LUDGER SCHINDLER, President of EPLF European Producers of Laminate Flooring Association

ORSIAD: What can you tell us about 2013 in terms of our industry in general?

As we have already observed last year, the regional markets in the world in 2013 have been developing heterogeneously, showing significant differences in level and momentum in single countries depending on the market environment. Germany is stable on a high level, in Southern Europe we see that the debt crisis and economic fluctuations still take their toll, also for the laminate flooring sales. On the whole Europe is slowly recovering. And we do hope that this positive trend will gain further momentum for our European producers. In Turkey we expect that the overall laminate sales – meaning EPLF members plus other producers – will reach or even surpass the high German sales figures. Also the Eastern European market has been growing steadily. Exports to North and South America have developed well in line with the economic recovery in the area. And also sales in China and Asia as a whole are on the upswing and represent important future markets for our members.

ORSIAD: What are your expectations for 2014?

The European laminate flooring industry is developing strategies to face the new challenges arising in the international markets in 2014 and beyond. Given the current global situation, intensive market development by the EPLF and its member companies is more important than ever. Activities currently focus on the sales potentials in Russia and Turkey, in addition to markets in Asia, China in particular. With the slogan “Quality and Innovation made in Europe” incorporated into the association logo, the members of the EPLF have recently started flying their flag on the international market more visibly. Quality and innovation are precisely what European brand-name manufacturers are internationally renowned for. They offer laminate flooring with certified quality, mature technology, excellent usage characteristics and positive environmental credentials: European laminate floorings are pleasing to the eye and the touch, combined with ever new and creative designs. The new slogan is intended to emphasise the positive image of European laminate flooring and to raise awareness of the exceptional quality products and technological leadership of EPLF members, especially in the growing export markets outside Europe.

The EPLF is actively working to counter fake labelling, which damages the reputation of the entire product category, particularly in regional markets such as Russia. The high proportion of inferior-quality and incorrectly declared goods imported from Asia to markets such as Russia makes things difficult for EPLF manufacturers, as it tends to cause lasting damage to the image of laminate flooring. This is an unacceptable situation, not only for European manufacturers but also for consumers, who are poorly informed and get swindled with counterfeit products. On the other hand, the Russian market offers considerable opportunities for the future. The EPLF forecasts a positive development for this market in the next few years, with growth rates of up to 5%. In the medium term, Russia could thus achieve a volume similar to or even greater than the Turkish growth market.

For this reason, the EPLF created its own Russian working group in autumn 2013 to prepare concrete measures for a consistent quality drive. The association leverages its existing contacts in Russia in order to initiate further specific processes in this country, particularly in testing and standardisation work. The EPLF also wishes to promote professional training for Russian sales representatives within the regions, and is already undergoing preliminary discussions on this matter. There is a clear demand and tremendous interest among Russian traders for improved product expertise. Our members believe that Russia offers considerable opportunities for the future, but we will need a great deal of patience. Short-term success will not be forthcoming in this complex market.

EPLF members are currently enjoying an upward trend in China. Sales figures have steadily grown in China and Hong Kong in the last three or more years. This is a sure sign that European manufacturers are once again breaking into the Chinese market with quality and innovation, following a very difficult slump a few years ago. In the high-end segment, the EPLF sees growing potential for European-made quality laminate flooring. Chinese customers want a slice of the ‘Western’ lifestyle – which is excellent news for top-quality European-made products. Only genuine European-made flooring exported to China is certified pursuant to strict EU standards. It therefore meets very high requirements in terms of product quality, sustainability and environmental protection, qualities, which are being increasingly demanded by Chinese consumers.

ORSIAD: Do you have any message for the sector?

Certified European laminate floorings are top products, leading in high-end design and advanced technology. We are convinced that “Quality and innovation made in Europe” has a lot of potential in the future markets. To do so, the EPLF, which by the way is turning 20 years in 2014, will continuously support its members through ongoing standardisation efforts and an active quality policy for European products – for the benefit of the consumers worldwide.