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US-Market in Focus - General Assembly of EPLF in Kaisersesch

17 June 2002

The focus of this year’s EPLF spring conference in the Classen-Forum in Kaisersesch was an American trade magazine’s guest presentation on “The flooring market in the US”. Editor-in-chief Kimberly Gavin, of Floor Covering Weekly (FCW, New York), covered everything from market figures, distribution structures, and trend developments to future chances of different floor coverings in the U.S. With a share of 13% of their exports, the North American market is among the most important for the laminate flooring producers gathered in the EPLF. On this background the marketing working group of the EPLF decided to focus in more detail on the local US market development.

Despite the fact that the US flooring market suffered from the results of September 11th, 2001, the prospects for the market are overall positive, according to Mrs. Gavin. Homeownership has become a priority again and with it the willingness to invest in home improvements and renovations has increased. This is potentially very beneficial for the furniture and flooring industry. Particularly hard floor coverings, such as laminate, wood, and tiles, are believed to enjoy significant growth rates in the coming years. As a FCW-prognosis states: laminate flooring is supposed to have a market share of ten percent by 2004 (2000: 3.7%), hardwood floors are expected to reach nine percent (2000: 8.4%), and tiles 24 percent (2000: 10.6%). Rugs are also expected to have better market chances as a result of this upward trend for hard floor coverings.

In the US, so Kimberly Gavin, laminate and hardwood floors are currently only distributed via the wholesale trade and reach the consumer only on the retail level. Nevertheless, the “Global Players” among the American flooring producers have increasingly begun to sell their products through direct marketing. One of the factors influencing the recent positive developments in the American flooring market is the expansion of DIY-stores, yet specialized stores are still the driving force in the industry (with a share of 73.2% of the total volume of sales). Another significant development in flooring retail is the formation of so-called “Marketing Groups” – organizations of single retailers, which have joined forces to have more leverage with the producers. These groups control a large part of the market. Department and furniture stores used to be important distributors, but can more and more neglected.

International Working Group on “Room-Sound”

In addition to the US flooring market, the EPLF general assembly mostly focused on the topic of reducing room sound. The target: developing an industry guideline offering standardized criteria for measurement and testing techniques to determine “room sound”. To achieve this end, an international task force was founded in the autumn of 2001. It has members from well-known testing institutes, such as C.T.B.A. Paris, France, IHD Dresden, Germany, University Lund, Sweden, WKI Braunschweig, Germany, and the members of the Technical Comitee of EPLF. So far, this panel has decided to compare the noise-levels created by stepping on laminate flooring (an integral of db- and frequency values = sone values) with a defined “standard laminate floor” and give the percental differences as a valuation measurement. The testing procedure utilizes the so-called “hammer movement” method, in which metal cylinders of different weight are dropped on the floor.

The election of the board was also a part of this spring’s EPLF assembly. Ulrich Windmöller (Witex AG, Augustdorf/Germany) and Ralf Eisermann (Classen-Group, Kaisersesch) were confirmed in their positions. Martin Prager (Kronotex, Heiligengrabe/Germany) came to the board to replace Didier Stumpf (Alsapan, Mutzig / France). As head of the Technical Comitee Dr. Theo Smet (Unilin, Wielsbeke / Belgium) was elected to follow in the footsteps of Bengt Almqvist (Pergo, Trelleborg / Sweden). Surinder Khurana (65), longtime chairman of the German subsidiary of Mead Specialty Paper in Gütersloh, is retiring and joined the EPLF conference for the last time. Ulrich Windmöller thanked the laminate flooring pioneer for his commitment to the EPLF and passed on good wishes from the member assembly.

New Members

Four new members were welcomed. The Faus Group (Gandia, Spain), joined as an ordinary member, and Baikowski Chimie SA (La Balme de Sillingy, France), Lamigraf GmbH (Bönen, Germany), and Vits Maschinenbau GmbH (Langenfeld, Germany) joined as extraordinary members. Now, the association has 21 ordinary members (producers), 24 extraordinary members (suppliers), and five supporting members (institutes etc.). The EPLF represents ten European countries: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. The next assembly is scheduled for the end of October, 2002, and, upon invitation of Poliface SA (Maia, Portugal), will take place in Porto, Portugal.

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