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Herringbone Is Back & Rather Stylish

Alex Davidson, business development manager, Kährs (UK), discusses what and who drives the designs of the floors you sell:
ONE of the biggest challenges faced by suppliers of hardwood flooring is convincing retailers and architects that their products are ‘on trend.’
Little is known about what actually drives the trends that we see within our industry and who actually decides what is and isn’t ‘in.’ But, to get a deeper understanding, we can look to the fashion industry for clues.
In fashion, as in the majority of businesses you have ‘leaders’ and ‘followers,’ the big powerhouse brands, like Gucci, Dior, Prada and Armani, invest in in-house creative design teams who work on seasonal concepts almost a year in advance. These then tie in with ‘catwalk’ launches, usually to great fanfare, cost and anticipation.

Through research, these prestige brands use not only their creative design teams but also creative anthropologists who ‘dictate’ what the season look will be. It’s then up to the second tier followers to copy these designs and present them to their customers.
The followers within the fashion industry had, until recently, one major flaw within their business model; they were often late in bringing the latest styles to their stores, but they’ve refined the ‘fast follower’ business mantra. They can now copy and transfer the powerhouse brands’ first day design launches to the stores within four to six weeks.
Perfect examples of this are Primark, H&M, ASOS and Zara owner, Inditex. These follower companies account for the volume segment of the market, where price is key and quality is generally accepted by the consumers to be ‘just good enough’. It is where they’re happy for the clothes to last a year.
Not surprisingly, consumers of hardwood floors want their floors to last longer than a year, but they will factor price, along with design and quality into their decision making process. Through decades of our own market research, we know that design and aesthetics are major considerations for the consumer and architect.
Within Kährs, the process of designing a new product can be complex and time consuming, and trying to determine what will be on trend almost two years in advance can be a precarious affair! Our current head of product design has worked for large innovate companies, such as Tetra Pack, where product design and texture were crucial to the business.
To anticipate flooring trends, we often look to the furniture, wall covering, kitchen, fabric and paint sectors, in relation to colours, textures and grains. Our own product designers will also look to the arts, to cultural trends and will also consider economical conditions.
For example, through research, we determined that grey toned floors would go on to be a popular unconscious consumer choice, reflecting the sombre mood over the last four years. Perversely, when the economy was strong and economic optimism was at its height, consumers reflected that mood by purchasing dark exotic species and gothic-look black stained designs.
When we first launched hand distressed and smoked wide board products, over six years ago, there was an argument to say that we were too early into the market; now the authentically-aged aesthetic is at the top of its lifecycle and is very much ‘on trend.’
The key is understanding the lifecycle of a product; can anyone remember when walnut was the ‘it’ choice for consumers and architects? Now it’s fair to say that walnut has been overtaken by white-wash and grey tones, as the second choice of floor after the ubiquitous white oak.
Leaders in the flooring industry make brave choices to maintain their brand equity, and it’s just when the market is at the top of the lifecycle for wide distressed boards that we’ve launched a new collection that features very clean and uniformed grades of timber, with subtle colouring, in natural oak, whitewash and grey tones.
The new range is the total antithesis of the prevalent rustic aesthetic, but if we study what designers within other industries are using, in terms of materials and textures, then the early adopters, such as architects and designers, will demand these same materials and textures in flooring. These will then go on to be picked up by the end user, after they’ve seen the look in hotels, airports and public buildings.
A very old favourite is also coming to the fore, with retailers reporting a significant increase in consumer and architect enquiries about traditional herringbone parquet. This trend isn’t something that’s been driven by a hardwood flooring manufacturer, as the format is easily accessible and relatively cheap to buy – although not to install – but rather as a direct result of the consumers seeing it featured in the backdrop to adverts for televisions, furniture, kitchens and other household products.
Until recently, traditional parquet conjured memories, for many, of dusty school halls and museums. Now, through the power of advertising, this classic style is being specified as part of the new eclectic look. We recently installed 4,000sq m of engineered oak herringbone into a landmark department store in Dublin; the brief from the client and architect was for a contemporary clean finish with a classical twist. In this case, the trend will be self-perpetuating, as customers will be reminded of the floor style’s potential, or some younger shoppers will perhaps experience it for the first time!
So, how do the powerhouse fashion brands remain in business and retain a loyal customer base, when fast followers can copy their designs within weeks? It comes down to the key ingredients of any successful brand: Quality, innovation, knowledge, uncompromising service levels, value and trust.
These are principals that are true within the hardwood flooring industry; for years, quality brands have kept a dignified silence, as they’ve seen collections of floors, designs and brochures that they’ve spent hundreds of thousands of pounds developing copied within months.
But the followers within the hardwood flooring industry will never be able to create a true brand within the B2B and B2C markets, because whilst they continually follow, they are neither market leaders nor forward thinkers, and they are not perceived to have a long term strategy or substance.
In business, it always pays to be a leader in the long run, and with first-hand knowledge of new technological advancements due to surface in our industry during the next few years, it looks like the followers could find themselves a long, long way behind.

This article has been reproduced from the Contract Flooring Journal website. You can find them at www.contractflooringjournal.co.uk.