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Carpet tiles offer wide range of solutions

by Emily J. Cappiello

There are times when an installation just calls for carpet, whether it is because of a usage standpoint, value standpoint or design stand-point. However, there are times in which broadloom is not a practical choice for a number of reasons. Enter carpet tile, a flexible solution for installation that can fit just about any design or budget specification.

“We see continued demand and preference for carpet tile because it’s a smarter and more sustainable solution,” said Steve Arbaugh, vice president of brand marketing, alignment and experience for Interface Americas. “This is a great time for carpet tile as many companies and end users are focused on sustainability and the environment.”

Brenda Knowles, vice president of marketing for Shaw’s commercial division, echoed his sentiments. “Carpet tile continues to take share from broadloom. Innovation in design and construction technology allows for broader offerings in all price categories, from entry level to high-end design. We see carpet tile growing across market segments, including the traditional corporate environment but also in healthcare, education and retail. As business in general is becoming more global, carpet tile as a product is following suit. Tile is easy to palletize and more efficient to ship across the globe.”

And, according to industry insiders, it is the current and potential growth in the healthcare and education sectors that are leading the charge when it comes to the growth of the carpet tile sector. “There are sustainability initiatives on every college campus and K-12,” Arbaugh said, “and our products contribute to LEED points as well as other sustainable attributes within our product materials and processes. Healthcare is using carpet tile due to their help in reducing slip and fall injuries plus improving indoor air quality as they emit low VOCs.”

Mark Oliver, senior director of product management for Mohawk, also predicts these segments will generate growth for the category. “The K-12 market is gaining comfort with the platform as we introduce more products that hit their design, performance and price needs. The corporate market has always been incredibly strong for us and new entry-priced tile for value corporate has seen the largest growth. As tile pricing has come down through time, the installed cost gap versus broadloom has narrowed considerably. This closing gap coupled with tile’s increased design innovation has truly driven market growth. Lastly, the healthcare market has adopted tile as a preferred flooring product. The ease of installation combined with the benefits of noise control and softness underfoot has been the large driver.”

To keep up with the demand, manufacturers are increasing the number of offerings in their product lines to give potential carpet tile users more of a selection. New colors, styles, designs and sizes turned this sector into a go-to during the past few years. For example, Shaw recently introduced the 18 X 36 collections to give end users more flexibility when it comes to installations.

As for style trends, Arbaugh told FCNews that nothing seems to be off-limits. “We’re seeing interest in all sorts of colors, patterns and textures. We’re manufacturing and selling a new shape called Planks—carpet tile that has the appearance and pattern capabilities of wood but provides the comfort and other related benefits of carpet.”

In addition, Mohawk’s Oliver said, designers are using carpet tile to give their clients something that isn’t always achievable with other flooring installations: The ability to customize. The company is gearing up to launch products that can help with the need to create something unique. “Recently, we have seen designers who are interested in using tile to create their own flooring aesthetic. Tile allows the designer to think of the floor in different terms and create easily customizable floorscapes.”

Sustainability, as well, has been an aid to the carpet tile boom, industry experts said, and companies are making sure to not only offer sustainable products, but sustainable solutions.

“Sustainable solutions continue to be an important consideration in the overall commercial market,” Shaw’s Knowles said. “Traditional characteristics such as recycled content remain important, as do end-of-life solutions and material transparency. For example, she said Shaw’s Eco Solution Q fiber combined with EcoWorx backing offer a cradle-to-cradle solution with an environmental guarantee. Shaw will collect EcoWorx product anywhere in the world, at no charge, and recycle it into new EcoWorx backing.

In addition, both Oliver and Arbaugh explained their companies are committed to sustainability—from Mohawk’s launch of the bio-based Smart-Strand Contract fiber to the Interface Mission Zero plan, its mission to reduce its dependency on oil.

Although it seems as if the segment will see steady growth during the next few years, there are an array of challenges in the carpet tile category, from figuring out ways to make products more sustainable to getting more industries to accept what carpet tiles have to offer. “Tile has yet to be fully embraced by the hospitality segment, although we do believe there is opportunity there,” Oliver said. “Comfort underfoot continues to be the key need in this market and the additional cost of cushion tile drives most of the products out of the sweet spot.  We are constantly working through R&D to address this and are confident we have a great solution for this market.”

Shaw’s Knowles explained that pricing is starting to become an issue as well. “As carpet tile pushes more into the entry-level category, we see increased efforts to reach lower face weights to participate in sectors where budgets may not be as flexible. Meeting the performance requirements and design flexibility requirements of this area of the market provides opportunity for innovation.”

However, the growth of carpet tile will continue to remain a bright spot in the industry in the near future, according to Oliver. “In the near term, we believe tile will continue to grow in all market segments and, therefore, the tile platform is where we will continue to focus the majority of our energy and efforts. New installation methods allow the product to be used in otherwise adverse conditions like high moisture and alkalinity. There is still a lot of exploring to do in tile development from design to backings to shapes and sizes, and we look forward to its continued evolution.”