“Indians like brown when it comes to hardwood floors”: Havwoods

NEW DELHI: Havwoods International, one of the UK’s leading manufacturers of hardwood floors with four decades of specialization in hardwood, is expanding. The company, with clients such as Harrods, Breitling, Harley Davidson, Paul Smith, Jamie Oliver and Marks & Spencer, has built a global presence with a network of showrooms on continents such as Europe, Australia, America, the Middle East and South America. India, a difficult market, marks the brand’s entry into the Asian market.
Aashish Poojari, director of Havwoods India, talks about the flooring market in India and how the company plans to take over traditional players. Excerpts:
What is the difference in preferences for Indian customers compared to other markets in which you operate?
India has always been a different market for every product than any other market in the world. Whether Cola or KitKat, they had to rethink their strategies and even their products to get here. Wooden floors are no different. Europe is already a mature market while India is in the early stages. Taste is important, value is important, and the total price is important. Go to taste
For example – Germans like wider planks, desperate and mostly gray, while Italians prefer cleaner, smooth planks. In France, lean and clean planks are popular, and in Australia, variations are in demand.
Indians usually pick teak in styles and brown color. We’re seeing a new preference for grays and an increasing interest in herringbone and chevron patterns, but India in particular is buying brown. So we’re going to bring in more natural hues.
How do you intend to compete with manufacturers who deal with other floor coverings?
Since India is new to hardwood floors, the players are pretty new to this arena too. The learning curve for Indian manufacturers is steep. It will take you a while to find the right range of products, consistently high quality, installation and maintenance capabilities, prices, etc.
On the other hand, as a global player, Havwoods has used its customer insights and 40 years of know-how to create an India-centric collection with expert installation and retail expertise. Our prices are competitive, quality is world class and the range is second to none. This USP is currently unbeatable from the perspective of the competition.
Can you give us some examples of global trends in the wood flooring market?
There is a lot of experimentation going on in the global scenario for wooden floors. As already mentioned, shades of gray and patterns determine the trends almost everywhere. There are many new flooring ideas to be tried with species like ash and maple, new finishes are being created.
Oak is smoked, stained and paved to give it a different personality. Wood in distress and reclaimed is a trend that uses reactive stains instead of traditional oil stains to create interesting finishes.
One of the most important factors today is environmental awareness, which influences trends and decisions around the world. Buyers have become very aware and persistent of the FSC certification, sustainability, reliability and stability of the product as well as the manufacturer.
What’s your India Strategy?
India is a very diverse market. There will be flagship stores in cities such as Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore. We will be appointing some local franchise format partners in metro such as Pune, Ahmedabad, Chennai, etc. We’re also interested in having smaller dealer formats in Tier II cities like Kolhapur, Nashik, Nagpur, etc. We are confident that we will have this network in place by the end of 2020. Fingers crossed.
The strategy is to use our expertise. Havwoods is the international expert for wooden floors. We work closely with designers around the world to understand markets, customer requirements and buying trends. Similarly, we work with designers and architects to develop insights into India and adapt them in our collections and strategies.
If you say the Indian wood flooring market is not organized, can you give us an overview of the existing infrastructure here?
India is a tropical country and by its very nature an arena made of stone, tile, and ceramics.
In fact, this accounts for 80% of the flooring market. Real wood floors only make up 0.2% of the total volume of 480 million square meters per year. This small percentage does not attract large players and is therefore served by small importers, traders and distributors who have not built a solid infrastructure to support the business.
Laminate floors are better positioned with around 4% of the total flooring market and are therefore lucrative enough. Some reputable brands have worked to build the infrastructure, train the target audience to be efficient in terms of installation and good service. Some players have also ventured into laminate flooring production, which is kind of a boom for the market.
Since real wood floors are such a small part of the industry, there is only one manufacturer. And since we are not a traditional market for wooden floors, developing a wide range, maintaining quality, workmanship, etc. is not feasible and does not meet international standards. So at the moment it’s still an importer market. As requirements increase and potential increases, I see exponential growth, and then it won’t be long before we have an organized segment for real wood floors.
Who are your competitors in your segment and how do you plan to play the prize game?
To answer the first question, none really. The unique selling point of Havwoods is its range, and when we talk about range, it is all colors, gradations, surfaces, textures, dimensions, etc. and above all the price. Our budget for premium listings ranges from Rs 300 to Rs 3,500 per square foot. There are other players but not with our offers. So we don’t really see that in all of these aspects they give what we give our customers. For example, if you want natural oak floors, Havwoods has the perfect permutation and combination of finish, texture, color, rating and price to suit your taste, decor, budget, requirements and everything else.
The price game in India is more of a value for money. If a product meets all customer expectations both materially and immaterially, it is definitely a winner.
Given the maintenance that hardwood floors require, do you think you can get volume in India?
Yes. The outlook is very encouraging. A few years ago wood was restricted to master bedrooms and MD cabins, now it can be seen in entire homes and offices. Living rooms, caves, guest rooms, foyers, etc. are laid out with wooden floors. So the potential is huge.
And yes, India has a dust problem for sure, as does the block on maintenance and cleaning. So we don’t see a wooden floor replacing marble, tiles, ceramics, etc. in the near future. It will always remain a niche product in India.
However, given the growth of skyscrapers, premium residences and tall towers, as well as the international presence through travel, movies, etc., we are seeing a growing interest in wooden floors which is a very positive development and will result in large numbers.
What about sustainability?
Havwoods is a responsible global flooring brand and knows the importance of staying green. The company has been offering FSC-certified wood products for years.
We understand the effects of deforestation and strive to offer the highest quality products that not only embody the beauty of wood, but are also responsibly and sustainably sourced.
What percentage of your customers are B2B customers?
With just one flagship store and three franchisees, B2B accounts for less than 5% of total sales. However, if the network is in place by the end of next year, we expect growth of around 40%.
How has your experience in India been so far?
We had a soft launch here in Mumbai 2 years ago and the experience so far has been fantastic. Designers and end users are excited to see what Havwoods has to offer. It’s a huge learning curve because it’s such a diverse market. We refine our insights and thoroughly understand nuances.
What stands out in our learning is that today’s customer is very informed and demanding, therefore very demanding, especially the high-end customer. Therefore, we cannot be negligent with our product and service offers. We move forward with hope and caution.
What are the challenges?
There are many. The first is the mindset. Open it for wood from the traditional stone floor. Then inform customers, partners, employees and the market about everything from the product to installation and maintenance, and so on. Great efforts are being made to create awareness and training. And of course pricing is a challenge, so it definitely remains a challenge to keep our margins intact.

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