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Luxury vinyl tile takes charge

by Louis Iannoco

As technology has allowed manufacturers to become more innovative than ever, one flooring segment that has benefited arguably as much as any is luxury vinyl tile (LVT). Its state-of-the-art designs allow suppliers to make the surface of the finished product consistently mimic the real thing. But, according to executives, this is just one of the many reasons why this segment is enjoying growth in both sales and popularity.

Pat Buckley, vice president, product management for Congoleum, estimates LVT ac-counts for about 20% of the resilient volume in dollar sales. “Obviously, with all the new competitors entering the market, we see this as the fastest growing segment in the industry today.”

One reason LVT has grown is its versatility, noted Jonathan Train, vice president of product development, Earthwerks. “It’s a growing category and has replaced a lot of sheet goods through the years. However, all segments of our LVT business are ahead of prior years. In fact, I believe almost everyone supplying LVT can say the same.”

But recently LVT—especially Earthwerks’ Linkwerks product—has been taking market share from other flooring categories, Train said, as it is used in place of laminate, hardwood and ceramic. “Linkwerks was more than 10% of our shipments in the last 12 months. Considering it was a new introduction in 2011, this is tremendous growth.”

Yon Hinkle, product manager at Armstrong, said the value proposition of LVT includes not only its level of realism, but also performance and functionality relative to its installation. “This has grown the product’s overall interest, where it can go and what it can do for whomever the customer may be. It also appeals to a really broad range of customers from homeowner to apartment complex manager to assisted living facility to retail outlet and it works in all these places.”

Price point is another factor that has made LVT an attractive proposition for retailers and end users. According to Michael Lang, senior marketing manager for Karndean, LVT has a combination of characteristics that retailers and end users are currently demanding. “This includes, in the case of Karndean, Designflooring, all the realism of natural materials at affordable prices.” But it goes beyond that. “One of the byproducts of what’s been going on in the economy for the last few years is people are having to become smarter when it comes to home improvements and the cleaning and maintenance of their homes. Karndean’s LVT fits the bill perfectly in that it has been specifically designed with these in mind, as well as ease of installation, acoustics and durability.”

Russ Rogg, president and CEO of Metroflor, believes when you compare the performance and aesthetics of LVT to other flooring alternatives and weigh in the cost, LVT is “simply a great value and more attractive option than many other hard surface floors. The decorative print film for LVT takes advantage of new technologies including higher-resolution ‘HD’ printing. LVT’s realistic wood, stone and tile looks cover a myriad of designs and textures.”

It is a solution-based sale, he noted. “When end users are looking for a flooring option that solves their historical problems with moisture, subfloor or environmental concerns, value-engineering, etc., LVT wins on all fronts. It has great wear resistance. Wearlayers allow materials to perform admirably across a range of commercial and residential environments, with up to lifetime residential and 20-year commercial warranties. LVT also has great moisture resistance. It’s not affected by humidity like laminate or wood; it resists mold and is resistant to most household chemicals and stains.”

 Installation ease

From Mannington’s Adura line comes Dockside in Pier. The reclaimed wood visual product features realistic knotholes, worn saw marks and will hit the retail market in a few weeks.

LVT also provides an opportunity for dealers to take it beyond residential into commercial marketplaces, Rogg said, such as multi-housing, retail, healthcare and hospitality. Another hugely important benefit of LVT is that it is quick to install over most existing hard surfaces, thus creating a minimal downtime or disruption.

For example, the first widely marketed floating LVT incorporating a grip-strip locking system—Metroflor’s Konecto—was a boon to the category. “It installs easily and fast over virtually any sub-floor with minimal disruption, and performs consistently and reliably.”

Michael Raskin, CEO of Raskin Industries, agreed with Rogg, saying LVT is the most active category for innovation “whether it’s a floating installation system, improved coatings for durability or improved visuals. It’s great for high moisture areas, flexible, warm to touch, low maintenance and easy to install without sacrificing design. This is what makes LVT such a great value,” which is critical in today’s market.

“In Europe, LVT has always been considered a quality product and now the same is true for the North American market,” he added. “Retailers and end users require durable products that perform with strong warranties. LVT provides one of the strongest values in flooring while offering ease of installation, low percentage rate of call-backs and high profit margins.”

David Sheehan, vice president, resilient business for Mannington, also believes ease of installation is key when consumers consider LVT as a flooring choice. “Both sheet and LVT products have never been easier to install, however, innovative click systems like our LockSolid have opened up the DIY/BIY markets. Installers also prefer the speed of installation with LockSolid as it allows them to complete more jobs in a week.”

As Congoleum’s Buckley noted, LVT offers the option of a less permanent floor than wood or ceramic tile, “especially with the growing popularity of non-adhered LVT floors. When a consumer selects a wood or ceramic floor, she should really be in love with it, as it will probably be in the home for a very long time, whereas LVT offers consumers the option of changing the room design very easily.”

According to Amanda Teyeb, marketing coordinator for Centiva, in addition to its durability, LVT’s custom design capabilities make it attractive to the A&D community. “It can be cut to create patterns, logos, wayfinding and more. It’s even possible to cut QR codes into the tiles integrating smart phone technology and floor design.”

Environmental performance continues to be an important part of any product selection, she explained. “Many LVT products can contribute to green building projects through recycled content, low VOCs, recycling capabilities and green housekeeping.”

More than ever, people today want the best look with the most value. “Whether plank or tile, LVT has the most realistic look and feel compared to the more expensive wood and stone,” said Erica Hubbard, luxury vinyl tile product manager for Tarkett. “It is durable, soft and warm underfoot, beautiful and easy to maintain.