New entrants are still reported to be moving into the UK timber flooring market to capitalise on the growth in sales. Some have a clear long-term strategy; others appear to be in for a quick killing.

Much of this growth can be attributed to fashion, driven by TV programmes and magazines and fuelled by low interest rates, with other factors cited including health issues and wood. for good.

In London, some fear timber flooring sales could be vulnerable to a property slowdown and contraction in the City. However, the rest of the UK appears to be enjoying a consumer-driven boom and so the overall picture bodes well for timber flooring. And there is a trend towards ‘trading up’ from laminate and lower grade flooring to engineered or solid timber.

One importer commented that he began importing pre-finished flooring products five years ago and “sales are now running at over 10 times their initial level”.

Further evidence put forward of the rise of timber flooring is the fact that the carpet industry is mounting generic advertising and marketing campaigns to hold on to market share.

Flooring figures

The European Federation of the Parquet Industry reports that 2002 saw European timber flooring rise to 80.4 million m2. The figure for 2003 is expected to be lower, but only marginally. Multi-layer boards equate to around 73%, with solids running at 15%, leaving lamparquet and mosaics to complete the statistics. The most popular species used are white oak (47%), beech (19%), tropical (16%) and maple (6.5%).

The choice of grade for timber flooring seems to depend on the region. “In some parts of the UK and Ireland, it’s character oak all the way, but as soon as you get into London, people are trading up to prime grade,” said one producer. The main factor is probably material cost compared to disposable income and property value.

Many companies selling timber flooring find the whole subject of grades confusing; ‘prime’ can mean many different things and this is born out by one of the leading UK producers of machined solid timber flooring. “We only use the top grades, such as QF2X, but the grading system is so loose that a lot of people abuse it by selling on lower grades as prime.”

To add to this confusion, most end users cannot cope with the vast array of appearances that are grouped together. Oak is an ideal example; with American, European, white and red, let alone prime, character or rustic, the mix is extremely complex.

&#8220The market is still growing strongly, but the consensus is that there’s no quick fix or easy profit to be made”

Engineered boards continue their rapid growth into the market by creating the middle ground between laminates and solids. While there is much debate over the advantages of engineered compared to solid, engineered product seems more popular than laminate.

One source explained how laminate flooring sales have grown: “The UK is now the largest consumer of laminate flooring in Europe. We’re a few years behind the Continent where engineered product has now exceeded laminate.”

DIY sector

When it comes to servicing larger retailers and the DIY multiples, the engineered flooring industry is better equipped to tackle this sector than many solid timber producers, linking into the demand for boxed products, with a known quantity/quality, where labelling and branding is also easier.

But suppliers say that solid wood flooring, in all its guises, will continue to take a large share of the market, thanks to its diversity, in terms of length and width options, appearance and finishes. While engineered products can offer a variety of finishes, the lack of overall volume for some types, such as waxing or oiling, further highlights the range of options in solid.

The number of outlets selling timber flooring is still reported to be growing rapidly. But this can create problems, as one source explained: “The tactic of some is to bring in all the crap and create a price war. There is also a lot of ignorance out there and many people think laminate is real wood – a lot of education is needed.”

Another source commented: “Wood flooring hasn’t been prevalent for four generations in this country so consumers tend to expect too much and not take enough care of the product. In other countries, like Sweden, the culture is to take shoes off when coming inside, treating wood floors as something special.”

Many companies entering into wood flooring are also said to have little appreciation that timber flooring is more complex to lay than carpet or understand the pitfalls that can involve the seller as well as the installer if there are problems during or post-installation.

The market is still growing strongly, but the consensus is that there’s no quick fix or easy profit to be made. Producers and suppliers looking to the long term will see a strong market for many years to come, but leading players say they must continue to develop products and service alongside demand.