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Controlled Growth - The Laminate Floor Industry

1 January 1999

It is only a few months old and is causing more and more comment: The new European standard for laminate floors with the name prEN13329 is the central innovation in the laminate floor production industry. It was first submitted in August 1998 as a pre-standard and will be officially passed at the end of 1999. In this standard, the demands to be placed on the quality and high value of laminate floors and the necessary test procedure for the establishment of the same, are systematically listed for the first time. It goes far beyond the standards of quality that were available up to now.

As a representative body of the leading European laminate floor manufactures the EPLF (The Association of European Producers of Laminate Flooring) was the driving force behind the drawing up of this new European standard. That we have found a regulator for this young industry so quickly, in the few years since the founding in 1994, is something to be proud of. The chairman of the EPLF, Ulrich Windmöller, is of the opinion that: "The industry now has a unified standard of quality which makes it possible to distinguish between high quality and inferior products and creates the basis for more transparency in marketing".

Further Growth and Greater Price Pressures

Economically, from the point of view of the EPLF, the laminate floor market must be looked at very precisely. Following the boom-like development since the beginning of this decade of this still relatively young market the first signs of saturation are now appearing. As a result of the increasing demand new production plants are emerging worldwide, the number of producers and also the trade structures are increasing - and with them the price pressures. Windmöller: "Seen globally there is still growth but the build up of capacity exceeds the market potential many times over. At the moment I estimate that the capacity is twice as high as the sales."

In 1997 the production of laminate floors reached a level of 100 - 120 million m2 in Europe. In 1998, according to a first survey of the EPLF, the volume produced by the European manufactures was 120 - 150 m2. It has been predicted that by the year 2000 this could exceed the mark of 200 Million sqm. Nevertheless, in Germany (which has a market of approximately 35 Million m2) it appears that the times of two-figure thrusts of growth are past. This, the largest single market in Europe, is followed by Austria, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Switzerland, from the point of view of the export strong EPLF members. The market coverage of the EPLF in Europe is about 60 to 70 per cent.

Innovation - the Order of the Day

In the face of the development of differentiated quality criteria on one hand, and increasing price pressures on the other hand, as seen by the EPLF as well as the member companies and the remaining participants in the market, the theme of "innovation" appears to comprise a boom. Decoration in design and structures as well as an improvement in the technical properties of the floors and the laying procedures - including laying aids - are "playgrounds" for new developments. Thus research in the laminate floor industry today concentrates less on basic principles specific to the product as on the details that will improve the product.

In the decorative field the industry presents a successful mixture of innovative ideas. Natural tones are the trend: a dark beige for example or a warm brown with a partial reddish tinge. For a long time the demand was mainly for light coloured wood. Now dark tones are being turned to. Comfort and elegance are mirrored in an atmospheric interplay of colours and join together to form an extremely brilliant colour ambience that is rich in contrasts. In patterns, the trend is moving away from all too romantic decorativeness and turning to simple elegance allowing the whole power of the colours to display their full effect.

Subdued Optimism

The enterprise must find its course between the chances of market expansion on an international level and the downward pressure on prices through additional production capacity all over the world. In the future, more than ever before, subtly differentiated marketing will be demanded. With the prEN 13329, in the face of the short history of the industry, an instrument has been created with the help of which, by formulating standards for the sector, crisis developments in the fitted carpet industry, as experienced in past decades, can hopefully be avoided. In this respect the EPLF believes it is entirely justified in further optimism even if in a subdued form.


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