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Harlan Stone

2017-07-25 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 year’s MMFA General Assembly, where he presented his perspective on the US 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, and about his goals for the US-MFAssociation.

Your participation at this year’s MMFA General Assembly you brought to Europe – in particular, to Portugal – a very complete perspective on the US flooring market. Could you resume your presentation here, giving us a brief overview 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 LVT on HDP/MDF, which has been the dominant MLF product in Europe. Secondly, we did see the very explosive growth of polymer-based cores, initially 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 their rigidity and light weight, which 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 multi-family. A very important added benefit is the sound mitigation and added comfort that comes from an 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 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 number one 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 the European and North American flooring industry markets might learn from 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 have 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 MMFA/MFA cooperation to be one of the best ways for this to happen. In spite of the language, testing, and even measurement differences, we will break through to the essentials 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 American flooring industry on 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 used in the US is for industrial applications. That will change as the demands of the market change. Of course, we [the US] 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 the 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 we working on performance standards, but we are also developing safety and sustainability standards. The American consumer wants transparency. And with transparency comes confidence. Ultimately, if you want to drive demand for a great new product, you need to create confidence. That’s the opportunity that the MFA will take in the North American market.

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