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Harlan Stone

2017-05-19 President of the US-MFAssociation Interview

"The recent MMFA event in Porto, Portugal was the best industry conference that I have attended in my 35 years in the flooring industry."

Harlan Stone, president of the US-MFAssociation, was in Porto for this years' MMFA General Assembly, where he presented his perspective of the USA flooring market. We took the opportunity to interview him and talk about the flooring industry in general, about cork as a trendy and sustainable material for this industry and the goals for US-MFAssociation future.

Your participation in this year's MMFA's General Assembly brought to Europe, in this particular case, to Portugal, a very complete perspective of the USA flooring market. Could you resume here your presentation giving us a brief view of the evolution of the multilayer flooring business in North America?

The Multilayered Flooring (MLF) business in North America has evolved in quite a different way than it has in Europe. Firstly, we really never saw much traction with the LVT on HDP/MDF that has been the dominant MLF product in Europe. Secondly, we did see the very explosive growth of Polymer-based cores, initial with wood, cork or bamboo fibers added to PVC, then transformed to both Solid PVC and foamed PVC. These so-called WPC products were driven by their waterproof quality, as well as the rigidity, and light weight that made them easier for handling. Now we are seeing the second wave of growth in this category and almost all sectors of the North American flooring market are embracing this technology – Commercial, Residential, DIY, and MultiFamily. A very important added benefit is the sound mitigation and added comfort that comes from attached underpad of Polyethylene, or Cork!

"This inevitably will lead to greater market penetration for multilayered flooring in Europe and around the world."

After this MMFA's initiative, how would you describe the event and what are the main conclusions that you are taking with you?

The recent MMFA event in Porto, Portugal was the best industry conference that I have attended in my 35 years in the flooring industry!  The quality of the presentations, the attitude of cooperation and sharing, and the outstanding hospitality and planning were exceptional. I found that the different players involved in the industry could interact in an open and honest way that helped to build consensus and understanding. This inevitably will lead to greater market penetration for multilayered flooring in Europe and around the world. My #1 takeaway is that there is huge upside potential in this category, and we will see more innovation in the marketplace.

Can we say that both, European and North American, flooring industry markets may learn with each other? What is bringing these two markets together and what makes them different?

Yes there is much to learn from each other and the more interaction we have, the better opportunity we will gain to commercialize that learning. Open-minded people will bring the two markets together, and those with a global perspective will become the leaders. I see the role for MMFA/MFA co-operation to be one of best ways for this to happen. In spite of the language, testing, and even measurement differences, we will break through to the essential aspects that span both markets. We just need to engage.

“The North American market sees cork as a value-added product, and as a sustainable product.”

What is the perspective of the North America flooring industry about cork?

The North American market sees cork as a value-added product, and as a sustainable product. But it is not yet a mainstream product. Most of the cork use in USA is for industrial applications, that will change as the demands of the market change. Of course, we are the world's biggest users of cork wine stoppers so everyone knows that cork is valuable stuff. The MLF category is a great opportunity for increased use of Cork as we put together different features in the different layers. Cork fits in well to this opportunity.

Could you share with us US-MFAssociation's main goals for the future?

The MFA's primary goal is to establish consensus-based standards for this new category of flooring. Not only are working on performance standards, but we will also develop safety and sustainability standards. The American consumer wants transparency. And with transparency comes confidence. Ultimately, if you want to drive up demand for a great new product, you need create confidence. That's the opportunity that the MFA will fill in the North American market.

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