Flooring: flat out but could be faster

By Jess Brunette September 14, 2017 Flooring

Consumers are more spoiled for choice then ever when it comes to flooring options but the frustration is that there still aren’t enough feet on the ground to meet demand. Jess Brunette reports.

To view a PDF of the complete feature as it appeared in NZ Hardware Journal magazine, click the download button at the bottom of this page.

Taking care of business first and foremost, all the players I spoke to for this feature say they’re seeing more than enough demand for their products thanks to New Zealand’s well documented construction boom.

And, like many categories in the hardware channel, the biggest concern that these players have is finding enough people to install their products, with the shortfall in qualified installers a problem across the board.

Looking at a wider view of New Zealand’s flooring market at FloorNZ, the country’s flooring industry association, CEO Kari Pearcey confirms that the last 12 months have indeed been strong for the category thanks to widespread construction activity particularly in Auckland, Hamilton and Queenstown.

Product areas doing well domestically include carpet and vinyl but Pearcey notes that the Auckland region in particular has seen a rise in wooden flooring products driven by “certain areas of the market , often immigrants who are used to wooden floors in their previous home environment.”

Regarding the skills shortages reported across the construction market, Pearcey is, unsurprisingly, very concerned at the low numbers of qualified flooring installers now operating and perhaps struggling to meet demand.

A limited number of apprentices currently in the pipeline is doing nothing to assuage these concerns for the future of the category either, though Pearcey and members of FloorNZ are certainly doing their best to counter this worrying trend.

“FloorNZ is currently working with sectors of the industry on how we can attract more people into the industry and encourage more employers to take on an apprentice. We are also intending to implement a licensing programme to create professionalism in the industry and provide customer assurance around quality,” says Kari Pearcey.

With the best of intentions however the obstacle to progress here can be summed up thus: “Unless installers or retailers are prepared to take on apprentices, this issue can’t be resolved,” says FloorNZ’s CEO.

 

MASSIVE OFFERING LIMITED BY CAPACITY

For a take on this issue from the supplier perspective, Dunlop Marketing Officer at Ardex, Steven Irvine, confirms that while the company has seen consistent growth from both trade and DIY sectors, particularly with waterproof wood-look laminates, there are simply not enough builders and floorers to meet today’s opportunities.

And with demand set to continue in coming years, Steven Irvine is also concerned that merchants too will struggle to find qualified staff to serve an increasingly knowledgeable customer base looking for advice and technical information in a relatively specialist category.

He’s very aware also that stock management will also be a balancing act with merchants having to “weigh cost with quality” during growth phases of growth.

Another player concerned with a lack of qualified people both in installation as well as on the shop floor is Martyn Jagusch, General Manager of Floorscape, distributor of laminate, timber, bamboo and vinyl floors.

On the installation side Jargusch points out that, as well as there not being enough flooring installers currently active to meet demand, the increasing average age of the flooring labour force is also being felt by the industry.

“The qualified tradesmen we have are getting older and crankier, their knees are going and there aren’t young people coming through the trade,” Jagusch explains.

Floorscape’s GM also feels that the massive increase in popularity over the last 10 years of non-structural overlay flooring like timber laminate, bamboo, cork and vinyl plank may have caught out some tradespeople, with overlay products often being placed on incorrectly prepared subfloors creating a finish with undulations that can be felt and/or heard when walked on.

 

OLD HANDS NOT COPING WITH NEW MATERIALS?

Martyn Jagusch is also concerned that installers more familiar with the natural shrinkage of timber aren’t allowing for the natural expansion of overlay products, particularly in the more humid months with a gap of 10 millimetres generally recommended that’s normally covered by skirting board or kitchen cabinets.

“A common mistake is that the builders will put overlays hard against doorjambs and against joinery not thinking it will move,” Jagusch explains. “Though I have to say the market is getting more understanding and it’s getting a lot better than it was 10 years ago.”

This increase in understanding is also filtering through to the retail floor where Jagusch is happy to report that outlets like Mitre 10 are “doing a better job every day”. However he feels that New Zealand’s DIY market still needs improvement particularly compared to Europe where a far larger chunk of overlay flooring is installed by DIYers.

“The DIY market in New Zealand has a long way to go in terms of the understanding of the people on the floor and having a well-considered range of quality product. And they tend to focus on the lower end of the market, so someone takes it home, lays it themselves, doesn’t do it right and the product is poor quality as well so things often don’t end well.”

 

RETAIL PERSPECTIVE – ALL ABOUT STOCK

For a word from flooring retailers, I spoke first to Miranda Powrie, Marketing Manager at Tile Space (formerly Heritage Tiles) who, predictably, has been very busy over the last 12 months with concrete-look tiles doing very well in the renovation space and tilers all reporting massive waiting lists for their services.

Glen Ellis, Manager of Flooring & Window Furnishings at Composite Retail Group, also reports a market full of opportunities but with not enough feet on the ground to follow them through.

“We can win business relatively easily but getting someone to actually turn up that’s sober, clean, reliable, and lays the carpet in a timely fashion is a big challenge. So there is a significant labour shortage in qualified flooring contractors all around the country and we’ve have stores go for months trying to recruit contractors to do work for them, offering good salary packages, vehicles and more but still not being able to attract labour,” says Glen Ellis.

So has the idea of bringing in labour from overseas to meet demand been floated in the flooring sector as it has been in other construction-related areas?

“Yes and no,” Ellis says. “It’s too low on the pay scale and from a qualifications perspective for it to be considered a critical so that’s why the Government hasn’t added it to the skilled shortages list.”

Still, he adds: “In saying that they’ve loosened it somewhat and added ‘Flooring Finishers’ to some of the busier centres for skilled labour shortages but it’s a nationwide problem really.”

On a more positive note, Bevan Brabyn, General Manager of Mitre 10 MEGA Palmerston North, says his flooring business has been going gangbusters in the past year particularly with Click-Lock vinyl flooring products and larger bathroom tiles.

In fact this MEGA GM’s biggest concerns in flooring is managing stock to keep up with demand, particularly in such a strongly fashion-conscious category.

“The trends are changing so fast so it’s really about making sure you’re up with what’s current and keeping your stock turning over because you know it could be in today and out tomorrow.”

As a general rule Bevan Brabyn likes to keep at least one job lot’s worth on hand but he admits that judging stock levels can be a bit of an art.

“If somebody comes in and they need it today, we like to have enough to do that. Some people are quite happy for us to order it in, but what we don’t want to do however is lose the customer out the door. So inventory is definitely a balancing act.”

Summing up, the flooring category is a very active space with some new and interesting options coming through in the range of product now available for New Zealand consumers. The negative is that, outside of the DIY market, they may need a degree of patience to wait for an installer before their home gets a fresh dose of flooring fashion.

 


Premium performance, simple construction

In answer to New Zealand’s housing crisis, sky-rocketing house prices, and an increasing population, people are turning to medium density housing all around New Zealand.

In these medium density developments, intertenancy walls and floors need to meet stringent New Zealand Building Code (NZBC) acoustic performance and fire rating requirements. Not only that, but these homes need to be affordable, easy to construct, make creative use of smaller land sizes, and maximise light to create high quality living environments with materials that are built to last.

James Hardie’s new lightweight Acoustic Flooring is a logical choice where intertenancy floors are required. The system utilises a timber joist construction method with Secura Flooring fixed to steel battens over a rubber cradle system. This forms a structural floor system that provides excellent fire and acoustic performance, required for intertenancy floors to comply with the NZBC.

James Hardie Acoustic Flooring offers an all-in-one solution. Secura flooring can be tiled directly without the need for underlay, saving time and money on the build, which also contributes to affordability. Its rigidity gives a squeak-free, solid feel under carpet, tiles or vinyl, and the system helps absorb sound.

www.jameshardie.co.nz

 


Trends in flooring in short

Overlay flooring that’s laid on top of a flat sub-floor continues to outdo carpet, with vinyl, vinyl planking and laminates all going into living areas and hallways.

This trend is part practicality (low wear in high traffic areas) and part fashion as the array of overlay material now easily available is increasing dramatically, giving people the option to change their floor to meet trends.

Vinyl, once a dirty word synonymous with a cheap product, has come a long way, with the styles and quality of material winning over consumers, particularly with luxury vinyl tiles.

The trend for bamboo, while still strong, may be softening somewhat with people realising it may not be quite as invulnerable as they first thought.

Rustic finishes on the floor are the rage, giving weight and character to a floor particularly when completed by a clean white interiors finishes.

As Floorscape’s Martyn Jagusch explains: “It wasn’t that long ago where if a timber floor we sold had a knot in it a customer would go septic; these days if it’s not full of knots they don’t want it.”

 


Instant expert – flooring types

What is overlay flooring?

  • The array of options available for flooring now has increased dramatically in the past 10 years and the many names and terms for products can be confusing.
  • Overlay flooring for example can include bamboo, wood, vinyl or laminates but the important distinction to be made is that overlay flooring products are non-structural.
  • This means for example that they cannot be placed straight over beams and need to be placed on top of a suitably prepared sub-floor.

What is a subfloor?

  • A subfloor is the bottom most layer of a floor and is a structural element of a build. Subfloors can be concrete, wood, plywood, oriented strandboard (OSB) or even plastic in some cases.
  • To give a confusing example, you can place a wooden overlay over a wooden subfloor. The difference is that the wooden subfloor will most likely be made from longer, planks of generally 19mm thickness, whereas, wood overlays tend to have a maximum thickness of 18 mm and come in medium widths and shorter lengths than structural wood planks.
  • While the wide array of options available can be confusing, particular as technology creates new options for both overlays and subfloors all the time, one thing remains very clear: your subfloor needs to be flat, smooth and even to get the best results from any overlay you might want to place on top of it.

 


Flooring Republic wants to dominate UK market

This July, Chinese owned flooring retailer Flooring Republic announced its plan to become the UKs biggest player in solid wood and wood laminate flooring market with plans to grow its store base from 22 to 80 stores nationwide by the end of 2018.

Significant investment from Chinese investors has already seen Flooring Republic acquire UK online flooring specialist Posh Flooring, a significant step to achieving the company’s goal.

Flooring Republic is the UK retail arm of global flooring business Anbo Holdings which benefits from the use of its own sustainable supply chain of forestry, woodland manufacturing sectors in China.

www.poshflooring.co.uk

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