Having its hardwood and laminate flooring facilities located near each other has enabled Mannington Mills to maximize its design strengths by coordinating its resources.

In the mid- to high-end residential market that it targets, Mannington Mills' hardwood and laminate flooring lives or dies on quality and design.



So far it is living — and living large — or as large as the current housing slump will allow.



Distributors and retailers attending the Surfaces 2007 show in Las Vegas awarded Mannington's Inverness flooring first place in Styling Excellence among hardwoods. Produced in hickory, maple and cherry, the design has a hand-scraped and beveled look. A design that mirrored it, Heritage Cherry, won first place in Styling Excellence for laminate. And Mannington's hardwood Imperial Tigerwood design won in the alternative wood category.



These accolades are not surprising for a company that continues to experience growth in both its hardwood and laminate sales. Although privately owned Mannington does not release its sales figures, recent estimates by Floor Focus magazine have Mannington's hardwood flooring sales at $160 million and laminate flooring sales at approximately $66 million. Overall, at an estimated $800 million in sales, the company ranks in the top five among flooring manufacturers when you add in the commercial carpet and vinyl flooring manufacture and porcelain tile distribution.



Yet, despite the company's high rankings, Doug Brown, vice president of hardwood product development, and Sam Dryden, director of laminate operations, say that, like the rest of the flooring industry, they're now feeling the effects of housing's woes.



“Everything is kind of flat right at the moment,” says Brown. “When the housing bubble burst, everything came to a screeching halt.”



But, says Dryden, pointing out the long growth period Mannington has enjoyed, “we could be a lot worse off.” Mannington's products are holding their own, the men say.

The products are sold through independent flooring stores rather than the large home improvement stores. A network of around 30 distributors serves more than 7,000 United States and Canadian retail stores. “We don't claim that [big box] arena,” says Dryden.



“We're trying to play it as much as we can in higher-end products,” Brown adds.



The company's prefinished, engineered hardwood flooring retails between $6 and $16 a square foot. Laminate flooring sells in the range of $2 to $5.40 a square foot.



Coordinated Strengths

Part of the strength of Mannington's product sales comes from the close cooperation that the laminate and hardwood flooring operations enjoy. Both plants are in High Point, NC, with the 170,000-square-foot hardwood facility located just 15 minutes away from the 108,000-square-foot laminate flooring operation. The same corporate design team serves both plants.



“A lot of development gets done on the wood side that influences styling decisions on the laminate side,” Brown says.



One of the advantages of having input from the hardwood operation, Dryden says, is that “Doug can tell us exactly what's selling on the wood side.” Mannington's designers will then incorporate the hardwood species' grain and stain — even its gloss and texture — into a complementing laminate pattern. The design is then transferred onto dècor paper which is saturated with melamine resin by Coveright in Coburg, Canada, before shipment back to High Point for pressing and profiling.



Coordination between the laminate and hardwood product lines “allows people to buy a wood product for use in the living room and laminate for the family room,” with confidence that they'll match, Brown says.



“A number of exotic species on the wood side are beginning to show up on the laminate side,” he adds. “Even the color schemes we use tend to show up in laminates.”



And those color schemes are a lot more elaborate than they used to be.



Hardwood Options Expand

In 1988, Mannington started making engineered hardwood flooring, a five-ply construction with a southern red oak face veneer. Today, it is still five-ply construction, but the face veneers now are cherry, maple, hickory, red oak and sometimes white oak and walnut, all northern grown. Until recently, the High Point operation manufactured the panels, pressing face veneer purchased from an outside source onto underlying layers made at Mannington's plant in Epes, AL. With the completion of a $25 million upgrade and reorganization, the High Point facility has concentrated on profiling and finishing, while panel making has moved to Epes.



The flooring, which is tongue-and-grooved, comeS in 3- and 5-inch widths and thicknesses of 3/8, 1/2 and 9/16 inch. Standard length is 42 inches. And although uniformity of color continues to be important, Brown says, “Today, people are much more tolerant of color variations.”



The knots and imperfections that were once shunned are now prized, as homeowners show preference for the rustic, aged look.



“We came up with a medium-distressed product six years ago,” Brown recalls. Then they went to the hand-scraped look. Now, with some designs, the company has added a two-toned, hand-rubbed look in which knotholes and other imperfections appear naturally dull in contrast with the rest of the board. To achieve this look, the High

Point plant outsources the preliminary steps for the hand-scraped and hand-rubbed looks, then finishes the flooring in-house.



It has made for a winning design combination for many of Mannington's products, such as the Inverness hardwood flooring and its laminate counterpart, Heritage Cherry.



Laminates Follow Wood Trends

Although Mannington began production of its laminate flooring almost a decade ago at the High Point facility, the design and production process continues to evolve.

For design inspiration, “they go to the real stone and wood,” Brown says. Dryden adds that, in keeping with Mannington's emphasis on style — “it sets us apart from the competition” — 99 percent of the designs are proprietary. “They're not off the shelf,” Dryden says.



For example, Mannington's prize-winning laminate design in cherry copied hardwood's “aged” appearance, right down to the hand-scraped look which was achieved through embossed-in-register technology. In embossed-in-register, the indentations that the press plate makes in the plank exactly follow the wood or stone pattern of the decor paper.



The pattern of the decor paper then is repeated on the beveled tongue- and-groove edges through a special thermofoil process that Mannington implemented in 2005. “Hand-rubbing,” achieved by machine etching, removes color from the paper's “knotholes,” giving them an appropriately dull surface. According to Dryden, it results in an appearance that is more authentic-looking than a lacquer coating.

Mannington Mills specializes in laminate and engineered hardwood flooring. Raja Slate laminate tiles provide a multi-hued look and slightly higher gloss levels than grout lines, for an authentic texture.
Mannington Mills

Salem, NJ

Flooring Plants in High Point, NC



One of the largest flooring companies in the United States, Mannington Mills is the only North American company engaged in the manufacturing and marketing of resilient, laminate, hardwood and porcelain tile floors, as well as commercial vinyl and carpet. The company’s hardwood and laminate flooring facilities are located minutes apart in High Point, NC. Founded in 1915, the company is privately held.



Three Keys



1. Having the hardwood and laminate flooring facilities located near each other has allowed the company to maximize its design and marketing resources by offering complementing colors and patterns.



2. Mannington recently completed multi-million dollar upgrades which have enabled it to improve production and profitability.



3. Mannington avoids the commodity market by selling its flooring products through a distribution chain of 7,000 United States and Canadian retail stores.



www.mannington.com



“When the light is just right, you can see the hand-scraping on it,” Dryden says. The same is true of the knotholes' surface.



Laminate planks are sold in widths of 5, 8, 12 and 16 inches. Although half of today's sales continue to be the traditional, 8-inch-wide wood design, embossed but not an embossed-in-register product, the aged look with its “hand-scraping,” thermofoiled edges and 5-inch- wide boards is growing in popularity, being used not only in hickory and cherry designs, but in eight others as well.



In addition to natural wood products, designers of Mannington's laminate flooring are inspired by porcelain tiles and natural stone. “Keep in mind, we're also in the porcelain business, importing porcelain tile from all over the world,” says Dryden.



The stone and tile designs come in 12- and 16-inch widths, in a wide variety of patterns. For example, the 16-inch Raja Slate collection includes 24 different laminate “tiles.” Another 16-inch collection includes 20 tiles arranged in a modular format, a popular look today in real stone.



Investments in Production

In recent years, both the hardwood and laminate operations have invested heavily in equipment to help them reproduce complicated designs with speed and precision. The highly automated equipment is also labor-saving. High Point's hardwood operation now has 199 employees, Epes has 143 and the High Point laminate operation has 83.

With the $25 million reorganization and upgrade in the hardwood operation, capacity remains the same, at 50 million square feet, Brown says. What has been gained, he adds, is “a more efficient way to produce that.”



At the High Point facility, a high-speed Torwegge tenoner has been added for use with the plant's two Weinig moulders. The additional production capability and accuracy helps the company's current, as well as future, needs, Brown says.



A new, fully-automated optimizing line also was installed to handle any hardwood reworks. A computerized System TM chop saw recognizes marked defects, cuts the boards to a smaller, defect-free length and a Doucet profiler is used for tongue-and-groove operations. All manual feeding and about half the grading formerly devoted to reworks has been eliminated, Brown says.



Brown adds that the upgrade and reorganization at the hardwood flooring facility has positioned the company to be able to double capacity when it becomes needed. “We're positioned now to do a much better job against anybody who wants to bring [competing] product in,” he says.



The laminate flooring facility, likewise, has repositioned itself for a strong future. A $10 million upgrade in 2005 was prompted by Mannington's entry into embossed-in-register panels, where annual capacity now is at 40 million square feet. The capacity for non-embossed register product is estimated between 65 to 70 million square feet. The laminate operation earned ISO 9001 certification in 2003, and is among the few NC-based operations to be part of OSHA's Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program, Dryden says.



Similar to those found in the hardwood facility, at the laminate plant a camera system checks and positions the products throughout various stages of production. For example, the camera will be used to position the press plates so that the Wemhöner press' points precisely fit the design on the dècor paper.



The cameras also will take into account the expansion on the outer edges of the laminate board during pressing, and make adjustments for where the saw blades are to cut. Otherwise, Dryden says, “what you'd end up with would be little grouts and big grouts.”



Both plants also use a computer-controlled measurement system for quality control. “From our intake of raw materials to the product going out the door, everything is control charted,” says Dryden.



Samples are pulled at frequent intervals and subjected to electronic measurement that can not only spot a bad board, but can tell whether it is an isolated incident or “part of a trend.” Prior to having the electronic system in place, an operator would adjust the machine whenever a bad board was found, Brown says. Now, with the system, machines are adjusted only when a trend appears. “You want to let it run,” he adds.



Dryden says that the computerized quality control measurement “has made a huge, huge difference in our quality. It takes out the human differential.” The upgrades of the last several years, he adds, “definitely make us more competitive.”


The Broad River Hickory line exemplifies the hand-rubbed, hand-scraped appearance which is very popular in today’s hardwood flooring lines. Doug Brown, vice president of operations in the hardwood division, stands by a pallet of panels waiting to be cut.
Sam Dryden, director of operations in Mannington's laminate division, inspects a profiled board. An employee readies the hardwood boards for machining by the Torwegge tenoner.


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