Via Floor Covering News: Jan 18/25; Volume 30/Number 15
Some flooring executives predict that The International Surface Event (TISE), which will be held this week in Las Vegas, will be the coming out party for the wood plastic/polymer composite (WPC) category with as many as 30 introductions expected.
The company that jump-started the WPC revolution was USFloors with its introduction of COREtec technology at Surfaces 2014. Since then, the product has not only won multiple awards, but more important, has earned retail acclaim as being a true solution: water resistant, dimensionally stable and easy to install.
Piet Dossche, USFloors’ CEO, recently spoke to FCNews’ senior editor Ken Ryan about COREtec, the potential competition and the rapidly expanding category.
How did USFloors come up with the idea for COREtec?
While researching composite outdoor decking—to possibly add to our product offering—we were visiting several companies in China that were manufacturing this product using an extrusion process. Not only were these companies extruding typical plank format for decking construction, like the well-known Trex brand, they were extruding large, thinner sheets used for builder materials such as paneling and kitchen cabinets. With the waterproof characteristics of this extruded material, and the availability in a sheet format like the MDF used in laminate, we knew we had found the right core product to make a waterproof flooring. We worked on density and formulation to improve the performance and dimensional stability, applied an LVT wear layer and a cork backing, and the COREtec product was born.
Why is the WPC category the next big thing in flooring?
Right from the beginning we were convinced this product category was going to grow into something big, and so far even our wildest estimates have fallen short. The WPC construction or composite core LVT flooring, whatever you call it, solves a number of major issues other traditional LVT products are struggling with. The fact that these composite constructions can be installed directly over damaged or uneven subfloors without showing or “telegraphing” the imperfections on the face of the product is probably the greatest feature and differentiator vs. solid LVT. When directly installed over ceramic tiles, no grout lines show, saving a lot of cost in either breaking out the tile subfloor and leveling out the grout line—or even the entire floor.
[WPC’s] dimensional stability is superior to most solid LVT constructions, enabling large rooms to be installed without transition pieces. The rigidity of the core makes for a much more installation friendly and stronger click locking profile, installing as easily, quickly and reliably as laminate or engineered wood. The visuals are as authentic as real wood looks and obviously the waterproof guarantee makes WPC suitable for installation in wet applications, something wood and laminate have never been able to claim. Whenever you have a good looking product, manufactured with quality, style, competitive pricing and bringing solutions to real problems, you are bound to have a winner. COREtec has proven this.
USFloors is the pioneer of this new category. How do you feel about that?
I feel extremely proud and blessed USFloors is the inventor and pioneer of this brand-new product category and we were able to capitalize on this by expanding our business rapidly since we first showed our COREtec collection during Surfaces 2014. In my more than 30 years in the flooring industry, I have never been in a position to give birth to a totally new flooring product and witness firsthand such phenomenal acceptance and success. During the mid-1990s laminate flooring had a stellar introduction and growth in the U.S., much like WPC is experiencing right now.
What concerns you about the future of WPC?
Every successful product gets knocked off as soon as it appears, and COREtec has seen many copies appearing in the market. By now it is common knowledge we have a patent, which has been studied by many in detail on how to get around and avoid infringing. Anybody who knows anything about patents realizes they are fluid and continuous applications can be filed to enhance and strengthen the claims. Competition will always be there and is healthy to develop the category to its maximum potential. While we welcome competition, we also believe IP should be respected, and we will continue to evaluate how best we can work with those competitors who are of the same opinion and respect IP.
The real threat to the category does not come from the companies that believe in bringing good quality products with attractive designs and exciting marketing to their retail partners, but those that manufacture or import substandard collections made from dubious raw materials with low specifications and consequently use low pricing as their only tool to get entry into the market. These companies should not be allowed to get traction, and retailers should shy away from those category killers. I can assure we at USFloors will do what we can to protect this innovative product.
What excites you about the future of WPC?
There is no limit to how big this category can become. This is clearly disruptive technology, but disruptive in the positive sense; it is also innovative, outside the box, different and challenging. WPC in all of its formats will eventually grow to capture more market share than laminate has. Many creative new composite materials will appear over the next several years, raising the bar and driving growth in the category. Furthermore, I believe laminate flooring and engineered wood flooring will have to be reinvented to respond to these waterproof composite core constructions. This, in turn, will spur new products, bring further innovation and grow our industry. WPC is only at the early stages of its lifecycle; expansion will forever change the landscape of LVT and other flooring categories.
When you look back at what USFloors has accomplished, what are you most proud of?
COREtec is allowing me to build the foundation of USFloors strong enough to grow the company to a different platform—bigger and better but still true to its original message of being unique and innovative with a focus on sustainability. The innovation of COREtec is a strong accomplishment for our company, no doubt about it, but what will ultimately define our legacy will be what we were able to create and build with this product.