Laminate flooring is looking back on a mind-boggling development. This young product has established in only a few years a stable market share in the hard fought flooring market. The reasons are obvious: attractive design combined with a high durability and long lifespan at acceptable price levels make laminate flooring the well sought product with a consumer. This is why laminate flooring managed within the relatively short time span to obtain market share from other flooring type manufacturers.
According to the estimates of the EPLF, the Association of the European producers of laminate flooring, the sales volume in Germany in the year 1998 has risen by 5% to a total of 35 million square metres. In the first two quarters of 1999 however the development stagnated, but as positive reports from EPLF members show, there is an expectation of further growth for the second half of 1999, anticipating sales of 36 million square metres and more with EPLF member companies covering 60 to 70% of the market in Europe.
The development in Germany is accompanied by two digit growth rates in Europe. 1998 has seen the sales volume rising, compared with 1997, by 17%. In the first two quarters of 1999 the growth rate was even 20% which allows an estimate of total sales of 120 million square metres by the end of this year. Worldwide, it is anticipated that the 200 million square metre mark will be passed until the year 2000.
"There is growth potential in Europe but also international", so Ulrich Windmoeller, the C.E.O. of Witex AG and the president of the EPLF. Markets with potential in Europe are England, France, Italy and Spain. Internationally, China and the USA seem to be the front-runners. "In Germany growth will only come through a high end product innovation" so the EPLF president. This will include moisture resistant products, adhesive-less installation systems, and products with integrated noise reduction. These products are found in the middle price segment between 30 and 50 DEM in principle. "One can also assume that the future is not reserved for low end products, but also will be marked by successes in the middle to high-end price ranges instigated by innovative brand manufacturers", so Windmoeller.
EN 13329: A new quality standard
Even though that there are quite growth chances worldwide, the build-up of capacities exceeds the market potential quite considerably. What is left is an ever-increasing competition and tougher price fights, leaving the association with very mixed feelings. It is however widely believed that the new Eurostandard for laminate flooring (EN 13329), will restrain negative quality developments which otherwise can ruin the reputation of the whole industry. Windmoeller: "With the introduction of the EN 13329 the industry has obtained a tool which enables the consumer to distinguish between high and low end products, contributing to more market transparency". The EPLF was a driving force for the implementation of this new standard.
This industry has to find its way between the chances of gaining more market share internationally and continuous price pressure through additional production capacities. A differentiated marketing approach will have to be more than the catchphrase of the day. The EN 13329 standard has truly created a tool which might be of help to avoid the 'boom and bust' situations the wall-to-wall carpet industry had to go through, years ago. This encourages the EPLF to have an optimistic outlook without loosing its sight for realism.
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