Focus on Export Business - EPLF notes a differentiated Picture in Laminate Flooring Market 2002
26 March 2003
The Laminate Flooring Industry had approached the year 2002 with a cautious optimism – according to communiqués a year ago. The recessive world economy and a 2001 slump in sales in the single largest European market, Germany, were the main reasons for such caution. Several structural shifts characterized the economical environment of the international trade in 2002. More than ever the export business is in the center of activities of the European laminate producers, though the respective markets have to be examined separately. Growth currently only occurs in the markets of a few regions, announced the EPLF Association of European Producers of Laminate Flooring (registered in Bielefeld/Germany) with a nod to the sales statistics of the year 2002. Single European markets show a positive development and the North American market still has good growth prospects. Yet, shrinking margins put this picture into perspective.
European laminate flooring producers have to rely increasingly on clever marketing and company specific know-how to remain competitive on an international level.
A differentiated treatment of the market will play a more important role in the future than ever before.
The EPLF is an organization that brings together the leading European producers of laminate flooring. New among its members in 2002 is the “FAUS Group“ (Gandia/Spain). This means the association now has 21 ordinary members, i.e. producers of laminate flooring, which represent 11 European countries. Membership has also become attractive for the suppliers of the industry, who can join as extraordinary members. Six companies have done so in 2002: Funder Industrie Ges. mbh (St. Veit/Austria), Hymmen GmbH (Bielefeld/Germany), InterFloor Group Ltd. (Rossendale/Great Britain), Recticel (Wetteren/Belgium), Unifloor Underlay Systems (Deventer/Netherlands) and WPT Witex Polymere Technology GmbH (Detmold/Germany). The number of extraordinary members has therefore grown
to 30. Furthermore, there are five supporting members (Institutes and industry experts).
New EPLF President
New developments in 2002 also include changes in the EPLF executive board. After the resignation of Ulrich Windmöller as chairman of the board of the Witex AG (Augustdorf/Germany), the EPLF was faced with the necessity to elect a new president. The rules of the association only permit producers of laminate flooring to be on the board. The new EPLF President is Ludger Schindler (42), Director of Sales for Meister-Leisten Schulte GmbH (Rüthen-Meiste/Germany). He was unanimously elected chairman of the board at the last EPLF assembly in Porto (Portugal). Further continuing on the board are Martin Prager (Kronotex/Heiligengrabe, Germany) and Ralf Eisermann (Akzenta Paneele & Profile/Kaisersesch, Germany). Ulrich Windmöller belongs to the founders of the EPLF and has been President of the EPLF since 1997. Last autumn in Porto he was unanimously elected Honorary President.
The activities of the EPLF in 2002 mainly focused on working out useful details. Among the core concerns of the working group for marketing are extrapolating the EPLF sales statistic on the basis of sales figures, which are collected quarterly, putting out the biannual trend barometer, and balancing these numbers with the capacity update from the circle of machine manufacturers and suppliers associated with the EPLF. Ralf Eisermann (member of the EPLF board and convenor for the marketing working group) comments: “This gives us a secure data basis for offering relevant, decision-supporting market information of our members, which is a true service of a well-lead industry association.“
EPLF plans Come-together of the Industry during Domotex 2004
The international trade show activities of the association continue to be in the center of attention for the marketing working group. Unlike past years, the EPLF was not present at the Domotex in January 2003 in Hanover, instead they are planning an international evening event for all EPLF members and their clients, interested trade circles and trade media for the Domotex 2004. The goal is to offer the laminate flooring industry a representative setting, exchange industry information, make and cultivate contacts. At the EPLF meeting last autumn in Porto a working group, which includes both producers and suppliers, was created for preparation.
Trade show representation was also part of the marketing effort in 2002. For this reason, the EPLF participated for the first time at the “Surfaces“ in Las Vegas (USA) and initiated a group participation of German flooring producers and their suppliers at the “Domotex Asia/Chinafloor“ in Shanghai (China). This type of German federal participation will be repeated in Shanghai in 2003.
Public and press relations are always a current topic for the EPLF. Here again the representation at international trade shows is important in 2003, in particular to intensify the connections with the main trade media, which occurs for example at the “Swiss Bau“ in Basel (Switzerland) in January, the “Construmat” in Barcelona (Spain) in May and the “Bygg-Reis-Deg“ in Oslo (Norway) in August. The motto for the content of public relations work in 2003 is the topic “Impact Features“ – a hot topic in the industry. More than ever the focus of improvement for laminate flooring is on the so-called “inner values”, which are parameters for quality with which the laminate flooring can be distinguished from other flooring types. Among these values: improved swelling values, anti-bacterial surfaces, step noise absorbing systems, installation aids for consumers, and much more.
Other news can be reported from the EPLF’s technical working group. The group initiated an international team in autumn 2001, whose members included representatives from the industry and renowned testing institutes such as the IHD Dresden, WKI Braunschweig, C.T.B.A. Bordeaux, CCIP Paris and the University of Lund (Sweden). Its task was the development of an industry guideline which would standardize a test method and measuring criteria used to determine drum sound. Within a year, the joined effort of industry and institutes ha brought to life a draft for suggested regualation, which the EPLF is going to present to the responsible ISO-panel in Vienna.
The draft determines how drum sound generated by walking on a laminate flooring can be measured and evaluated. The loudness of noise is evaluated in Sone-values, which are integrals of the curve of the specific loudness (Sone/bark) in relationship to the critical width (bark/Zwicker). These Sone-values are absolute and linear figures which can be compared to each other and thus represent an objective evaluation method. Through a ring experiment (round-robin-test) the procedure is going to be validated again in the near future. All EPLF-members have agreed to measure the drum sound of laminate floorings by using the technique described in this new draft and also to adjust their advertisements accordingly. This is a measure to avoid conflicting messages given on product packages, brochures and catalogues. The draft is available in English to any interested party. It can be ordered from the EPLF office at email@example.com.
Working Group “Traction and Pressure Forces“
In addition, in the past year the EPLF has formed a working group that looks at the different ways in which traction and pressure forces impact tongue and grove connections of installed laminate flooring. This is driven by the interest of the producers organized in the EPLF to further optimize their product and make it more client-friendly. The influences of climate changes can be determined and evaluated more accurately with the knowledge of the physical rules behind them. In the meantime the working group has developed a test method, which is scheduled to undergo its first round robin test in collaboration with the IHD Dresden and the C.T.B.A. Paris.
The work on a world standard for laminate flooring within the scope of the ISO – where the EPLF is represented by a flooring expert from the technical working group – is a logical continuation of the standardization efforts of the EPLF, especially since the successful implementation of the EN 13329. Currently the ISO-committee works on the ISO TC219/WG03 with the development of uniform guidelines on the issues “impact strength, precision of register, abrasion resistance, thickness swelling, and dimension stability“. The EPLF funds the work of this ISO-committee, which is chaired by the Swedish flooring specialist Peter Ringö.
Finally, on a European level the EPLF contributes to the development of a harmonizing norm for the use of products in the construction sector, among which is flooring. The CEN-committee TC134 developed a draft norm, which determines uniform test methods and measuring criteria. Among them are thermal permeability, electrostatic charging of the surface, non-skid ability, and the formaldehyde emission behavior of flooring. One important topic in this context is the definition of pan-European fire safety classifications. Particularly the export business has experienced difficulties in the past, as even within the European Union different regulations were used. Harmonizing such criteria will not only create an objective basis for comparison of products, but it also simplifies business. The passing of the draft norm pr EN 14041 is expected for the coming year.
There are many tasks, many results, and many challenges. The year 2002 moved the EPLF and its members ahead. Despite some difficulties the still young laminate flooring market has shown an enormous growth potential, and it is important to make the best use of its opportunities.
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