AHF Products seeks to stay ahead of the curve
Most industry observers equate AHF Products with storied brands such as Bruce, Hartco, Robbins, LM Flooring and a host of other notable hard surface lines. But at its core, AHF Products embodies the spirit of not only innovative flooring products across a range of categories, but also tailored go-to-market strategies in how those products reach key channels and end-use segments.
“We listen to our customers,” Brian Carson, AHF Products’ president and CEO, told FCNews† “As a result, we work in tandem on the most advantageous go-to-market strategy for each channel. With our stable of brands, our product differentiation and merchandising, we’re able to keep these channels segmented. This portfolio of top brands allows us to bring our channel partners the right style, value, innovation and marketing to enable them to differentiate themselves and grow market share.”
AHF Products’ distributor partners like Scott Rozmus, president and CEO of Romeoville, Ill.-based FlorStar Sales, agreed. “AHF Products does a great job working collaboratively with their distributors to maximize opportunity in, and service for, the market. They also actively solicit input about product, both from a styling and performance standpoint, to ensure their offering is relevant nationally and regionally.”
Whether it’s innovations in product design and performance or enhancements to its channel segmentation strategy, AHF is constantly seeking to stay ahead of the proverbial curve. Following are some examples of where the company excels.
AHF Products is in the enable position of having a stable of seven hardwood flooring manufacturing plants here in the US as well as a state-of-the-art hardwood flooring facility in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. The company also recently partnered with a domestic laminate flooring producer and component supplier to expand its lineup to include this resurgent category, and it is working with an SPC/LVP manufacturing partner in Cambodia—not very far from its hardwood flooring plant there.
The idea, according to the company, is to maximize global production efficiencies to more effectively (and cost efficiently) service customers where they are. “Cambodia is obviously important, but it’s just one leg of a four-legged stool,” Carson stated. “We have new capabilities and additional capacity going into all of our solid and engineered plants in the US We’re adding new equipment, new technology and staffing.”
Recent examples of AHF Products’ commitment to manufacturing investments include its multi-million-dollar upgrades to its Somerset, Ky., plant, a sprawling facility that’s responsible for producing engineered products in the increasingly popular long/wide format in the preferred sawn-faced look. Previously, the only source of AHF Products’ sawn-faced lines was Cambodia. The new investment paved the way for scores of new employees, extended production shifts and the implementation of proprietary technologies.
Among the innovations that emerged out of the investments in Somerset is the highly touted Dogwood line. Featuring AHF’s patent-pending process, the technology touts a “densified” structure that allows wood to better resist scratches, gouges and dents—such as those caused by pets’ nails. What’s more, it’s also waterproof. “Dogwood is real wood—no additives, chemicals, fillers or plastic,” said Wendy Booker, vice president of marketing and product development. “It’s real wood that’s treated with a proprietary process to enhance the performance of the wood. In fact, our testing has shown that it’s more than 250% harder than standard wood.”
AHF Products’ Somerset facility is currently the only factory in its arsenal of stateside plants capable of producing the Densitek core that’s at the heart of the new Dogwood line. The plant was also recently outfitted to create products featuring the popular “band-saw” texture—a visual AHF originally featured on products coming out of its solid flooring plant in Beverly, W. Va. Thanks to upgrades to the plant, an engineered version will be produced out of the Somerset facility.
In that same vein, AHF invested capital and manpower to bolster production in Beverly. AHF Products worked with state government officials on ways to maintain staffing levels—especially during the pandemic—to keep residents employed while supporting the local economy. The plant is responsible for the manufacturing of top-selling lines such as the Barnwood Living collection from Mark Bowe (pictured above left).
Hardwood is certainly AHF Products’ forte, but it’s not the only area where the company is putting its efforts. “We’ve had customers who are asking to buy SPC, laminate and even commercial products from us,” Booker explained. “Our ability and our experience with those other products, along with our ability to turn them around quickly while still getting feedback, has really set us apart.”
Case in point is the company’s recent entry into the red-hot SPC market with Bruce LifeSeal, a rigid core floor that aims to mimic natural mate-rials, including hardwood, while offering water-proof performance. While AHF does not currently produce rigid core products, the company works closely with its supplier partners on everything from designs and styles to standards and quality controls.
“As one of the largest manufacturers of hardwood products, we have the benefit of intimately knowing what consumers, retailers and designers are looking for in hard-wood,” said Sara Babinski, senior design manager, AHF. Many of the wood visuals in LifeSeal, she noted, mirror best-selling offerings in Bruce, Hartco, etc. “These hardwood trends have a direct correlation to what we develop for our rigid core collections.”
The same can be said for AHF Products’ foray into the laminate flooring arena—a product segment that is experiencing a strong comeback at retail as of late. Much like LifeSeal, AHF Products’ new laminate offerings—Natural World, Basic Wonders TimberTru—aim to offer the realism and texture found in real wood combined with the scratch, stain and dent resistance laminate provides. “We’re not just a hardwood company anymore,” said Brian Parker, vice president, product management. “AHF Products, when it was carved out of Armstrong Flooring, was founded as a hardwood company; that was our early legacy three years ago. However, we have expanded into residential vinyl with a multitude of SPC products and into the commercial arena as well with our Hartco Contract portfolio.”
AHF Products’ entry into the laminate arena might actually be considered a “re-entry,” according to Parker. He alluded to the mid-1990s, when Triangle Pacific—then parent company of the Bruce brand—offered retailers the famed Bruce Traffic Zone laminate line. Given the company’s heritage and experience in the development and marketing of laminate floor-ing makes re-entry into that category a little easier. “Laminate may be new to AHF, but it’s not new to us,” Parker said, citing the experience of those on the product development team. “We have designed, developed and launched laminate products and managed those portfolios, so we have the expertise and the skill set to not only bring that into AHF Products but to also bring it to market quickly.”
While AHF will not be manufacturing laminate flooring internally, Parker said the company will be working closely with a third-party supplier on specifications, designs and controls. “We’ve partnered with this company and have made investments to help them start up their plants,” he said. “That helps us secure capacity in the market.”