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Suppliers look to fill voids on Main Street

May 27/June 3, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 25

By Ken Ryan

 

Small businesses, which includes Main Street, are the lifeblood of the U.S. economy. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, businesses with fewer than 20 employees make up 89.6% of all U.S. enterprises and create two-thirds of new jobs.

By some estimates, nearly one-third of commercial hard surface flooring volume is tied to the Main Street segment, positioning it as a significant area of opportunity for flooring suppliers and their dealer partners. These Main Street projects can include flooring for medical and dental practices, accounting or law firms, restaurants and local retailers, day care centers and public places such as libraries and museums.

Various key factors are driving this trend, executives say. Jonathan Cohen, CEO of Stanton Carpet, which has made a major push into Main Street, said the new tax laws reduced corporate taxes by 14%, and with this new windfall, existing businesses are more willing to reinvest while encouraging new businesses to enter the market. Stanton launched Stanton Street Decorative Commercial in the fourth quarter of 2018 to offer its current account base fresh, better-looking aesthetics across select carpet tile and broadloom offerings.

“Carpet tile is an excellent solution for multiple project types with decorative broadloom for the higher-end spaces,” Cohen explained. “Main Street commercial continues to grow into a meaningful percentage of the overall commercial flooring market.”

Design trends for commercial spaces that adopt a more residential look is also trending on Main Street. “This has led to a blurring of lines between products that are considered strictly residential or commercial,” said Deb Lechner, vice president, marketing, Armstrong Flooring. “One case in point is LVT and rigid core flooring, which are increasingly gaining traction in light commercial environments on Main Street. These products bring authentic wood looks to spaces and are designed to maintain their beauty, even under high traffic, high moisture and high impact.”

Modular floor covering, hard and soft, has proven to be ideal for most Main Street applications. Observers say modular is design dynamic, cost effective, easy to install and easy to maintain. “Innovation in these categories continues to provide aesthetic and technical solutions, from performance to installation,” said Amy Tucker, senior marketing manager, Shaw Industries. “LVT, specifically, has evolved drastically over the last several years. What used to be limited to residential-centric wood visuals has now become a plethora of products engineered to address issues customers continue to face. For example, traditional glue-down LVT is great for commercial spaces. However, if a subfloor isn’t perfect, the end result/visual isn’t going to be what the customer expects. We’ve all seen those floors where trowel marks are visible, or the floor looks wavy because of subfloor unevenness. We recognized this issue and addressed it.”

Because Main Street is commercial without being specified, observers say there are nuances within the segment that take time to learn if you are a dealer. “The biggest challenges we see among retailers who serve commercial businesses are the limited amount of style options for both soft and hard surfaces,” said Jason Hair, vice president of hard surfaces, Phenix Flooring. “This ultimately limits their ability to sell products to their buyers that fit every need.”

To help flooring dealers work through these issues, companies like Phenix are creating programs specifically for Main Street. For example, Phenix on Main includes broadloom, carpet tile and vinyl plank. “Phenix on Main allows a dealer to have many choices when they present product to customers,” Hair noted. “Our Main Street collection includes a variety of carpet tile, broadloom and luxury vinyl plank and tile options from which to choose, giving retailers more opportunity to sell the most fitting product.”

Rigid core emerges
Within hard surfaces, LVT and VCT are among the go-to products for Main Street installations, each accounting for about 20% of square footage last year, research shows. Within the greater LVT segment, rigid core is poised to break away from the pack due to several key advantages. “First, these products align nicely with the ‘resi-mercial’ design trend,

with authentic elements like embossed-in-register texture,” Lechner said, citing Armstrong Flooring’s Rigid Core Vantage. “Second, the construction of rigid core includes a dense, solid core that provides superior resistance to indentation, an important consideration in many commercial settings such as a retail location that must hold up to foot traffic and falling objects. Third, small businesses need to return spaces to full operations as quickly as possible after renovations. Thanks to its dimensional stability, installers do not have to acclimate [rigid core] products in most installations. Rather, installers can get to work sooner and install faster.”

In 2019 Armstrong Flooring introduced refreshed collections of its PVC-free Migrations and Striations BBT, with Diamond 10 Technology coating. Lechner said these complementary collections offer a sophisticated palette of organic tones coupled with modular installation options to provide optimum design flexibility for many Main Street options.

As the Main Street segment grows, it is also evolving, especially with regard to LVT-type products. Whereas soft surfaces have unique characteristics that are tailored to a Main Street application vs. residential, within resilient, a 2.5mm vinyl product with a 12- or 20-mil wear layer can be put in a residential home just as easily as a non-specified doctor’s office. “As resilient matures we will see more defined programs for Main Street,” said Herb Upton, vice president of hard surfaces for Shaw Industries/USFloors. “We define Main Street in three categories; first as a glue-down straight-edge, 2.5mm and 12- and 20-mil wear layers; the second category is loose lay 5mm, true loose lay or perimeter glue; and the third category is SPC click.”

Philadelphia Commercial, a Shaw commercial brand, continues to design and develop products with an eye toward its customers’ wants and needs. Case in point is its newest Advantium Core SPC products—Revival and Line of Sight. According to the company, these offerings showcase the ideal blend of beauty and brawn. “They’re tough enough for the most demanding commercial spaces with best-in-class performance plus the luxurious, on-trend visuals are ideal for customers looking to take their style to the next level,” Tucker stated.

Advantium Core SPC is a direct-glue, non-pad SPC offering impact and dent resistance up to 2,000 psi. The SPC core requires no acclimation time, reduces subfloor prep, eliminates telegraphing and is 100% waterproof. Products utilizing this core are engineered for the most demanding commercial spaces. On the soft surface side, the brand has made major strides in carpet tile. Areas that have, in the past, been cost-prohibitive for carpet tile are now able to enjoy the benefits of tile without the price tag. Philadelphia Commercial’s Strataworx backing and Pivotal fiber are the latest examples of high-end style and design at half the cost of traditional carpet tile.

No matter the Main Street application—be it office spaces or grocery stores that were historically dominated by VCT—resilient hard surface has a piece of it. So said Kurt Denman, executive vice president of sales, Congoleum. In anticipation of broader demand for resilient across Main Street, Congoleum has expanded its portfolio to include a commercially rated construction in ArmorCore, a resilient sheet product; Structure, a traditional glue-down LVT; Triversa, a floating WPC with natural cork backing, and Cleo Home, its latest PVC-free product—all of which are entering the segment.

Stanton Street Decorative Commercial, meanwhile, came to market with 16 offerings in a concise sophisticated display that is offered throughout its existing account base. Cohen said the new Stanton Street program is progressing nicely with several new styles scheduled to be introduced in the second half of 2019.