A fair amount of technology goes into the making of a good wooden flooring. Wooden flooring is a fancied solution in India. UNILIN (which owns Quick-Step®, Pergo and Balterio) has been addressing this market in India for a fairly long time. The origins of UNILIN go back to the year 1960. What started off as a company by about forty farmers to find a viable alternative to the burning of flax farming waste, is today a listed company on the New York Stock Exchange. The company has had a long-standing presence in the Indian building materials market and continues to provide quality flooring solutions – laminate flooring, engineered wood and vinyl flooring. Mr.Jitesh Kumar, Regional Sales Director India and SAARC at UNILIN speaks to buildingandinteriors.com.
B&I: Today, there’s lot of competition in the laminate wooden flooring market. What differentiates UNILIN range of solutions from the others?
JK: Quick-Step, the flagship brand of UNILIN, is part of the larger Mohawk Group. Mohawk (NYSE: MHK) is the biggest flooring manufacturer in the world. Being part of such a big and financially stable group, allows for extensive R&D. And that investment determines the Quick-Step® range.
Over the years, Quick-Step® has brought innovations to the market that were simply stunning at that time – a laminate with a click (that allows for a floating installation) a water-resistant laminate (still unique in the world), a Wood For Life technology that ensures that a wooden floor will last a lifetime.
The fact that every product range, whether it is laminate, vinyl or wood, is made-in-house allows for complete quality control on our products. Checks are in place across the production and sales processes. We don’t need to depend on external partners and are able to manufacture high-quality solutions, something that we expect from our products and ultimately, what our customers expect from our brand.
B&I: Vinyl flooring has not been able to gain ground in proportion to the true potential of this product category. What are the reasons for that?
JK: Well, the majority of vinyl flooring is produced in China. Since vinyl is PVC based, plastic waste can be used as a part input in the production of vinyl flooring. That can (and does) have issues both for the health of the customer and quality that is achieved using plastic waste.
Quick-Step®also has vinyl in its portfolio but we are different on 2 levels – first of all, we only use virgin PVC, meaning that we don’t use waste products where we don’t know the origin from. And secondly, to manufacture a good quality vinyl, one needs intensive investment. Just because the vinyl flooring is made from PVC doesn’t make it water proof.
Cheap vinyl will allow water to seep through the joint and cause moulds. With the Quick-Step® locking system and the glass fibre layers in the middle, we prevent this and ensure a solid dimensional stability. Negative experiences with cheap vinyl have led to scepticism in the market. But quality products will be able to convince customers to spend just that little bit more for quality.
B&I: What would be the split between your retail and project sales? How many dealers/distributors you have across India? What are the typical challenges you face in retail and project businesses?
JK: Our project and retail split is 60% (Projects) and 40% (Retail) across India but this ratio varies from region to region. In North and East of India, we have 75% Retail and 25% Projects where as West India it is 60% (Projects)and 40% (Retail ) and South of India it is 50:50 .
We have 8 Distributors Across India who in turn services 125 dealers in their respective regions Though we don’t face any challenge in retail as all our dealers are aligned with our way of working and with the same mind set of giving the end customers a quality product however sometimes few of the retailer fall for the cheaper products in the market and take wrong decisions. In Projects, since our products comprise a small portion in the overall costing, we face price pressures when we are compared to some cheap suppliers. But given the market size and customer variation in India, we do have quality conscious Developers who really understand, appreciate and use our products.
B&I: Which are your strongest markets in India (states/cities)?
JK: Though we are spread across every region and every region has the own mix between project and Retail out of that South India is definitely the balanced one whereas West India is more strong in Project and North India is more strong in Retail segments.
B&I: Are you into OEM business? If yes, please tell us more about it, including the focus OEM groups – kitchens, furniture, etc.
JK: I think that Quick-Step® is quite unique in that approach. If you look at the flooring market in general, how many brands do you know? How many brands have as clear a positioning as Quick-Step®. Our brand recognition is extremely high for a flooring manufacturer. And that is clear line within our strategy. With Quick-Step®, we have unique technologies that are associated with the brand. Those technologies are our USP’s and give us the edge over competition. By having a brand, we’re able to control the flows and provide a good service and warranty.
OEM business is all about volumes and margins, what results in everybody killing each other on price. With Quick-Step®, we play in a market where we see that the quality is more important than the price.
B&I: Do you also have an India specific wooden flooring range? What percentage of your global solutions is available in India?
JK: There are a couple of global trends that we see in flooring. Greys and naturals will always be good sellers in India. However, there is of course a small difference in taste between India and other areas in the world. And Quick-Step® is able to cater to those needs by having a specific range.
It’s more an expansion of the products than a cut. All global ranges are present and we just added a couple of decors to have that fulfil that local desire.
B&I: What are your objectives from the India market over the next 3-5 years? What would be your key growth drivers in Indian market?
JK: We want to create beautiful interiors in India with Quick-Step® floors and to become most promising brand in the mind of consumers. What we have our strength is our People, Distribution system, Product and services and R & D what we do it to make our product perform better and long lasting.
B&I: In the wooden flooring market, how important is the role of influencers? What support services do you offer to Architects and Interior Designers?
JK: We are having the products which are best in quality technically with unique decors and being professionals and experts, Influencers understand the technicality of the products and also the colour theme. We are committed to give better service and quality products to the Architects and Interior designers and to the end customers to have a delightful experience with our floors.
B&I: How do you see the use of wood in construction? Tell us more about your wood based panels.
JK: Quick-Step® is part of the wooden flooring division within UNILIN. Another division is the UNILIN Panels. The panels division has a broad product portfolio: from chipboard and MDF panels to HPL and melamine faced panels. Whatever you opt for, your solution will be a sustainable product, flexibility available and outstanding in design.
The UNILIN panels are THE example of a circular product and we’re proud to have such a broad offer.
B&I: There is a popular belief that engineered wooden flooring is not durable and requires lot of maintenance/care while using. How do you see this situation?
JK: Well, engineered wooden flooring is a quality product but it’s the manufacturers who lack imagination and innovation. Whether your wood is oiled or lacquered, the maintenance is always a problem – the maintenance takes time, the floor is not scratch resistant and it becomes dirty.
With Quick-Step® wood, we took that drive and big R&D division to the case and were able to develop Wood For Life. This extra matt lacquer provides a solution to the aforementioned problems – the lacquer seals the plank, in its structure and the joints. There is no infiltration of dirt and one can maintain the parquet like as it was a tile. Water is no longer an issue.
This is something that we are extremely proud of. It’s no longer a dream to have a wooden floor that looks amazing during an entire lifetime, with almost no maintenance. That’s what’s Quick-Step® all about – providing solutions and going the extra mile.
B&I: Out of the current product portfolio, which one generates the highest revenue for you? Any new product /product category in pipeline that think could be disruptive in nature?
JK: Laminate flooring is the main product where we get the highest revenue followed by engineered wood. We had just launched Signature range and Impressive Pattern Laminate flooring which we are expecting to be a big hit in the market. In engineered wood flooring, we are expecting Herringbone and Chevron Pattern to be take the lead.
We have our plan to launch Alpha Vinyl (Rigid Luxury Vinyl Tile) soon in the market which can be the game changer for India market.