new property class, class 34, will be added. The ISO standard will cover all types of laminate floor: not only floors with a melamine resin surface but also directly and digitally printed floors and electron beam-cured floors.
For several years now, EPLF has been actively calling for a standard for drum sound. 2008 saw a significant step forwards as a large-scale consumer test – known as a jury panel – succeeded in identifying the best method for simulating and standardising drum sound: the impact hammer. As there is already a draft being considered at EU level that uses a different method, the objective now is to share the results of the jury panel with the EU committees and find a joint solution. It is hoped that the process will culminate in the development of a drum sound standard that will serve as a basis for assessing the drum sound behaviour of laminate floors.
So what else has EPLF been doing? The association has been involved in many different projects, too numerous to be listed here. The Technology Comitee is working on the development of a standard for underlay materials, while the Marketing Comitee is preparing an image campaign for laminate flooring. One thing is certain: there are even more exciting developments to come!