The laminate flooring market was in 2000 controlled by two themes - according to the EPLF European Producers of Laminate Flooring Association: the extraordinary growth rate in all regions - even in seemingly 'saturated' markets - and the final introduction of the standard EN 13329. Two-digit growth rates did not only tax the capacities of the laminate flooring producers, but naturally also their suppliers and machine manufacturers who participated in this boom. It might have been a lucky coincidence or the reward for early, yearlong preparations, when in this charged situation in spring 2000 the new laminate flooring EN 13329 came into effect. One could not have chosen a better moment. Through its proclamation in the various countries this Euro standard became national standard and guideline for demand-tailored quality classification.
This constellation - well documented quality criteria coinciding with a thriving demand - prompted the Chairman of the EPLF, Ulrich Windmoeller, Chairman of the Board of Witex AG (Augustdorf/Germany), to an optimistic outlook: "Laminate flooring is changing from an attraction and customer frequency enhancement, becoming a profit and money-spinner for our trading partners. The times, when parts of the trade tried to lure people in by heavy discounting, are over now. Sure there might be the odd questionable special, raising the question if this had to be like this, but the public in general seeks good merchandise without the rock bottom pricing. The trade seems also to understand that there is good money in laminate flooring, if one does it right.
This increased quality consciousness was certainly enhanced through the introduction of the 'EN 13329', coinciding with the positive response the EPLF is experiencing generally with the introduction of the new standard." The next aim is to develop worldwide quality standards within the framework of ISO-standards, which, so the wish of the European producers, should be orientated closely on European standards. Contacts to the American laminate flooring manufacturers association NALFA are already scheduled along with direct support to establish an organisation of the industry in the high growth market of China.
Two digit growth rates 'on all fronts'
According to the projections of the association - the final data will be available in February - the 20 EPLF-members sold in 2000 243 mil. m² of laminate flooring elements world-wide (Previous year: 18 members with 131,9 mil. m², an increase of 84 %). This growth indicates a clear strengthening of the position of the EPLF-members within the world's production, even though the market itself has expanded by 58% from 222,4 mil. (external market study) to 351 mil. m² (projection by the EPLF). The current market share of the EPLF-members of the laminate flooring market is 69 % (Previous year 59 %).
Europe is naturally the strongest market for the EPLF-members: 162 mil. m² of their laminate flooring produced in Europe is sold throughout the Western European countries. This equates to a market share off 77%, measured on a Western European market of 200 mil. m². Eastern Europe is also developing strongly to a volume of 32 mil. m² - with 26 mil. m² thereof sold by EPLF-members. The EPLF-producers hold an equally strong position in the Asia/Pacific region. The market has risen from 46 to 65 mil. m² in 2000 with 24 mil. m² supplied by EPLF-members, which is an increase of the market share from 18,5 % in 1999 to 37 % in 2000. The centre of growth is in China.
The North American market ranks third after Europe and the Asia-Pacific region with 50 mil. m². Here too the European producers gained a disproportional influence: Their sales increased to 29 Mil. m² (previous year 17,2 mil. m²), which is an increase of market share from 44 to 58 %.
With this all market expectations were surpassed, according to Ralf Eisermann (akzenta Paneele + Profile, Kaisersesch/Germany), EPLF-board member and head of the marketing committee. In his opinion there are clearly visible growth potentials in the North American and Asian Pacific regions. Anecdotal evidence has it that some EPLF-members pay heed to this trend by building local production plants in these areas. This environment and the realisation of this potential will make mergers and strategic alliances within the industry more understandable.
In Europe Germany, France, and Great Britain are again the market leaders, absorbing two thirds of the laminate flooring sales (in this ranking Germany plays a dominant role), followed by the Netherlands, Belgium and Austria. The disproportional sales per household in the various countries seem to indicate that the real potential for laminate flooring is even yet not fully realised.
Internationalisation is striding ahead
EPLF-elections were held in 2000: The annual meeting in spring in Lugano/ Switzerland saw the re-election of chairman Ulrich Windmoeller, his deputy Didier Stumpf (Alsapan S.A., Dinsheim/France), and as another board member Ralf Eisermann. The treasurer Johannes Schulte (Meister-Leisten Schulte GmbH, Rüthen-Meiste/Germany) was also re-elected together with the head of the technical committee Bengt Almqvist (Perstorp Flooring AB, Trelleborg/Sweden).
News however when it comes to members: After Roysol (St. Florentin/France) and Kronotec Consulting GmbH (St. Gilgen/Austria) joined the EPLF, Poliface (Maia/ Portugal) became a new member in the first days of 2001. As new associated member the decor printer Interprint Rotationsdruck GmbH & Co. KG (Arnsberg/Germany) joined the EPLF, bringing the membership up to 21 full members, 16 associated members and 5 sponsoring members (institutes and individuals), according to EPLF's managing director Peter H. Meyer. The changing member structure as well as the simultaneous translations during the general assemblies on international level (besides Lugano in spring there was an autumn meeting in Abano Terme/Italy) are indicators of the increasing internationalisation of the EPLF.
Laminate flooring of the 2nd generation
The extreme success of the laminate flooring industry in 2000 can however easily lead to a too euphoric outlook. Calls for a more cautious approach are heard throughout the EPLF: With around ten years of marketing of laminate flooring behind us there is a first wave of replacement demand in sight. From the viewpoint of the EPLF board there is an obligation to make it clear especially for the trade and the public that today's laminate flooring is miles ahead of the products some ten years ago. Today one can safely speak of laminate flooring of the second generation, which offers the public not only more security because of its clear classification according to EN 13329, but which is also, because of its technical advancement, hardly comparable with the products of the pioneer phase. The great number of new products are further clear evidence, one has only to think of the adhesive-free installation, improved substrate panels, noise reduction, to name a few. To communicate these developments is a welcome challenge for the EPLF in the months and years to come. Comprehensive public relation and information campaigns will take care of this important task, securing the basis to guarantee returns also in the future on the sizeable investments of this industry.