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Laminate Flooring on Course for further Success - EPLF Member Companies embark on differentiated Marketing

17 January 2006

The laminate flooring market continues to grow. Statistics from the EPLF European Producers of Laminate Flooring show a further increase in sales for 2005, albeit only in selected markets. Whilst the Western European market has leveled off at last year’s figures, encouraging rates of growth were achieved in Eastern Europe and North America. Previously regarded as the poor relation, even the South American market has seen positive growth as well. Germany remains the largest single market worldwide for laminate flooring manufactured in Europe, followed by the US, British and French markets. Among the East European markets, Poland, the Russian Federation, Romania and Hungary are particularly highlighted.

EPLF member companies are therefore reasonably satisfied with the laminate flooring turnover for 2005, in spite of early weaknesses in the first third of the year. Product innovation is set to further improve sales and reinforce the position of laminate flooring in the world market. Innovative surfaces – more authentic than ever – and a mature technology testify for a product that has found its place among floor coverings. Manufacturers of direct pressure laminate flooring are also looking forward to the prospect of respectable sales. This production technology, in use for some time now in furniture manufacturing, has been refined in previous years to such an extent that it can now be used for flooring. In the past year, the EPLF has recognized this and the Association has opened its doors to businesses with know-how in the manufacture of direct-printed surfaces.

A market survey commissioned by the EPLF at the beginning of last year confirmed the positive image that the product enjoys with end users. Laminate floorings are regarded as aesthetic, hard-wearing and easy to fit and to care for, long-lasting and providing good value for money. Critical comments were the noise generated when walking over the flooring and the ecological compatibility of the product – whether justifiable or not. Technically there is little potential here for further improvement, but the Association plans to tackle these issues as part of its communications strategy. The aim of the survey was to generate meaningful data from market sources to optimize the marketing efforts of member companies and the Association. 80 people were interviewed in sub-groups of ten participants, who had purchased flooring in the previous six months or who were planning to in the near future.

Market Survey: Central Topic in 2005
Entitled “End user behavior in the purchase of laminate flooring", the market survey was central to the activities of the Marketing Comitee in 2005. “Although the survey confirmed that end users have positive perceptions of the product, we always strive to seek improvement wherever possible," comments the EPLF President, Ludger Schindler. Alongside these types of project, the Marketing Comitee has focused on the quarterly increases in sales figures for European-based products, which provides important information for laminate flooring manufacturers about market trends. In addition, assessments are received from various sources – among them, for example, machinery manufacturers for the production of laminate floorings – with the aim of increasing sales on the worldwide market. This topic was reinforced with lectures by international experts from selected laminate flooring markets, for example, at the annual EPLF Members’ Conference. Other concerns for the Marketing Comitee include how the Association communicates as well as participation in international trade fairs and conferences.

Drum Sound Standard will be modified
The proposal by the EPLF for a standard for measuring the drum sound (021029-3) was one of the main topics for the Technical Comitee in 2005. The established test method employs a standard hammer device as a test instrument to simulate the sound of a person’s footsteps when walking. The drum sound produced in this way is measured on the sone scale of loudness and is compared with that of a standard reference flooring (7 mm DPL layer with 3 mm PE foam underlay). The results obtained from these measurements are then graded according to a classification system with classes of loudness from SL0 to SL30 (with SL30 being the best class).

In the course of last year, it emerged from a variety of product tests that the results obtained from these measurements do not always correspond to the subjective perceptions of end users. According to experts from the testing institutions and from industry, the reason for these conflicting results lies in the use of the standard hammer device for reproducing the footstep sound. Against this backdrop, the Technical Comitee decided at the end of October 2005 to search for an alternative drum sound instrument. The test method itself however should remain essentially the same. While the comitee is working with all haste on a new proposal, it is not yet possible to confirm when this will be available due to the complexities of the issue.

As well as the proposal for a standard for the measurement of drum sound, the Technical Comitee continues to work intensively on the development of an ISO standard for laminate floorings. In terms of contents, it will deal with the issues also covered by EN 13329: abrasion and impact resistance, resistance to staining, bleaching resistance, thickness swelling and many more. The EPLF is involved in the committees of the ISO, in order to transfer the highest quality standards of the European EN 13329 laminate flooring Standard to an ISO Standard that will have international application. The technical experts have also been busy in the past year with EN 14041, the harmonized European Standard for the CE label for laminate floorings, which will come into force in the next two years. It aims to set minimum requirements for health, safety and energy-saving of laminate flooring across Europe.

The main tasks for the EPLF in 2006
At the top of the Association’s agenda of tasks for 2006 and alongside further work on standardization and continuous market monitoring is communication with end users. As indicated by the EPLF market survey, end users’ image of laminate flooring is positive but there is certainly room for improvement. The member companies of the EPLF and the Association will take the opportunity to use the results of the market survey to further promote the image of laminate flooring in the market. After all, in the final analysis, it’s the customers who have not chosen laminate flooring in the past who need to be won over as well. Our marketing efforts will focus equally on our European core and developing markets as on our overseas export markets.

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