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The industry disrupters: Innovators march to a different beat

March 18/25, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 21

By Reginald Tucker

 

Innovators. Game changers. Risk takers. Those who make a left when all others are turning right, so to speak. These are just some of the terms used to describe the special class of companies highlighted here in Floor Covering News’ inaugural “Industry Disrupters” issue.

FCNews reached out to retailers, distributors as well as suppliers, and asked them to nominate those companies who are changing the industry paradigm in some respect or raising the bar in their fields of expertise. Criteria extended beyond manufacturing capabilities to include marketing, merchandising, education, training, etc.—essentially any area where they felt suppliers are doing things outside the norm.


American OEM
—Legacy of Innovation

American OEM has been crafting beautiful, responsible and enduring hardwood floors in Tennessee since 2014. Industry veteran Don Finkell founded the company to continue a 70- year legacy of producing engineered wood flooring in America at a time when most production was moving overseas. Since its inception, American OEM has been a domestic alternative to foreign sources of private-label programs and was a pioneer in introducing American-made engineered wood flooring in an 8-foot board length.

That spirit and heritage of product innovation continues with the launch of Raintree, American OEM’s next generation of flooring. Raintree, a waterproof product featuring a real wood veneer, is an engineered wood/resilient hybrid product that passes a 24- hour soak test, allowing it to compete with today’s popular waterproof floors that have previously been available only in printed visuals.

“Raintree is an industry disrupter that offers tangible advancements of hardwood performance in wet conditions,” Finkell stated. Raintree utilizes American OEM’s new “Ninja” technology to improve indentation resistance, dimensional stability and resistance to water incursion. The wood layer is reinforced by a rigid, 100% waterproof Ninja H2O Core and is sealed against moisture thanks to Ninja Pet Guard.

Anderson Tuftex—Paradigm shifter

It’s not so much about highlighting individual introductions and collections—which is typically the way most products come to market—as it is about curating companion product portfolios across an array of both hard and soft surface offerings. That’s the novel approach Anderson Tuftex is taking as it celebrates its first anniversary following the merger of the two venerable brands.

No surprise, then, that Anderson Tuftex takes a holistic and consumer-centric approach to marketing and product development. Today’s consumer demands a simplified shopping experience both in- store and online, and Anderson Tuftex is listening to the expectations of consumers, designing timeless products and providing exceptional service that addresses the needs of today’s premium flooring market.

“The entire consumer journey is changing,” said Carrie Edwards Isaac, vice president of residential marketing and consumer strategy “Purchasing flooring is complicated, and consumers feel pressured to get it right. At Anderson Tuftex, it’s about simplicity. We don’t want to overwhelm consumers with options, but rather craft intentional designs that serve as a canvas for their lives.”

Anderson Tuftex designs and produces coveted hardwood, carpet and rugs that enable retailers to take consumers from refined to rustic with handcrafted products that offer a cultivated charm. The focus this year is on the Unleashed collection, which features carpets made with Stainmaster PetProtect carpet, built-in stain protection and pet hair resistance to make clean-up a cinch. The collection’s carpets are also color-safe and fade-resistant. When curated with Anderson Tuftex’s two new hardwood additions, Kensington and Buckingham, the Unleashed collection adds timeless refinement to any home.

Naples, Fla.-based Hadinger Floors, a long-time Anderson Tuftex dealer, is a believer. “They always come up with great designs,” said Susan Hadinger, president. “Their team—which includes Carrie Edwards Isaac and Katie Ford—are super creative. We just renewed our partnership with Anderson Tuftex, and we have very high hopes for the future.”


Armstrong Flooring
—Setting a new standard

While some companies see opportunities in diversifying into a variety of competing hard surface categories, Armstrong Flooring is looking to buck that trend by specializing on one key product segment.

“Having built our reputation as the leading resilient manufacturer and innovator throughout the 20th century, Armstrong Flooring has recommitted to our core strength by becoming a pure-play resilient flooring company,” said Deb Lechner, vice president of marketing.

Armstrong Flooring’s latest round of innovation began with the introduction of its signature Diamond 10 technology on its domestically produced LVT lines. According to the company, this innovation set a new standard in durability, scratch, stain and scuff resistance through patent-pending technology that uses cultured diamonds as well as patent-pending manufacturing processes.

Another example of Armstrong’s innovation is Pryzm, a hybrid product that combines the easy installation of a rigid core floor, the visual clarity of laminate and a commercial-grade wear layer for optimal dent, scratch and stain resistance.

Armstrong dealers attest to the company’s knack for innovation. “I’ve been impressed with Armstrong Flooring’s hard surface finishes, whether it’s Pryzm or the Diamond 10 finish— they’re definitely changing the game for other manufacturers,” said Terri Blessing, president and owner of Carpet Depot & More, Bushnell, Fla. “Their products don’t dent or scratch easily, and they allow more livability on top of their products.”

Cali Brands
—A fresh approach

Considering its origins, Cali has had a leg up as a disruptor from the get-go. Founded in 2004 as an online provider of bamboo, the now-omni-channel company continues to break new ground.

Doug Jackson, Cali CEO, often compares the company’s omni-channel marketing approach to business models employed in other industries. “If you want to buy an iPhone you can buy direct from Apple, Best Buy or AT&T, or you can buy from a store online. The price is the same—it’s just a matter of what level of service you want, or who you are comfortable buying from.”

The San Diego-based startup’s relatively small size also provides an advantage. Cali’s creative and agile workforce helps spearhead the development of new products and programs without the bureaucracy typically associated with much larger companies. In fact, according to the company, this quick turnaround, flexible supply chain and a team of highly trained reps has fueled consistently high “Net Promoter Scores”—revealing levels of customer loyalty that rival those of top American brands like Starbucks, Costco and Target.

Of course, a speedy go-to-market strategy is nothing without a solid product offering. Here, too, Cali consistently strives to offer high-quality, aggressively priced collections that are also environmentally friendly—a rare combination.


CFL Flooring
—Raising the bar

First it broke ground with Atroguard, billed as a completely waterproof laminate floor. Then it raised the ante with FirmFit, a floating floor featuring rigid, high-density mineral based core construction boasting high-performance properties. Now it has completed the trifecta with the launch of Tenacity, an engineered stone, PVC- free line that made its U.S. debut at TISE.

“CFL is the industry disrupter with its construction on the base of PVC-free engineered stone,” said Thomas Baert, president of CFL Flooring. “We believe this will shape the innovation in the flooring industry over the next few years.”

CFL positions Tenacity as the pinnacle of the waterproof category, featuring advantages of a newly developed rigid mineral stone core—rigidity, enhanced wear resistance and superb stability. Tenacity can be seamlessly installed over large surfaces (up to 10,000 square feet) with no transitions across virtually all spaces, including three-season rooms and sunrooms.

CFL’s customers marvel at the company’s propensity for product innovation. “They are unique in that they offer many first-to-market products across different categories,” said Bob Weiss, CEO of All Tile/Carpet Cushions & Supplies, a top 20 distributor. “They are continuously on the cutting edge of technology, functionality and style.”

Congoleum
—Forward thinker

As the millennial generation marches through the traditional hallmarks of adulthood, they approach product and brand selection quite differently than older generations. For a product to even be considered, they need to reflect their personality and their values.

“Understanding consumer needs and delivering innovations that shape the way the world sees resilient flooring has been the hallmark of Congoleum for more than 135 years,” said Kurt Denman, chief marketing officer and executive vice president of sales. As examples, he cited the company’s invention of in-register embossing for resilient sheet; the breakthrough rigid, groutable LVT; and the latest innovation, Cleo Home, billed as the next generation of flooring for the next generation of consumer.

“It’s the first domestically produced PVC-free, digitally printed, direct-to-base construction that seamlessly combines engineered performance with stunning visual artistry,” Denman explained.

The patented eco-forward construction of Cleo Home is different in every way including:

  • The base—A CulturedSTONE mineral composite core that is 85% locally sourced limestone, 100% waterproof and 100% free of PVC, plasticizers, phthalates and chloro-chemicals.
  • The imaging—Stunning visuals with minimal repeats are achieved through Congoleum’s ChromaTRU high-fidelity digital imaging process that features direct-to-base printing.
  • The wear layer—UltraCLEAR high-performance, ultra-low VOC coating system delivers unmatched clarity and protection that is further enhanced with Scotchgard protectant.

DuChâteau—Outside the proverbial box

At DuChâteau, “disruptive” is more than a trendy buzzword. It’s a philosophy that rests at the core of the company’s success.

Since the company was founded, it has always approached the flooring and surface market with the view of an outsider. “We have given ourselves permission to not do things the way they have always been done before—to not look over our shoulder, but to look ahead and bring to market things that we love,” said, Mitch Tagle, CEO. “We introduced wide-plank, European-inspired, oil-finished flooring to the U.S. market a little over a decade ago and single-handedly created a new market segment.”

In keeping with its spirit of groundbreaking innovation, DuChâteau plans to introduce a new flooring collection aimed at millennial homeowners. According to the company, the new line offers end users high-design floor visuals at an attractive price point. The new collection, known as The Guild, will launch in early June of this year.

DuChâteau’s partners in the supply chain attest to its design prowess and unique marketing approach—not only with respect to wood but also other categories in which it participates. “DuChâteau is a world leader in sustainably produced engineered hardwood, high- performance vinyl plank products and luxury wall coverings,” said Geoff Gordon, executive director for Fuse Alliance.

TRIUMPH from EF Hard Surfaces

Engineered Floors—Defying the odds

Since its inception in 2009, Engineered Floors (EF) has been known as a leading industry disruptor. From how the company started to how the premium solution-dyed fiber, PureColor, is made, EF has led the industry with innovation despite the company’s short history.

Engineered Floors launched during trying economic times for the country. Mike Sanderson, vice president of marketing, recalled, “Businesses simply weren’t being started in 2009—much less a business that would ultimately end up being one of the world’s leading carpet manufacturers.”

Though it seemed futile to some, Engineered Floors broke ground on what is known as the “SAM” plant in 2013. The production facility would grow beyond 2.5 million square feet and house some of the world’s most modern manufacturing technology.

Having the world’s largest, most modern carpet manufacturing facility means being able to make a premium product at a fraction of what it costs competitors to product. As Bob Shaw, founder and CEO stated, “We said, what if you can move it all within one building where it comes in and goes out as carpet? There were a lot of savings, and it also means you had just one person in charge of the quality.”

According to Engineered Floors, this is all done while using 30% less energy, 42% fewer greenhouse emissions and 87% less water than traditional carpet manufacturing. Additionally, according to Sanderson, Engineered Floors is the only leading carpet manufacturer that does not use PFC topicals on its products.

Solution-dyed carpet remains a premium, something a consumer can only have if they were willing to pay for it. However, that is not the case with PureColor. Because the color goes all the way through the fiber, PureColor will not bleach from spot cleaning, doesn’t fade from prolonged sunlight exposure, won’t wear in high traffic areas and will resist some of life’s harshest stains, such as wine and pet stains. PureColor also solves one of the industry’s leading issues—side match. PureColor means being able to live life’s moments on the carpet without sacrificing affordability.


I4F
—Making a difference below the surface

In today’s hyper-competitive environment, where the race to be the “first” or “best” in one category or another is moving along at a break-neck pace, aligning with the right partner can make all the difference. This certainly applies to companies like I4F, which provides licensees with intellectual expertise, meaningful patents and cutting-edge technologies as well as access to some of the global flooring industry’s most advanced flooring installation innovations, including 3L TripleLock and Click4U.

“We constantly seek out innovations that are cutting edge, so our licensees get the best technologies out there,” said John Rietveldt, I4F’s CEO. “Our portfolio of patents, now comprising over 2,000 patents and technologies, continues to grow.”

More importantly, I4F licensees have more options than ever before. With I4F representing portfolios of patents across multiple categories, the company’s Patent Cluster Concept (PCC) puts patents falling under the same category into groups or so-called “clusters” (i.e., Locking; Surface Finishing; Materials and Panel Composition; and Board & Wall Panels.) This offers I4F licensees more options to pick and choose patents, or groups of patents, that best meet their most current business needs.

“We have been able to conquer the market by providing the best flooring technologies available,” Rietveldt said.


Inhaus
—Breaking the mold

Inhaus has a long history of innovation both in terms of product and manufacturing processes. It’s easy to forget all of amazing innovations in the laminate category that have not only become standards in laminate but in other categories as well.

“We were the first to innovate with a textured press plate back in the 1990s,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO. “Since then deep and varied gloss embossed in register designs have become the norms even in laminate and even in the vinyl category.”

Beyond laminate, Inhaus is also positioning Sono, a non-PVC based waterproof rigid core product made with inert polypropylene and natural mineral powder, as a game-changing technology. And thanks to high-definition digital printing, more vivid designs are possible.

Inhaus customers attest to the company’s manufacturing prowess. “What’s great about the Inhaus team is their focus on innovation, coupled with their continuous effort to elicit and respond to customer feedback,” said Scott Rozmus, president and CEO of FlorStar, a top 20 distributor. “They involve their distributors in product and design development, resulting in a much higher percentage of winners.”

Further innovations that will be released to the market is a new version of Sono that will include product enhancements for ease of use as well as embossed in register finishes.

“Other vendors certainly engage in similar processes in terms of product development, but Inhaus is a leader in this regard,” Rozmus said.


Karndean
—Seeing vinyl flooring differently

Specializing in LVT since 1973, Karndean’s portfolio includes 200-plus products in original designs across three premium constructions—glue-down, loose lay and rigid core. Its product development team travels the world in search of intriguing and expressive natural forms, selecting materials by hand to develop original visuals that customers will love for a lifetime.

The new Hawaiian Koa design within the Korlok Select rigid core range is just one example. A species of acacia—which is in the same family as walnut—this protected wood is typically too costly and scarce for use in flooring. A floor you will only find through Karndean Designflooring, this rare and treasured species is available in its natural coloring and in two unique colors to suit today’s interior trends.

Karndean combines its unique designs with cutting-edge technology to create new products. All Karndean floors are finished with K-Guard+ surface protection, which provides a hygienic and durable finish that also performs. Karndean LooseLay utilizes the K-Wave friction grip backing to hold the product in place without full-spread adhesive; and its rigid core products are equipped with proprietary, 100% waterproof K-Core technology for installation over most existing hard floors without exposing subfloor imperfections.

Mohawk
—Award-winning design, innovation

Ever since rolling out its first carpets in 1878, Mohawk has built quality into every flooring product it makes. Mohawk continues that tradition today with revolutionary product innovation, award-winning design and a talented team dedicated to outstanding service. As the world’s largest flooring manufacturer, Mohawk is a trusted company that creates products across all flooring categories to enhance residential and commercial spaces around the world.

Over the last few years, Mohawk has continued to be a disruptor with the launch of the most advanced and innovative products, programs and platforms this industry has ever seen.

Mohawk has the three most searched and researched brands in the industry—Mohawk, Pergo and Karastan. In 2019, Mohawk is launching Mohawk, Pergo and Karastan campaigns designed to emotionally connect with consumers and differentiate its brands and products from the competition. Mohawk has also demonstrated its commitment to retailers with the creation of top- quality products, such as Air.o, Pergo Extreme, RevWood Plus, SmartStrand and SolidTech.

By partnering with Mohawk, retailers can simplify the consumer journey to create a seamless experience and enjoy unprecedented success and growth.

MSI's Antoni Porcelain collection.

MSI—A true retailer partner

Since its inception, MSI has been disrupting the flooring industry with a view of making products affordable and accessible. MSI has continually partnered with its retailer and sourcing partners to engineer products, distribution capabilities and logistical processes that enable the end consumer to have dream surfaces installed in their homes.

“Our goal has always been to make dream surfaces attainable in the most affordable way possible,” said Raj Shah, president of MSI. “We must do this without sacrificing the profits of our retailer/dealer partners. Our partners have worked with us on ceramic tile, mosaics, stacked stone, quartz, natural stone and, most recently, Everlife LVT to make MSI a trusted industry disruptor.”

MSI has also developed real-time visualization technology, industry-leading website content, innovative space saving displays and one-click sampling capabilities. In addition to that, MSI’s 30-plus domestic distribution centers make inventory not only available but provide extremely fast lead times. These capabilities have enabled MSI to bring millions of square feet of product from more than 36 countries across the world.

QFloors—Ushering dealers into the 21st century

Throughout its 20 years in the flooring industry, QFloors software has repeatedly acted as a disrupter, starting with the very first version. Created after recognizing the void of suitable technology in the industry, QFloors’ founders Chad and Trent Ogden started selling their software, which quickly made waves because QFloors provided a Windows-based system. This forced competitors to gradually move to a Windows-based platform as well.

An example of QFloors’ disruptive prowess is the new QPro cloud software, which provides the latest, next-generation technology. QPro is programmed to run 100%, start to finish, in a browser. The first version, QPro POS+, is currently available, and developers continue to work on additional features and versions. Current QFloors customers will be grandfathered into the new software, if and when they choose, at no additional charge.

Chad Ogden explained the QFloors philosophy, “We’re not just here to sell you software; we’re here to change your business for the better.”

Users like Nick Farrish, controller, Artisent Floors, Memphis, Tenn., can attest. “The QPro software gives us the ability to go back and forth from screen to screen. It actually tracks if you are looking at a material and you need to see a bill or why we have a freight charge associated with and order; you can click on the bill number and it jumps right there. So the flexibility to move back and forth between bills and deposits and materials to sales all in one has been a great aspect of the software.”

Raskin—Taking a page from fashion’s playbook

Every now and then the flooring industry needs a reminder that we’re not in the flooring business per se; we’re in the “fashion” business. Raskin Industries—known for its reputation for shaking things up with its eye-catching, out-of-the-norm designs, styles and product platforms—is happy to take up the mantle in this respect as well.

“People forget we are making products for consumers—so we have to design for them, not for us,” said Michael Raskin, president. “That’s what’s bringing in the customers.”

Take, for example, the company’s launch of the well-received Brooklyn Reserve collection (part of its signature Acrylx line) at Surfaces. The line is positioned as the show-stopping “runway” piece, while more mainstream looks aim to occupy the space of what Raskin characterizes as that every-day, “ready-to-wear” black dress from the same designer.

Distributor partners such as A.J. Warne, director of resilient sales at Abraham Linc, is a believer. “The Brooklyn Reserve has some stuff I don’t see anywhere, from the chevron pattern to the advanced embossed in registration. There are no hard lines and stark contrast with this product, which translates into a softer transition from board to board. Raskin is investing in resilient in so many different ways.”

RFMS—Expanding the possibilities

In 1984, the flooring industry was unaware of what was happening at a small carpet store in Northport, Ala. Terry Wheat, owner of Wheat’s Carpet, knew that if his business was to succeed, he needed a better way to manage the administrative side of his company. So he wrote the code to the very first version of RFMS in that year.

Fast forward to 2019—no one could ever have imagined the scope and depth of the impact that first program would have on flooring dealers, manufacturers and suppliers.

Not only did RFMS produce what has now become the leading software application in the marketplace, it has also been at the forefront of developing business workflow concepts, ecommerce technology and training strategies for users. RFMS understood early on of the importance of being a partner with each flooring business that implements the software. Not to be content with only financial management software, Wheat’s vision to improve the industry’s method of measuring and calculating flooring projects was realized with the addition of RFMS Measure, the premier estimating software for flooring.

Retailer customers who have incorporated the company’s software into their operations are happy they did. “We’ve been an RFMS user since 1987, and we’ve seen the growth and development of the software,” said Aaron Pirner, CEO Cap Carpet & Flooring, New Brighton, Minn. “It has really developed into a great package. It has enabled us to grow in the last 10 years from about a $9-million business to a $30-million business. If you really look at the software and use it in its entirety. It can do some very powerful things for your business.”

RFMS continues to lead the way to bring mobile technology to flooring dealers, forever changing the way floor covering is sold.

Shaw Floors—Committed to driving the industry forward

With more than 50 years of product expertise, Shaw Floors is rooted in a culture of service, innovation and passion. As an example, Shaw Floors is proud to claim the Anso Colorwall, the industry’s most successful merchandising unit for the last 20 years, as its own. After more than 80 million yards of carpet sold with it—enough to circle the planet twice —the company invested a year in research, design and a digital experience to reimagine “Color that Speaks to You,” an SFN-exclusive display.

“The new color wall coming to SFN dealers’ showrooms now has taken a tremendously successful merchandising program and launched it into the 21st century in a spectacular way,” said Steve Weisberg, president, Crest Flooring, Allentown, Pa. “This display is a magnet for consumers; the color lines are outstanding.”

Other innovations include Floorté Hardwood, which combines the best of SPC and genuine hardwood, On the soft surface side, Shaw Floors promotes the “worry-free” carpet experience—eliminating its demise from spills, stains and pet accidents—with the industry-disrupting debut of Bellera High Performance Carpet and the blue LifeGuard Spill-Proof backing.

“Shaw’s LifeGuard and Bellera programs have been almost as big a hit as Stainmaster was when it was first introduced,” Weisberg added.

Torlys—You say you want a revolution?

Some product/design innovators are just now coming to the table, while others have been breaking ground for decades, utilizing their legacy of flexibility and risk-taking spirit to separate themselves from the pack.

Canada-based Torlys belongs to that rare class that falls in the latter category. Known for its array of industry-disrupting products like engineered cork flooring as well as innovative hybrid floors, Torlys is once again turning heads with its latest offering, UltraFloors, a new product based on a magnesium-oxide core with a cork backing. Unlike some SPC products, UltraFloors’ core material comprises magnesium oxide—a mineral salt derived from stone. “It has the beauty of wood and tile, the waterproof nature of vinyl, the durability of HPL laminate, the shift proof and fireproof characteristics of ceramic and the comfort of cork underneath,” said Peter Barretto, president and CEO. “That’s not an evolution—that’s a revolution.”

UltraFloors actually made its U.S. debut at Surfaces 2018, where it was previewed for dealers prior to a hard launch. The line uses special powders and a propriety process to provide elasticity and flexibility. “Not only can you bend this product, but you can also put a Uniclic joint on it,” Barretto explained. “Plus, it’s PVC free.”

USFloors—COREtec continues to set the pace

USFloors builds upon its COREtec Original offering with a trio of new innovations: COREtec PRO, COREtec Wood and COREtec Stone. COREtec The Original and COREtec PRO cover the WPC and SPC spectrums, while COREtec Wood and COREtec Stone feature a new mineral core.

According to Piet Dossche, CEO of USFloors, this core marks the beginning of yet another new category. “At our core, we are disruptors and innovators,” Dossche stated. “We are overall troublemakers who do not accept the status quo.”

In its passion to develop a new wave of multilayer flooring, USFloors says it has discovered a formula that not only works but also advances its position as a leader in the style category. “Being a disrupter means keeping the

needs of our end users top of mind while focusing on innovation,” Dossche added. “In doing so, our core principles of style, strength and simplicity drive us forward.”

To further support its retail partners, USFloors is continuing to push the envelope with new products, new constructions and superior colors and designs. “This is only the beginning of our COREtec brand story,” Dossche said. “It is so very clear to us the industry is excited about the benefits our new innovations offer retailers and consumers. Our established relationships of trust lead to immediate acceptance of these innovations and set the foundation for COREtec to remain the disruptive, pioneering and fastest growing brand in the industry.”