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No stopping resilient's momentum

In a black universe, vinyl is the shining star. That was the assessment of Elias Wilf president Jeff Striegel, who like many of his brethren sees resilient products as the beacon of light amid the darkness. In recent years, many of the leading flooring distributors have increased their percentage of resilient offerings, from the high single digits to low double-digits.

New construction and printing technology continues to elevate the category. “Vinyl has always been a value product, and today’s product, with the new technology, is better than ever,” said Jeff Garber, vice president of sales and marketing at Ohio Valley Flooring, Cincinnati.

For CMH Space Flooring Products, Wadesboro, N.C., resilient is its strongest category, with 43% of sales coming from vinyl and rubber. “We were up 40% for 2010 vs. 2009,” said Hoy Lanning, president. “We have some great vendors in resilient and with the growth of luxury vinyl tile (LVT) both residentially and commercially—along with the acquisition of Ellis Flooring—we have had wonderful growth.”

Many flooring distributors have grown their resilient portfolio with builders who have eschewed wood and other ex-pensive surfaces in place of vinyl or other value products. CMH, for example, has seen a spike in its Air Step loose-lay sheet vinyl product from Congoleum.

“The hero of 2011 will clearly be all things vinyl,” said Striegel, who views vinyl as an ever-evolving category that is feeding off its own momentum. “Vinyl today is in an entirely new universe. You have new dimensions of sheet vinyl. It starts there, then VCT, then LVT. There’s the evolution of that product; then you put the click on it. It’s explosive. Residential, commercial—vinyl is one of the predominant categories in the industry today. Price has something to do with that. Commercial LVT is replacing carpet.”

Striegel called resilient’s success “a culmination of things,” noting, for example, sheet vinyl is fashionable and has blurred the lines of realism. “It has had a renaissance. Some component of vinyl is in the captain’s seat across all channels.”

LVT, with its low cost, low maintenance, ease of installation, aesthetics and durability, has been a hit both commercially and residentially. “On the retail side there has been an emergence of the tile visuals,” Striegel said. “They’re able to grout it, then they add the click to it. You couldn’t talk about a better product for retail than LVT. All these things were new developments. You are getting tomorrow’s product today rather than yesterday’s product today.”

 

Safe haven

No one in distribution is predicting a quick turnaround for the economy—not for the remainder of 2011—or 2012, for that matter. Too many times during the past few years predictions of a brighter outlook turned out to be more bleak news.

But no matter the current state of housing or employment levels, new products are the engines that will always drive the flooring market. “As long as there is innovation and exciting designs and styles, at the right price point, there is reason for optimism,” Ohio Valley’s Garber said. “We have been very aggressive with new products in the last year and will continue to be so. The consumer will be the ultimate judge as to what she wants.”

More often than not, consumers today are choosing vinyl products, and distributors are responding. “The pie is much smaller for everyone, and we’re trying to win as much business as we can, wherever we can find it,” said Rick Holden, executive vice president of Derr Flooring, Willow Grove, Pa. “We just added Nafco LVT, and that has been a significant addition for us.”

In builder-depressed Florida and Georgia, vinyl tile and LVT have been a savior for Cain & Bultman said president Buddy Fair-cloth. “Resilient continues to be a flourishing category.”

Even when calamity strikes, resilient has gained new business. During the record-breaking flooding in the Northeast this summer—from the remnants of two tropical systems—NRF Distributors, Augusta, Maine, did a huge amount of business for customers whose basements were flooded. “We got a lot basement repair work with replacement carpets and other types of flooring, including vinyl,” said Terry Gray, vice president of marketing.

For resilient flooring, when it rains it pours.

—Ken Ryan