Vendors give retailers the tools they need to succeed
February 4/11, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 18
By FCNews staff
Las Vegas—Long touted as the flooring industry’s “main event,” TISE 2019 (The International Surface Event) lived up to its pre-show billing by virtually every metric—retailer enthusiasm, vendor participation and educational session attendance, to name a few.
“The exhibitors that we talked to said it’s been a really good show—a lot of traffic,” Amie Gilmore, SEM, Surfaces show director, told FCNews on the third day of the show. “More importantly, exhibitors said they were seeing the right people, too, so they were happy about that. There were fewer companies, but a lot of exhibitors reserved more space to show more product. We’ve had a couple hundred re-sign for next year’s show already.”
While registration figures were not available as of press time, Informa—which manages TISE—believes anecdotal information bodes well for the event.
“Right now we don’t have numbers, but the feel of it was good,” Gilmore stated. “What we have found over the last few years is retailers are sending more people. Instead of sending their top two people, they will also bring, say, their marketing and sales team and have them attend some classes. Just as the building and construction industry has gotten more positive and grown it has allowed the retailers to be more profitable and afford to bring more people.”
Show management noticed a lot of delayed flights into Las Vegas, which may have impacted the first wave of the busy first morning of the show. But according to Gilmore, attendees arrived a little bit later than usual, but the floor was still busy at 5 p.m. “Some companies have parties or happy hours at the end of the day and that keeps a lot of people on the floor,” she stated. “That really helps, and we encourage it.”
While there are countless reasons to attending Surfaces (i.e., the educational sessions, networking opportunities and social events), it all goes back to the latest and greatest innovations in flooring. “New product introductions are always talked about, but there’s buying, too,” Gilmore said. “A lot of people come here and do their buying for the year. A lot of that [buying] happens on the last day—that’s when they get the deals.”
But it’s not the only draw. Informa reports attendance at its technical sessions was up as well. “Attendance was up from last year for sure,” Gilmore said. “The session schedule could have also been part of the buzz on the floor, as classes weren’t held all day. Plus, we still had a full day of education the day prior to the show. The way we had it set up also meant there was more opportunity for networking. One reason we changed it up was to bring in more speakers. Of course, we bring back the speakers who are popular year after year, but we also wanted to shake it up a little bit. We also wanted to make it easy—we only had three classes going on at the same time. If you were in one class and decided it wasn’t for you, you could walk across the hall to something else. We wanted to cater to the attendees, and I think it was more successful for the most part.”
Following is an overview of some of the most notable trends seen across the various flooring categories. (For more specific details on the respective product segments, see each beat section within this issue.)
Market research shows carpet continues to lose share to hard surfaces, but anecdotal evidence suggests carpet mill executives aren’t throwing in the towel. Instead, they remain determined to find ways to succeed in the flooring industry, which was evidenced at Surfaces 2019 where higher-end goods featuring textured patterns and new colorways seemed to be everywhere.
“I can’t say we are in the carpet business—we are in the fashion business, we make statements,” said Len Andolino, executive vice president – residential division for Couristan, which showed 84 different styles at Surfaces.
Couristan was among several mid-sized mills who showed off eye-catching products at Surfaces. For some, the emphasis at the show was not so much on the product but the display as several new merchandising displays were shown from the likes of Couristan, Engineered Floors and Anderson Tuftex.
Technology was another focal point in carpet. Mohawk’s ColorMax—an innovative dyeing process that is used on select SmartStrand and Karastan styles— won a Best of Surfaces award for technology (see page 14).
ColorMax, which produces what the company called “high-definition: carpet, stands out for its ability to provided blended colorations, superior color clarity, enhanced color saturation and maximum performance.
For 2019, Mohawk is introducing four ColorMax styles in the SmartStrand Silk Reserve product portfolio. In addition to the infusion of ColorMax products, the Silk Reserve line is also expanding with more patterns.
Engineered Floors, already a top three carpet mill, enjoyed growth rates of between 20% and 30% in 201, and is doubling down on solution-dyed polyester. “That’s where the growth of the industry is,” said Joe Young, soft surface category manager. “These days, if it is not soft multicolor polyester, it is hard to sell.”
Several smaller mills have expanded into hard surfaces in recent years, but virtually all of them have not lost sight of what got them into the business in the first place—carpet. Phenix introduced 40 new carpet products and drew praise from flooring dealers for its Modern Contours collection 14 styles grouped into three designer-curated palettes. Phenix employs unique yarn technologies to create this vivid aesthetic, all part of its strategy to deliver diversification of design to the market.
In addition to presenting a plethora of new products spanning from vinyl sheet to LVT to rigid core, resilient manufacturers focused on updating merchandising displays to assist RSAs in selling the increasingly congested category.
Manufacturers such as Raskin Industries, EarthWerks, Mannington, Mohawk, Novalis and USFloors—to name a few—made major investments in merchandising. The days of multiple resilient merchandising displays are slowly fading as these new displays provide flooring dealers with a one-stop-shop for all or most of the segment’s flooring, experts say.
One of these displays was Mannington Mills’ Adura Selling Solution, which was launched mid-2018. “You have one display with 80 colors,” said Jimmy Tuley, vice president, residential resilient business. “You can pick the color and then pick your construction. You can have a glue-down LVT, a rigid product or a WPC product all in the same visual. We also tell the corresponding technical story.”
In terms of product, rigid core stole the show with more manufacturers taking on the segment. USFloors, for example, launched COREtec Stone and COREtec Wood—the manufacturer’s latest product lines made with a refined mineral core. Both products received significant attention from show attendees, including Ben Morris of Carpet Corner, Gearhart, Ore. “We do a lot of business with COREtec. We’re really interested in the waterproof wood flooring. We’re ordering both the new COREtec Wood and COREtec Stone displays.”
While rigid products seemed to make an appearance at nearly every resilient booth, sheet and LVT/LVP products were not forgotten. Jody Robison, president of Red Mountain Flooring in Idaho Falls, Idaho, cited Karndean Designflooring’s Art Select premium glue-down product. “We have two resort areas within 90 miles of us that currently use hickory and pine in a lot of their vacation properties. We’re excited to be able to offer a new product that will be more suited for the climate, with a lot less maintenance, while still having the look of real wood.”
Jeff Macco, CEO and treasurer, Macco’s Floor Covering Center, Green Bay, Wis., took note of Armstrong Flooring’s latest luxury vinyl offerings. “We’ve been an Armstrong customer for 50 years. It’s exciting to us to see Armstrong refocus on something that they were always an industry leader in. Some of their LVT and LVP products are new and exciting.”
It’s undeniable that the tile category is a challenge for the industry—price points are high and installation is not only a skill but a science. However, tile manufacturers say they are anything but weary of the upcoming year.
That, manufacturers agree, is not only because the look and feel of tile has evolved greatly over the past few years—thanks to advancing technologies—but because tile’s place in the home continues to evolve as well. No longer is tile relegated to the kitchen and bath. Now it has wound its way across a number of surfaces within the home.
“If you were just dealing with the floors, and that was the only category, I’d probably say [tile] was down to low single digits as it relates to the industry,” said Bob Baldocchi, chief marketing officer, Emser Tile. “However, the applications are expanding, people have moved to indoor/outdoor, up their walls and to feature spaces. It’s a lot easier to install, too—the setting material industry is there. We’re developing more wall products with coordinating, floor-rated collections.”
Manufacturers agree the indoor/outdoor phenomenon has moved beyond a trend and has become a new design driver for some homeowners. The desire to expand the living space into the outdoors means new introductions capable of withstanding the elements while retaining tile’s nuanced design features. Vendors at the show launched numerous collections touting outdoor durability interwoven with eye-catching style.
Large formats also continue to dominate, as several tile vendors at the show launched new lines boasting large plank or slab styles. Plank sizes such as 12 x 24 remain popular with formats such as 12 x 48 gaining momentum. However, vendors note that larger-sized mosaic tiles are also starting to see success. Sizes such as 6 x 6 and 8 x 8 were seen in different colors, textures and materials, launched across brands.
When it comes to design, wood looks also continued to dominate at this year’s show as both vendors and retailers noted the style’s demand among consumers. However, instead of just replicating the look of wood, more vendors can now boast textured tiles as well.
In terms of color, vendors believe the noir fad has faded and evolved into a full-fledged style statement. Black is the new gray in today’s market, and vendors agree the color is here to stay. Many launched a variety of versatile collections boasting the stark colorway.
As the year continues, both vendors and retailers agree the evolution of tile, and the technology used to style it, will continue to bring value to the category.
Arguably the most aspirational product—although it has ceded some market share to look-alike product categories—hardwood still continues to evolve. Surfaces 2019 served as the launchpad for a variety of products featuring innovative surface finishing techniques, low-luster yet durable finishes and longer/wider boards featuring different species, widths, colors and stains.
Ian Newton of Oxnard, Calif.-based Flooring 101, an NFA dealer and long-time Armstrong Flooring dealer liked what he saw in the Armstrong Flooring/AHF Products space. Featured products included popular collections like Timberbrushed, which initially launched in 2017 but has been upgraded with deeper brushing characteristics, largely based on retailer demand and consumer feedback. Other winning lines included Paragon, which boasts scraped and smooth visuals, and Appalachian Ridge, which is both scraped and wirebrushed, although it’s more refined and less rustic than collections like Timberbrushed. And let’s not forget about HomerWood, AHF Product’s premium brand created by Amish craftsmen. These high-end, custom products come in both solid and engineered visuals with the latter available in a hefty 5/8-inch thickness, 4mm veneer in widths up to 12 inches.”
“This is a product that will sell well in our market,” Newton said.
The Buckingham and Kensington hardwood lines from Anderson Tuftex also caught Newton’s eye. Crafted from white oak harvested in the Appalachian Mountains and manufactured in South Carolina, Kensington and Buckingham are premium, sawn-face, white-oak floors that cater to discerning consumer tastes. “The line has really good looks,” Newton said. “The Anderson Tuftex brand has really come up to speed fast.”
Another show stopper was the True collection from Hallmark. The line incorporates tannins, salt and minerals—combined under high pressure and heat to change the colors—to deliver not only rich, natural colors inspired by barns and riverwoods, but also stains that penetrate through the entire depth of the wood plank. “This means you can sand it and it still remains the same color,” said Sylvia Bulanek, marketing director. “If you scratch these floors, you can easily repair it with our oil finish. You not only get these incredible colors but also the natural depth and richness of the color as well. The grain isn’t hidden by the finish we put on it.”
Other highlights included new longer/wider, premium-sawn face hardwood flooring products from Mohawk. These included three new 3/8-inch-thick x 6 ½ inch-wide collections such as Cherokee Ridge, which complements 2018’s Canyon Lodge; Highland Trench, a maple product available in lighter colorations in gray tones; and Spring Valley, a rotary-peeled oak with a subtle wirebrushed texture and standard micro-bevel edges.
“The goal was to come out with some other products to hit additional price points and updated colors our customers have been asking for,” said Adam Ward, senior director of wood and laminates. “And since it’s made in our Danville, Va., plant, it gives retailers a product out of the U.S. that helps avoid some of those tariff issues. Support Made in the USA products resonates with consumers and retailers alike.
Another standout was Mannington’s Triumph collection, which gives the consumer a mixed species look that still works well together visuals. (Suggested retail price is $8-$10 per square foot. “We wanted to do something that was natural yet subtle,” said Dan Natkin, vice president of wood and laminate. “Here we have white oak, maple and hickory all blended in the carton together (a third each) and we tie them together with the same texture and color across the product. Because each species takes color differently, we diluted the stains so they are very translucent. The color shifts and bends depending on the angle of the wood.”
The industry’s major laminate flooring suppliers are reaching in the innovation toolbox to develop products to fend off competition from the unrelenting resilient category, particularly LVT. Manufacturers are utilizing technology to bolster the category’s already well-known performance attributes.
Across the show floor retailers were able to see an abundance of laminate flooring products that have eclipsed their predecessors from the early days of laminate in the 90s. Standout products include: CFL’s Atroguard; Mannington’s Restoration collection; Inhaus ultra-realistic, high-performance laminates; and, of course, the ever-expanding and evolving RevWood line from Mohawk (just don’t call it a laminate.).
Suppliers have also made significant advancements in terms of product visuals. More than ever, consumers and retailers alike are hard pressed to tell the difference between real wood and look-alike laminates just by looking at the product. And thanks to innovations in embossing technology and surface ticking, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference even when a consumer reaches down to touch the floor.
Surfaces 2019 also provided the platform to showcase a host of so-called “hybrid” wood floors. These included products like Wellmade Performance Flooring’s Opti-Wood, which features a real wood veneer over a high-density plastic core; and Raintree, an American OEM product featuring a 1.2mm sliced wood veneer over a rigid core, which is then encapsulated with the company’s Ninja PetGuard finish that acts as a sealant that wraps around the pores of the plank’s core. Suppliers say it’s all part of the race to keep up with competing products that offer waterproof capabilities.
As Allie Finkell, vice president, American OEM, put it:“For wood people like us, with our legacy, there’s not a lot of value introducing a WPC type of product in a faux visual, but we feel this is a great opportunity for us to get into that waterproof market while maintaining our legacy and integrity in wood.”
Dealers seem to embrace the technology. “We are excited about the new, real wood waterproof floors,” said Penny Carnino, owner of Grigsby’s Carpet, Tile & Hardwood in Tulsa, Okla. “It gives the consumer that has moisture concerns but wants real wood a product.”