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Installation: Floor layers ‘stick’ to their favorite adhesives

July 8/15, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 2

By Lindsay Baillie

 

Ask any flooring installer what makes a successful installation, and he or she will likely tell you it all depends on what is used to secure the flooring material to the substrate.

Flooring adhesives come in all shapes and sizes—many of which are created and used for specific types of flooring. To use the incorrect adhesive is to risk the entire job and potentially anger the customer, experts say.

FCNews spoke with several installers to find out what types of adhesives they prefer to use. Following are some of their recommendations.

Adhesive tape systems.Mark Olsen, flooring instructor, Carpenters Training Institute, has found great success using adhesive tape systems. The main reason? The flooring can be installed immediately after using the tape. “All the required ASTM testing must be done prior to using the adhesive tape system,” Olsen explained. “And the substrate needs to be properly cleaned—cleaned so well you can eat off the substrate.”

Pressure-sensitive adhesives. A key selling point for many installers is many pressure-sensitive adhesives are moisture resistant up to 95% relative humidity. “A pressure-sensitive adhesive is typically used for carpet tile, and it must be completely dry to the touch for the material to be installed,” explained David Gross, instructor, INSTALL. “Pressure-sensitive adhesives take the guess- work out of the equation. The fact that it can be rolled on or troweled on as opposed to any singular method of application is key.”

Carpet adhesives. When he was a younger installer, Dave Garden, owner and operator, Installation Services of Michigan, used only one manufacturer’s adhesive for almost every carpet installation he completed. These days, he tries to use adhesives made by the manufacturer that produced the flooring he is installing.

“I really began to understand adhesives differently when I started installing specialty carpets,” Garden explained. “I learned to always request an adhesive made by the manufacturer for the product I was installing. I understand many do not actually make their own adhesives. However, I know using their labeled products will make any claim I might have simpler to deal with. When installing carpet today, I will switch adhesives at times when I am working with patterns. I will use a contract grade is I need more open time to correct patterns.”

Ceramic adhesives. When using adhesives for a ceramic installation, Garden looks for products that mix well and “give a crisp install.” He also looks for adhesives that have simple instructions on the label, which makes it easier for Garden to find what he needs based on the tile he is setting.

Clear-spread VCT adhesive. According to Gross, clear-spread VCT adhesive is a similar product across all manufacturers. The main reason he looks to use this type of adhesive is because the product is user friendly. “You can spread the adhesive and then you let it rest until it’s completely dried and there is no mistake when to apply the flooring material,” he explained. “It is very user friendly when it comes to knowing when the adhesive is properly set up to install the flooring. That’s what makes it so attractive. There is no gray area of ‘Is the adhesive tacky enough? Is it ready enough? Has it been open enough? Has it been spread long enough?’ It’s completely dry to the touch.”

LVT, sheet vinyl adhesives. When installing LVT or homogenous sheet vinyl, Dave Ansbro Jr., vice president, Aldrich Rugg Interiors, Bradenton, Fla., looks for adhesives that are installer friendly, have great workability, are low-VOC and meet the projects’ needs. What’s more, he looks to partner with adhesive manufacturers that stand behind their products.

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Ceramic: Technology expands tile’s design possibilities

July 8/15, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 2

By Megan Salzano

 

Advancing technologies have had a vast impact on most major flooring categories for the past several years, and perhaps none more so than tile.

In the past decade, technological advancements—some adopted from other industries—have led to major design innovations for the category. Advanced digital printing, for example, forever changed tile’s aesthetic capabilities while new sizes, shapes, textures and thicknesses also helped shape its future in the home. Due in large part to those technologies, tile is no longer relegated to the kitchen and bath but has expanded into new areas both inside and out.

Domestic and international manufacturers have capitalized on those technologies to help bring the category to new heights, launching new products and product lines that tout innovation across the board. “During the last few years, technological advances in decoration and sizes have totally transformed the ceramic tile industry,” said Paij Thorn-Brooks, vice president of marketing, Dal-Tile. “Manufacturers now have the ability to offer greater realism, more sophisticated designs, new sizes, shapes and thicknesses and increased performance.”

With so many new design options, these technologies have helped drive the category forward and also led to market growth. “The versatility of indoor and outdoor usage, the enhanced technical characteristics that create grip finish options and an unbeatable life expectancy along with the wide array of designs has spiked growth in both the residential and commercial market,” said Jana Manzella, private label, key accounts and marketing manager, Milestone.

Digital printing
The implementation of advanced digital printing has no doubt had the greatest impact on the tile category. According to Dal-Tile’s Thorn-Brooks, digital printing has transformed the industry over the past several years, and manufacturers are now able to produce even more sophisticated products that better meet the needs of the customer. “The evolution of printing technology has led to manufacturers being able to create unique patterns, designs and vibrant colors on individual tiles, similar to natural materials, which we are replicating with incredibly high degrees of authenticity,” she explained.

More specifically, Noah Chitty, Crossville’s director of technical services, said bringing this technology into the tile industry has allowed manufacturers to design tiles in Photoshop using the skills of graphic artists to create and replicate looks. “Now we can take natural stone or wood, or just about anything, put it on a flatbed scanner, take the resulting image and repro- duce it in very high definition onto the surface of a porcelain or a ceramic tile,” she said.

In addition to the trendy wood, stone and concrete looks driving the market today, digital printing has also ushered in the creation of new hybrid designs. “These futuristic printing technologies allow us to mix mediums,” explained Alp Er, general manager, Ege Seramik USA. “For example, we can have one tile created by intertwining two types of natural stone or combining a concrete look with a linen look, wood with stone. These ‘fusions’ are not normally seen in nature, but now tiles are bringing them to center stage.”

In addition, Mark Seal, vice president of supply chain at Emser, noted beyond producing 2-D replicas of these scans in ceramic inks, the latest generation of inkjet printers can print colors and glazes as raised 3-D textures, as sublimation colors that penetrate the surface of unglazed ceramic tiles and as metallic inks and lusters.

Tile manufacturers agree, in addition to aesthetic and textural innovations, new printing technology has advanced the entire manufacturing process. “The whole printing process has accelerated production,” Ege Seramik USA’s Er said. “The ink-jet printers themselves are in a constant evolving state. In the past, we had printers whose heads would clog and we’d have to stop production to clean and/or replace them to avoid a ‘tracking line’ going down the face of each tile. Now, the printers are self-cleaning. This is very time-saving and efficient for quality control.”

Through it all, manufacturers noted that perhaps the most important shift brought about through the innovation of advanced digital printing is the drive to differentiate. “As more and more tile manufacturers have embraced digital inkjet printing, competition between them has resulted in development advances, which continually push the looks that can be achieved using this technology,” Emser’s Seal said.

Shapes and sizes
New technologies have not only impacted the surface designs of tile but the shapes and sizes of those entering the market as well. These technologies allow manufacturers to create everything from mosaics in hexagons to rectangular shapes and even large-format porcelain slabs. “Technology has allowed us to go bigger, thicker and thinner,” Crossville’s Chitty noted. “We’re creating larger size formats and leaner profile thicknesses than many of us would’ve ever imagined years ago.”

Large-format tiles continue to gain popularity both in residential and commercial design. From 24 x 48-inch planks to 5 x 10-foot porcelain panels, the advancements in size have helped the category evolve considerably. However, it isn’t just about the size. Thicknesses are also playing a major role. “Thin tile is an innovation gaining traction that presents a unique opportunity for the marketplace,” Dal-Tile’s Thorn- Brooks said.

Market growth
New looks, sizes, shapes and textures equate to more than just excitement within the tile industry. These new designs—and the technologies behind them—have ushered in nearly a decade of growth for the category. “Technology and the subsequent improvements in both quality and aesthetics that it creates are opening up whole new market opportunities for tile,” Dal-Tile’s Thorn-Brooks said.

One driver behind this market opportunity is the expansion of applications. “New properties and features available in tile allow it to be used in areas where it previously might not have been considered,” said Mara Heras, vice president of marketing, Emser. “These new technologies are stretching the boundaries of historic design.”

The development of large-format, thin tile, for example, has allowed for a greater number of tile applications both residentially and commercially. Thin tile, Emser’s Heras noted, allows designers to design with the beauty of tile in places where its weight and thickness traditionally limited options.

In addition, due to its durability and performance, these tiles can replace materials that were traditionally specified. “Larger format tiles and plank tiles afford us to compete for market share from wood and LVT,” Ege Seramik USA’s Er said. “We are seeing the larger format tiles moving from the walls and floors to countertops and backsplashes. The capabilities are endless.”

Milestone’s Manzella said the use of these sizes is only going to increase moving forward. “Large-format tile production is just beginning to take hold in the U.S. market. We’re going to continue to see this trend grow as consumers are finding new uses for porcelain tile.”

Outdoor living spaces have also expanded tile’s usage and application. Consumers today demand a continuation of their interior design aesthetics when bringing the inside out but also need materials that can boast superior breaking strength, durability and frost resistance. New technologies are contributing to the outdoor renaissance. “The creation of slip-resistance technologies allows tile to be used even in exterior spaces,” Dal-Tile’s Thorn-Brooks noted.

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Schönox enters radiant heating market with ComfortSafe

July 8/15, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 2

 

FLORENCE, ALA.—HPS Schönox, known for its innovative spirit in bringing subfloor solutions to the flooring industry, has entered a new frontier with the introduction of the ComfortSafe electric radiant full-surface floor heating system.

“ComfortSafe is just another example of the innovative products offered HPS Schönox,” Thomas Trissl, HPS Schönox principal, told FCNews.

ComfortSafe can be installed on its own or as a system with Schönox underlayment products. The end result, the company said, is a comfortable and environmentally friendly underfloor heating system. The company said ComfortSafe is appropriate for both residential and commercial settings, providing luxury for residents at home while enhancing safety and comfort in commercial building. In addition, the system will lower construction and operating costs.

Regarding commercial applications, Schönox ComfortSafe electric radiant floor heating system will provide added value for industrial loss-prevention departments who may utilize ComfortSafe to address moisture from buildup of water, ice and slush commonly associated with building entryways. When embedded in Schönox AP Self-Leveling compound, the ComfortSafe system offers a clear, efficient, continuous and easy-to-use heat source for more rapid moister evaporation, thus reducing opportunities for claim-generating slip and fall incidents, according to Trissl.

Schönox ComfortSafe also guarantees fast, direct surface heating of areas. This heating system operates at maximum steady stated temperatures by using a programmable on/off control power switch. It should also be noted that for larger areas, more than one system can be employed.

For residential applications, Schönox ComfortSafe electric radiant floor heating system can be used in conjunction with the Schönox AP Self-Leveling compound in common areas such as bathrooms, kitchens, walk-in closets and dressing rooms. Because it is a radiant design, the ComfortSafe system maximizes energy savings by minimizing heat loss. It comes with a residential kit to provide warmth and comfort underfoot, which is ideal when walking on

bathroom floors during the winter. The company said many homeowners are seeking these floor heating systems as the newer technology provides a more cost-effective level of comfort compared with older systems.

The basic requirements for the ComfortSafe heating system are as follows:
•ComfortSafe film supplied in roll form
•35 inches wide for commercial and industrial building entryways
•30 inches wide for residential flooring
•PowerTrack 3.15 inches wide in roll form
•Power supply 120VAC single phase 3KW
•Electric Time Switch Tork SA399 40A for controlling heaters on/off
•An OJ Electronics thermostat with floor sensor for residential applications
•T4 and T5 crimp connectors
•Installation area 100 square feet

Features and benefits of the ComfortSafe heater system are as follows:
•Easy to install
•Energy efficient due to full surface heating
•Helps abate moisture from flooring surfaces to aid in evaporation
•Helps protect substrate from moisture penetration
•Reduces heat loss to the substrate and improves floor warming response time
•Can be used with all types of flooring materials
•Provides even and consistent warmth in any room
•Provides subfloor thermal insulation (R=0.5)
•Anti-microbial resistance to mold and mildew

The ComfortSafe system will be sold through TMT America in Florence, Ala., as well as through Schönox distribution partners. The system will be available in the middle of the third quarter this year.

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Carpet: In commoditized market, better goods still thrive

July 8/15, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 2

By Ken Ryan

 

At a time when the residential carpet market is flat to slightly down in both sales and unit volume (FCNews, June 24/July 1), the notion that a segment within carpet could be growing might seem improbable. And yet, a strong economy—plus advances in tufting technology and, ironically, the explosion of LVT-driven hard surfaces—has spurred higher-end carpet sales.

Some mill executives suggest the economy and a robust stock market play into the psyche of the affluent consumer who has the wherewithal to spend more for carpet if she wants to. While that is one main factor in the rise of better-end goods, it isn’t the only one.

“More intuitively, and in an odd way, the loss of share of carpet and the growth of hard surface has helped the higher-end carpet market,” said Bill Storey, senior vice president at Mohawk, who oversees the high-end Karastan brand.

Storey contends as carpet gets relegated to fewer rooms in the home, the consumer spends more money on soft surface products. “When you are in smaller areas of the home consumers get more adventurous, whether it be wall to wall or a carpet made into rugs with design and colors.”

Teresa Tran, director of soft surface portfolio management-residential for Shaw, said consumers continue to desire carpet due to its soft, luxurious texture and feel—an ideal complement to the hard surface that permeates many of today’s homes. “Comfort and carpet go hand in hand, and consumers are looking to make a statement with their flooring choices,” she said. “Carpet not only gives consumers comfort underfoot, but also allows them to choose design-driven flooring that showcases their individual style and personality.”

Jason Surratt, senior vice president of product and design, Phenix Flooring, is another executive who believes the growth of LVT and hard surface has fueled sales of higher-end carpet (defined at the retail level as $4.99 per square foot and higher). “With carpet being a smaller amount of an interior purchase, the consumer is more comfortable spending on a higher-priced good,” he explained. “Another point to consider is the smaller area of carpet is typically broken up by hard surface visually providing multiple styles or designs being used in the same home com- pared to a single product throughout.”

Today’s consumer is typically buying carpet on a room-by-room basis, not for the entire house. “Only a few rooms are getting carpet—typically bedrooms and possibly a hallway or stair runner,” said T.M. Nuckols, president, residential division, The Dixie Group. “This gives her flexibility in choosing different carpet styles for those areas. She is looking for something really nice to complement her hard surfaces, such as a pretty pattern or loop.”

Thanks to advancements in tufting and the creative skill of designers, there are options galore for consumers who prefer striking patterns, loops, tip shears and color options that have increased with dye variants and solution-dyed yarns. Nuckols said product development teams have used this tool kit of yarns and tufting technology to create a tremendous assortment of styles, designs and qualities to fit every taste.

Cool colors with a warm accent is a growing style, according to Chet Graham, CEO, Marquis Industries, whose company has used that trend to its advantage. “Higher-end goods are still being driven by soft handed products,” he said. “Products with a tighter and lower pile started to see growth toward the end of 2018 and continue to be a push through 2020.”

Laurie Dillingham, director of product styling and design for Engineered Floors, said today’s innovations are often inspired by ancient techniques that are being combined with modern technology to create a collaborative approach connecting the past with the future. Texture trends, she noted, are being influenced by eco-therapy, which refers to healing and growth nurtured by interactions with the earth. “Nuances of the natural landscape bring the outdoors in, and we find many consumers will seek products inspired by elements such as tree bark and natural stone,” she said.

So many of today’s higher-end carpets are designed to work alongside hard surface in the home, which is why natural stone looks or distressed hardwood visuals are so popular today. For its Karastan-branded Mackenzie line, Mohawk took a slab from a Daltile product and replicated it in carpet. “When we first showed it to people, they thought it was a granite slab from a distance—it looks so much like stone,” Storey said. “That product has been absolutely fantastic for us.”

Karastan’s No. 1 seller, Artistic Charm, a multicolor nylon with a grid-type look, offers definitive pattern and performance. When told the name sounds like a Kentucky Derby winner, Storey said, “It has been a horse for us.”

Continuing the hard surface replication Mohawk is coming to market with looks that conjure images of travertine and granite, including a carpet that mimics the veins in a granite slab. “It’s very fun to see,” Storey said. “As manufacturers we’ve been forced to up our game. There is so much great looking hard surfaces out there [that can inspire us] on the soft surface side.”

New introductions
Shaw’s 2019 introductions correspond with five specific design trends—modern farmhouse, sanctuary, urban luxe, coastal summerhouse and mid-century modern. Shaw Floors’ Caress styles can be utilized to achieve these themes. “For an urban luxe, high-end look, consumers can select styles such as Rich Opulence or Chateau Fare—to bring the outdoors in for a sanctuary feel, Ombre Whisper is a perfect choice,” Tran said. “Caress offers five sophisticated patterns and three solids, giving consumers stunning options to pick the soft surface that fits their personality.”

Phenix Flooring’s newest collection, Modern Contours, recently hit retail floors with great fanfare. Specifically, the sophisticated patterns in its Bespoke line have helped sell the coordinating textures merchandised in color palettes that demonstrate how Phenix’s hard surface offering pairs perfectly with Modern Contours.

The Dixie Group traveled far for inspiration for two of its newest high-end offerings—Fabrica Barcelona and Masland Victoria Island. Barcelona is home to the famous artist and architect, the late Antoni Gaudi. Known for fluid designs in unexpected applications and materials, Fabrica’s rendition of Barcelona epitomizes Modernism in form and function, the company said. Meanwhile, Victoria Island—a scenic and spectacular location in Canada—offers a design that imitates subtle landscaped patterns reminiscent of the area.

PureBac, a flexible backing system included in select Dream Weaver styles, is paired with PureColor solution-dyed fiber to make for a winning residential carpet solution for Engineered Floors. “There is no latex in PureBac, which means no scratched baseboards and walls during installation, making it an installer’s dream and saving the flooring dealer time and money,” said Mike Sanderson, vice president of marketing.

Stanton-branded products offer high style that complements all hard surfaces, which lends itself to bedrooms, hall and stair runners, as well as rugs indoors and outdoors. In the better goods segment, Stanton and its Rosecore brand have developed lush, brilliant, super soft nylon fiber with an opulent luster—products that are used throughout the home. In addition, Stanton offers on-trend flat weaves that can be used indoors or out, combining high performance and durability.

The higher-end goods tend to stand out in the market because of their ability to capture a specific audience, experts say. These products are created with unique perspectives and inspiration. AT has emphasized craftsmanship and tactility with Chase and Speak, pattern loop constructions within its popular Unleashed collection. The Wonderment collection of nature-inspired products, meanwhile, embrace what product designer Maeriel Mumpar calls “imperfection and irregularity” to provide a fresh perspective as seen in Stargazer, an ethereal, organic pattern that features 18 glowing shades and complements the company’s Metallics line of hardwood floors.

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Wood: Canadian players carve out their own niches in the market

Suppliers leverage capabilities in finishing, service and logistics

 

July 8/15, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 2

By Reginald Tucker

 

With all the talk of tariffs in recent months, much of the focus has been on hardwood flooring manufacturers from China and Southeast Asia. But you can’t overlook the impact that suppliers from Canada have had—and continue to have—on the U.S. market.

Given their long reputation for producing some of the clearest, cleanest maple flooring available today—along with their steadfast focus on product quality, finishing innovation and strict environmental controls—some of the major Canadian suppliers continue to raise the bar by which many wood brands are measured.

Case in point is Boa-Franc, maker of the Mirage Floors brand, which continues to be recognized by the trade in both the U.S. and its home base in Canada. No stranger to the winner’s circle, the company recently achieved another milestone by earning its 10th Award of Excellence honor. “We are honored to be recognized as the top company in the hardwood flooring category again this year,” said Brad Williams, vice president of sales and marketing, Boa-Franc. “Having received 35 awards for quality and excellence over the last 20 years is a testament to the quality of the employees, suppliers and customers we have at Boa-Franc. This goes to show that we keep our promise of continuously providing our sales network with consistent quality products and service.”

Dealers who stock the Mirage brand tend to agree. Karla Wischmeyer, an interior designer at Verhey Carpets in Grand Rapids, Mich., has specified the brand for scores of renovation projects. In fact, it’s the top-selling hardwood flooring line in her store. Wischmeyer is particularly impressed with the technology utilized in Boa-Franc’s signature finish, Duramatt, which combines the in-demand look of a low-gloss finish with the durability of a high-performance urethane coating.

“We have been very pleased with it, and I’m sure we haven’t had any claims,” she told FCNews. “We have the product installed in our downtown showroom, and we also have a rug gallery with Mirage hardwood on the floor. This serves as a demo regarding the product’s performance.”

Other major Canadian suppliers have made strides in advanced finishing technology. Mercier Wood Flooring, known for its high-performance, low-sheen Generations finish, is looking to raise the bar with its newly launched Naked Series. The line features a proprietary process that allows the aesthetic qualities of the natural species to come through even after the application of the finish and stain.

“With this new finishing technology, we are able to apply a coating to the wood, seal it and then apply our Generations coating on top of it without changing the overall look,” said Wade Bondrowski, Mercier’s director of sales, U.S. market. “With most other wood flooring finishes, once you put a urethane finish on, it changes the look of the graining of the natural wood species.”

Some of Mercier’s longtime customers attest to the attributes of the technology. “This is an extremely clean-looking product,” said Tom Norris, regional manager for ProSource in Pittsburgh, a Mercier partner for the past 20 years. “With this process Mercier is using, it looks like a fresh-cut sawn plank. It’s better looking than any engineered product I’ve seen out there.”

Not to be outdone, Lauzon Hardwood Flooring has been marketing its own brand of high-performance finishing technology. Some of its select products feature an innovation called Pure Genius, which contains a patented titanium dioxide technology that decomposes bacteria, viruses and mold, thereby reducing potential carcinogens, according to the company. Activated by natural or artificial light—in combination with the movement of ambient air in a room—the finish constantly transforms toxic airborne particles into harmless water and carbon dioxide molecules, creating a constant supply of pure air in the home.

“Many people don’t realize the extent to which the air-tight environments in today’s homes contain pollutants and toxic contaminants, such as formaldehyde emitted from furniture, building materials and common household products,” said Priscilla Bergeron, communication manager at Lauzon. “Studies show that the air in rooms installed with Pure Genius is up to 85% cleaner than spaces without it. And after 30 days, rooms installed with Pure Genius flooring have been shown to have a formaldehyde level of only 5 parts per billion, compared to 16-32 parts per billion in a typical home.”

Even upstart hardwood flooring manufacturers from Canada are looking to capitalize on the reputation of suppliers in the region. Times Flooring, a manufacturer of high-end engineered wood products, recently jumped into the fray with the rollout of Aqua Allira, a new product that provides a waterproof engineered wood flooring option for commercial and residential use.

Developed in collaboration and acquired from Uniboard Canada, Times Flooring’s proprietary development process showcases the unique characteristics, performance and finish of its engineered flooring. The Aqua Allira collection features modern colors with natural variation for an authentic look.

“Luxury engineered wood flooring is already a hugely popular option for both homeowners and commercial businesses,” said Linda Gelly, owner and president, Plancher Times Flooring. “When you add to its benefits—waterproof features, enhanced durability and innovative colors and textures—Aqua Allira is the best product in its category in the North American market.”

How it works: When exposed to water, Aqua Allira waterproof flooring maintains its integrity thanks to the AquaTimes application process that combines a patented construction and a superior formulated finish, which prevents the wood from swelling, buckling or delaminating. It features a non-toxic hypoallergenic finish with an antimicrobial agent and is highly durable.

At your service
Beyond their sheer technical capabilities, Canadian suppliers also tout their ability to service a diverse range of client needs. Wickham Hardwood Flooring, for instance, has successfully employed a business model that allows it to produce large quantities of product without applying a color or finish until the product has been ordered by the retailer or distributor. Its customers say this gives them an enormous amount of flexibility in terms of how the particular floor can be made regarding width, species, grade, color and sheen.

This capability is particularly important for distributors like Warwick, Rhode Island-based Builder Surplus, whose clientele runs a wide gamut. The fact that Wickham can produce a high volume in a short period of time is also a plus for the wholesaler, which purchases a full truckload of product roughly every few weeks. “We’ve been a good partner for them and they have been a good partner for us,” said Mike Winter, president and owner.

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NeoCon 2019 exudes sustainable, trendy commercial design

July 8/15, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 2

By Megan Salzano

 

Interface’s Look Both Ways combines soft and hard surface in a single collection.

Chicago— The 51st edition of NeoCon held last month welcomed 55,000 attendees as designers, architects and facility managers converged on The Mart. Those in attendance were witness to innovation across multiple product segments within the commercial building industry, including the second highest represented at the show—floor covering.

The buzz about the building was palpable, and exhibitors talked of a notable increase in positive energy within the design community. “The energy this year is much better,” said Dee Dee Brickner, marketing manager, Roppe. “Designers have a reinvigorated desire to build better spaces and unique designs. They want to see what’s new and innovative and they have their own reenergized outlook on their projects. They’re also interested in designing differently. A lot of designers will have their go-to products, but this year we’ve seen a lot more that are open to looking at something new.”

Manufacturers also hailed quality over quantity. “We haven’t noticed as many people on the show floor as last year, but I think the quality of people and the decision makers that are here is really top notch. I think that’s what’s important,” said Ellie Priester, director of marketing, Teknoflor. “I want to talk to people that are really interested in our initiates and what we’re doing in the industry, and there’s been a lot of interest.”

When it comes to traffic, John Clouse, senior marketing, account and Takiron manager for CBC Flooring, which holds a booth space on the 7th floor, said, “Yesterday I think was one of the best Monday’s that I can remember having. Attendance is great. Our neighbors are saying the same thing.”

Some manufacturers pointed to the economy as a possible factor. “Obviously the economy is a little better than people thought,” said Jeff West, vice president of marketing, Patcraft. “Each design firm sent several people, maybe that’s a good sign about the robustness of the economy. Hopefully we’ll see that in business results in the year.”

Amidst the buzz, designers at the show praised the quality of the shows exhibitors as well as the importance of flooring within commercial design. “This is an event. It can be overwhelming, but there are definitely certain exhibitors where I feel like I can use their product. It was definitely worth the energy to get down here,” said Joy Cardillo, founding principal, Studio Rad in Marquette, Mich. “Flooring is definitely a huge element, obviously, in terms of functionality and design. It’s a foundational element.”

Business highlights were also favorable for the first half of the year, and several exhibitors shared positive outlooks. “There’s a very positive sense in the marketplace, and there’s a lot of momentum. Designers and project groups have a lot of work still out there in the pipeline,” said Jackie Dettmar, vice president of commercial design and product development, Mohawk Group.

Melissa Quick, commercial product and marketing manager, Novalis, noted, “Business has been great. Our brand continues to grow, and I think with these new introductions it’s going to push our growth further. We’ve been investing in people, investing in products and in facilities. Growth within a company is always exciting.”

Patcraft’s West said the first five months for the company had been very good from both a carpet and resilient standpoint. “Our resilient has grown like crazy over the last several years, and there has been a boom in carpet tile. Our business is still more carpet than resilient but the resilient is now about 1/3 of our business. Senior living has been the best this year for us.”

Shifting the conversation
It’s no doubt that flooring is an integral part of NeoCon. It is a foundational category for commercial and residential designers looking for the latest and greatest in product design, and the show touts most of the major flooring players in attendance. “Flooring is a very important part of the show,” NeoCon’s Morton said. “We want to provide all the product categories that specifiers are looking for and flooring is a big part of that.”

Bentley’s Sorted collection features three patterns that coordinate while also maintaining unique characteristics.

While flooring remains integral to design, several new conversations are beginning to take shape. First, due to demand from the design community, manufacturers are designing product lines based on overall functionality and aesthetic and no longer focused on specific market segments. “You have a lot of blurring across the segments,” Mohawk Group’s Dettmar said. “Designers don’t want their hands tied as far as what they can use where. We can guide them as far as the right choices for performance, what patterns are going to hide soiling, or color, but there’s a lot of crossover in the aesthetics that people are looking for.”

Several flooring manufacturers at the show unveiled new collections across hard and soft surfaces that boasted a design-first mentality. Bentley Mills’ Sorted collection, for example, directly aligns with this new blurring of the lines. The collection “fosters flexibility and coordination. It won’t hinder or limit creative expression: it encourages it,” the company said. The collection is made up of three patterns— Misfit, Square Peg and Typecast—each meant to harmoniously interact with one another while also maintaining unique characteristics. David Turkes, Bentley’s director of sustainability, said the collection is meant to reach across a wide variety of commercial segments including education, hospitality and corporate workplace. “You’ll see certain segments take on certain products, but the point is to allow everyone to take part,” he said.

Another conversation that exhibitors said has begun to evolve is that of sustainability. While the flooring industry and the A&D community agree that the word itself no longer carries the same meaning as it used to, the conversation about its evolution and its importance has grown deeper. “What felt like for many years was this ‘check the box’ mindset has changed,” said Erin Jende, director of marketing for Interface Americas. “The questions are now getting deeper and more specific. I am feeling a shift. I think firms are thinking about what their impact is.”

Bentley’s Turkes agreed and noted a similar shift in conversation. “I’ve only been doing this for three years with Bentley and I’ve already seen that conversation shift dramatically from where it was to where it is now,” he said. “You’re seeing a lot more information requests—going beyond the LEED check box to how and why it applies. It’s becoming more in depth, and that’s exciting.”

Manufacturers also noted their own part in starting those important conversations with design firms while watching interest in the topic increase. “Within the past nine to 12 months I have seen an absolute exponential increase in interest,” Teknoflor’s Priester said. “Part of that is because we have now trained our sales force to be experts on the matter. We want them to be the first people to say, ‘here is why it’s important; here is why you should be interested.’ And part of it is because the word is spreading fast. And it’s not just isolated on the coasts like we typically see green movement, we’re seeing it all over. I think that’s an indicator of how much it’s going to take off.”

When it comes to what questions are being asked specifically, Valerie Molinski, Tarkett’s environmental stewardship manager, said designers are now looking at the overall footprint of a building. “They want to know, what is the carbon footprint? What is happening in the manufacturing process? Those are def newer questions, in addition to what’s in the product and what does it mean to us?”

Product touting sustainable attributes were not hard to come by at the show, but some manufacturers took things to the next level with product launches that help meet the evolving needs of today’s green spaces. Congoleum’s Cleo brand, for example, showcased its Cleo Contract LVT collection, which features three essential design categories: wood, stone and textile. What makes this line unique is it contains zero PVC, plasticizers, phthalates or chloro-chemicals, a huge win for LVT. It is also Floor Score certified and certified Asthma & Allergy Friendly by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America Standards Limited. Kurt Denman, chief marketing officer & executive vice president, sales, Congoleum, said the new line taps into a new holistic approach while increasing the design community’s ability to specify eco-conscious LVT.

Teknoflor unveiled its Coordination collection, which features three lines and six products designed to help ease the burden of hospital design with a single collection suited for every need throughout the space. The collection includes Naturescapes HPD resilient sheet and Nature’s Tile, which is Living Challenge Petal certified, contains no phthalates, no Red List chemicals and is chlorine-free.

Interface, a leader in sustainability, was on hand with its carpet and LVT lineup. The entire product catalog for the company boasts carbon neutrality, and Jende explained the company is able to take back all of its LVT and make new backing for its carpet. “For us, our mission has moved into climate takeback,” she said. “Too much carbon in the atmosphere is causing climate change. People are understanding it for their own person life and interest, and that is now reflected in how they think about products. I’m foreseeing that we’re going to continue talking about it.”

Flexco also unveiled a reformulation of its Tuflex Force line. The rubber flooring line is now Red List free and 100% recyclable— the line can be taken back into the company’s recycling program for a complete closed loom process.

What’s trending

Teknoflor unveiled its Coordination collection is Living Challenge Petal certified.

The desire to select from one collection to fulfill multiple needs within a design concept was undeniable at this year’s show. Manufacturers across soft and hard surface launched collections designed to do just that and ease the design process for the A&D community. One unique trend stemming from that need are single collections that boast both soft and hard surface.

Milliken’s Change Agent, for example, is a new LVT and modular carpet collection influenced by natural materials. The carpet tile and LVT are designed to seamlessly work together by coordinating both color and tile size.

Interface’s Look Both Ways collection represents the first time the company has launched hard and soft surface in a single collection. The line features on-trend concrete and terrazzo aesthetics with complementary patterns and textures.

Trending visuals at the show also included woven LVT, textile-inspired designs and classic concrete and wood looks. Shaw Contract, for example, launched reFrame, a collection of 9 x 36 woven LVT resilient tiles that were designed to blur the boundary between hard and soft surface.

Mohawk Group launched its Sakiori collection, which combines the soft look of textiles and carpet with resilient hard surfaces. The collection includes three enhanced resilient tile patterns: Hemstitch, a traditional weave; Weave, a multiwidth cord-like weave; and Linked, a vertical striated weave.

Patcraft unveiled its textural resilient tile collection, Handloom, which features two coordinating styles, Painted Weft and Wooden Warp, with colorful accents and neutral colors inspired by textile arts and natural materials.

On the soft surface side, J+J Flooring unveiled its Fabrications collection, which aims at celebrating the artistry and complexities of handcrafted textiles, the company said. Each of the three patterns in Fabricationsdraws inspiration from the textures, patterns and finishes that are unique to the textile-making process.

Mannington Commercial tapped the concrete trend with a new collection named Mixed Monolith. The three styles of LVT are said to explore the delicate textures, angles and shapes of Brutalist treatments of concrete in a palette that traces the shifting colors of a sunlit concrete surface over the course of a day.

Karndean showcased its lineup of wood-look LVT, including designs within the new spring 2019 collection that feature the beauty of rare, and in some cases extinct, woods, such as American Chestnut and Reclaimed Hickory within its Art Select line.

Of course, some manufacturers were inspired by shifting demand within the commercial market overall. Tarkett, for example, launched its award-winning Tatami System, a unique modular broadloom collection that allows users to reconfigure their spaces, supporting the constantly fluid spaces of the modern workplace.

 

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Pergo ad campaign preps dealers for a surge

July 8/15, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 2

By Reginald Tucker

 

Mohawk first sought to whet the appetites of its dealer partners with the official rollout if its Pergo-branded Extreme LVT line at last year’s Edge Summit (FCNews, Dec. 10/17, 2018). Now, with nearly 1,500 Pergo Extreme displays firmly planted in Mohawk Edge dealer showrooms across the country, the company is ready to kick off an integrated consumer advertising campaign designed to deliver shoppers to retailer storefronts ready to buy.

The multifaceted ad campaign, which boasts the tagline “Go Bold,” aims to influence the consumer throughout all phases of the shopping experience while educating her on the key visual and performance attributes of the Pergo Extreme LVT brand. Whether she discovers the brand while researching flooring options online—or if she is exposed to the product via more traditional advertising means such as radio, cable TV or shelter magazines—it will all crystalize when she finally sees the Pergo Extreme displays, installed floors and various point-of-purchase signage and materials upon entering the store.

According to Jason Sims, director of brand marketing at Mohawk, the goal is to reinforce the Pergo Extreme messaging and impressions the consumer absorbs across various media, culminating in a customer who is likely pre- disposed to the Pergo LVT brand when she visits the retailer for a consultation. “We had a great response to Pergo Extreme at Edge, and there’s a ton of excitement for the product,” Sims told FCNews. “We’re about 90% complete with our placements, so the consumer journey from online to in-store can begin.”

Beginning July 11, the official pergo.com website—which heretofore had been promoting mainly Pergo-branded laminate and hardwood—has been updated to reflect the full Pergo Extreme LVT offering. (That’s “phase two” of the strategy.) The launch coincides with a national digital media campaign to drive demand to independent retail. (Note: The campaign does not affect Pergo local advertising, which retailers can start as soon as they receive their displays.)

“Our goal has been to activate our digital strategy once we had 75% of our displays in the market in order to drive leads to active retailers,” Sims explained. The timing, he noted, was to help protect the brand, create the best experience possible at independent retail and ensure a solid footing for future efforts. “Previously the Pergo site only represented the laminate and home center positions and channels. Now, we’re excited about bringing Pergo Extreme for our specialty retail partners online, along with the full launch of our media ads for Pergo Extreme.”

During the kickoff of the “Go Bold” digital campaign, Mohawk will be placing digital ads across YouTube as well as other targeted channels. Meanwhile, on the Pergo website, consumers will see a beefed-up presence for Pergo Extreme along with clear positioning to help consumers understand the value of what LVT does and how Pergo Extreme stands out. “We’ve already experienced a lot of early success in the market without the power of national media, but over the next couple weeks we really expect to open some eyes,” Sims stated. “There’s going to be a lot more traffic coming in, a lot more lead generation for Pergo Extreme.”

With the seeds of the Pergo Extreme LVT line planted back at the Edge Summit, Mohawk took a measured and deliberate approach in bringing the product to market prior to launching a national marketing effort. Again, according to Mohawk, it goes back to protecting a storied brand. “We know Pergo has the best brand awareness in the industry, so doing this right was very important,” Sims explained. “There’s been quite a bit of patience on the part of the retail community who knows what the Pergo brand can do for them. The Edge conference was the start of it. We knew we had to partner with the right folks to launch this brand.”

A potent package
It was no accident that Mohawk chose to partner with Edge dealers to launch this initiative. To protect the brand, Mohawk realized it needed to exercise some control on how it was going to distribute the products. “Our Edge partners qualify as the best opportunity to promote our best products,” Sims said. “In our minds they have the most potential and are the ones who see the value in the partnering with Mohawk. So that was phase one—getting everyone on board with how this would roll out and what, exactly, was going into this product line.”

What ultimately ended up going into the line, according to Sims, was an expansive offering of 60 SKUs spanning four collections of trendy, high-end wood and stone visuals. Among them: Wood Originals—30 hardwood looks boasting genuine texture and multiple plank size options; Wood Enhanced—seven realistic visuals with added touches such as painted bevel and an embossed-in-register finish; Wood Wider Longer—five fashion-forward options offered in a 10 x 72 format; and Tile Options—an assortment of 15 stone pat- terns in three oversized tile sizes.

Pergo Extreme LVT is backed by strong benefits and warranties. Developed for families with active households, the Pergo Extreme collections are 100% kid-, pet- and water-proof, and they come with a Worry-Free for Life, No-Dent Warranty (lifetime residential warranty) and a 10-year medium commercial warranty.

“Sixty SKUs is a lot of product, even if you’re not adding a new display,” Sims explained. “It’s quite an undertaking—the designs, the samples and, now, the merchandising. These collections offer dynamic looks and dramatic patterns with unmatched characteristics and detail while providing homeowners with true worry-free living.”

In support of Edge dealers’ marketing efforts, Mohawk will be providing Five-Star point-of-purchase kits entailing high-end graphics, wall art, floor decals—all the things the dealer needs to promote the Go Bold campaign.

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Commercial: Corporate, healthcare sectors lead the charge

June 24/July 1, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 1

By K.J. Quinn

 

An uptick in activity in key end-use sectors—namely corporate, hospitality, healthcare and education—drove the bulk of commercial flooring specifications in 2018. FCNews research shows total specified commercial flooring sales grew to $7.012 billion in 2018, a 5.9% increase over 2017.

“History will view 2018 as a solid year for nonresidential construction spending in America,” said Anirban Basu, chief economist with Associated Builders and Contractors. “Both private and public segments experienced growth in construction spending last year.”

The growth of the commercial market is heavily attributed to stronger demand for hard surfaces—specifically LVT—which have entered practically every commercial sector. “Resilient flooring, particularly LVT, is growing across virtually all commercial channels, as hard surfaces are seen more and more often in spaces that used to feature carpet,” observed Deb Lechner, vice president, marketing, Armstrong Flooring. “This is true from offices to hotel rooms.”

Hard surfaces’ versatility is a major factor in the commercial segment’s performance last year. FCNews statistics showed hard goods generated just over $3.2 billion in sales for 2018, a 15% increase over 2017. No surprise that resilient accounted for the bulk of that growth, representing about 52% of commercial hard surface consumption.

“We’re continuing to see an influx of competition within LVT, especially given the rapid growth of the rigid core category,” said Katherine Caringola, communications manager, Karndean Designflooring. “As a result, there appears to be higher market investment in floating floor options, especially rigid core/WPC.”

LVT is the headliner of resilient, posting double-digit sales growth and expanding its usage across all segments, the majority in specified contract. “Technological developments may also allow the floor to go into new spaces and take on other flooring categories inside the hard surface market,” said John Szilagyi, manager-market intelligence, Tarkett North America. “With the modularity of design that has accompanied LVT and new core technologies, there should be no end to the combinations that end users and A&D firms can leverage into new spaces.”

Not all hard surface categories fared as well as LVT. FCNews research found several major products such as VCT, sheet goods, hardwood and laminates experienced low- to mid-single digit declines in volume and sales last year. Rubber and linoleum sales and volume held steady, as they are positioned as healthy flooring choices, especially in healthcare and education.

One hard surface that sustained growth despite competition from LVT is ceramic tile. While statistics are hard to pin down due to fragmented distribution channels, tile sales experienced a low single-digit increase to $1.086 billion according to FCNews research. “We have seen the growth of LVT due to lower installation costs and faster installation costs,” observed Raj Shah, president, MSI. “We believe that finding ways of keeping ceramic tile’s value [proposition] is important in its long-term growth.”

Despite its high price tag, tile is positioned as the most formidable hard surface alternative to LVT. An estimated two-thirds to 70% of ceramic’s commercial sales come from specified contract and half the volume.

“The greatest impact on the ceramic commercial market is the continued development of segments that use a lot of tile in their structures, such as healthcare, hospitality and education,” said Gianni Mattioli, executive vice president, Dal-Tile.

Meanwhile, soft surfaces showed a slight decrease of 0.8% from $3.805 billion in 2017 to $3.774 billion in 2018. Approximately 75% to 80% of carpet sales and 65% to 70% of volume were generated from specified contract while the remainder came from the Main Street commercial sector, research shows.

Within the segment, carpet tile boosted its position as the top soft surface, representing about half of sales and more than 60% of volume, according to FCNews research. The subcategory maintained nearly double-digit increases in both areas, while broadloom’s presence in commercial spaces continued to dwindle—even in the bedrock hospitality sector. “The main reason why people buy tile is it works in any segment,” Mike Gallman, president, Mohawk Group, explained. “People know how to use it from a design standpoint.”

Corporate
The largest sector remains corporate/offices, representing roughly 40% of commercial flooring sales. Although key economic indicators such as new construction, asking rents per square foot and leasing activity point in the right direction, major design trends taking hold are reportedly influencing flooring choices.

“As more employees put in more hours at work, many offices are beginning to offer unique amenities to make employees feel relaxed, comfortable and happy,” said Kerri Convery, a spokesperson for Parterre Flooring Systems. “Current trends in office design focus on improving both the functionality and aesthetics of a space, and we expect that pattern will continue.”

The workplace is among the most diverse segments in terms of flooring selections. Among the key factors impacting specs are functional and design needs of the space. Carpet tile is the most popular choice, representing close to 60% share.

“The ‘resimercial’ trend of creating offices that feel more like home lends itself to innovative uses of carpet tile, both in terms of design and texture,” said Matt Miller, president, Interface Americas. “Designers are often looking for more of a homey feel than before.”

Armstrong’s Lechner agreed, noting, “LVT and rigid core illustrate a blurring of lines between products that are considered strictly residential or commercial. These products are increasingly gaining traction in commercial environments, bringing authentic wood looks to spaces, along with the durability to maintain their beauty even under high traffic, high moisture and high impact.”

Hard surfaces such as resilient, hardwood, porcelain tile and polished concrete are preferred for areas where fashion and functionality are required. LVT is gaining ground in reception areas, workrooms, kitchens, dining areas. “We are seeing a trend toward more hospitality-like finishes, including LVT or laminate flooring, polished concrete, specialty decorative tile—all items to bring personality and warmth to the previously sterile workplace,” stated Alana Lopez, RA, NCIDQ, LEED AP, director, hospitality and workplace studio at Stantec.

Still, broadloom remains a favorite in speculative workspaces or “market-ready” offices looking for cost-effective upfront investments. “You see broadloom in high-end areas such as conference rooms,” said Jeanette Himes, Mohawk’s creative design director for workplace. “Sometimes it’s in offices adjacent to open areas where you might use tile and, of course, on stairs.”

Hospitality
The hotel/lodging sector is one of the fastest growing markets, due to economic growth that’s driving more business and leisure travel, experts say. Designers and hotel proprietors are seeking to create a higher-end environment than their guests live in at home. “Hotel design seeks to help guests feel at home,” said Kim Drautz, director of segment strategy, hospitality and senior living, Tarkett North America. “As we’ve been shifting our residential interiors to have more hard- surface flooring than carpet, the hospitality industry is following suit.”

An increasing number of major hotel chains are specifying LVT for its good looks, durability, acoustic and hygienic qualities. “LVT feels cleaner to the everyday traveler because it gives them peace of mind knowing they can clean it themselves,” said Doug Detiveaux, interior designer, associate, at Gensler’s Houston office. However, not all hotel owners are onboard with using LVT, due to its higher initial cost and potential for longer cleaning times, he added.

Carpet is not expected to be phased out completely, as there will always be people who prefer the plush feel underfoot after waking up in their guest room. “A trend in the healthcare market is to use carpet tile to create an accent rug inset into a hard surface product,” noted Brenda Knowles, vice president of commercial marketing and product development, Shaw Industries.

Performance, style and sustainability needs are impacting flooring selections and driving demand for new hard surface options. For instance, large-format porcelain tile is reportedly viewed by hospitality designers as a cost-effective alternative to ceramic or marble floors and coveted for aesthetic qualities and resistance to staining and chipping. Polished concrete is gaining popularity in commercial spaces, offering a different twist to products specified in contemporary design.

“Hotel lobbies, guest rooms, schools, grocery stores, etc., have all used concrete,” explained Curt Thompson, president and CEO, Aggretex Systems. “The trend now is to start to blend seamlessly the exterior concrete, which is becoming more and more decorative, with the interior concrete.”

Retail
Similar to hospitality, the retail business is undergoing a makeover to attract more foot traffic and distinguish locations from competitors. Online shopping continues to reduce the number of brick-and-mortar stores. What’s more, it contributed to the decline in retail store sales last year, according to recent studies. “While the retail segment has been a little softer than expected, we are seeing positive signs in key areas,” Dal-Tile’s Mattioli said. “Car dealerships and fitness centers, as well as quick-service restaurants, are areas of growth that are positively impacting the tile market.”

Retailers are redesigning their stores to create inviting and comfortable shopping environments that appeal to all customers. Flooring selections run the gamut, often depending on the end use. Ceramic, wood and carpet tile are often specified in high-end retail spaces while resilient, VCT and rubber flooring are found in other public areas.

“We have an opportunity to continue to take share from broadloom in retail and hospitality as designers recognize the performance, maintenance and flexibility benefits of carpet tile in other segments—coupled with technology advancements in carpet tile design,” Interface’s Miller said.

No surprise that LVT is a popular choice among commercial specifiers in a segment renown for staying on top of interior design trends. “Retail has dramatically shifted to hard surfaces, with the advent of LVT and more younger shoppers,” Mohawk’s Gallman observed. Hard surfaces accounts for nearly 25% of commercial flooring sold to the sector, FCNews research shows.

Healthcare
Renovation and new construction are reshaping healthcare to accommodate the needs of an aging U.S. population. Designers are paying close attention to specific criteria for meeting safety and sanitary requirements. According to FCNews research, the segment saw a slight uptick in flooring sales in 2018 with much of the growth coming from hard surfaces.

“In 2018 we saw growth in the healthcare segment, specifically clinics, assisted-living communities and urgent care centers,” Dal-Tile’s Mattioli said. “This segment is anticipated to continue to soar, particularly due to the shortage of spaces available to care for the currently aging population and the high usage of tile in healthcare buildings.” The channel accounts for roughly 12% of the commercial hard surface market.

Natural materials such as ceramic tile, hardwood, rubber and linoleum are considered sustainable options. Rubber sheet, vinyl and linoleum are the mainstay in areas that require high sanitary levels. Carpet, rubber, luxury vinyl and vinyl composition tiles have found their way into non-critical areas such as corridors, medical, patient and waiting rooms.

Infection control is a major area of emphasis and concern as hospital-acquired infections can be both deadly and costly. Homogenous resilient floors are preferred in surgical suites, where infection control and quick turnaround of the room is paramount while other spaces. “[Healthcare] continues to be a strong market for vinyl sheet due to the ability to heat weld and flash cove the flooring for a seam-free surface that is easier to keep clean and hygienic,” Armstrong’s Lechner said.

Education
Similar to healthcare, there is a good amount of remodeling taking place in education, according to published reports. The amount of flooring sold is aided, in part, by increases in state and local government tax revenues and private schools investing in remodeling to attract high school and graduate students. “College and university endowment investment returns grew in 2018, which also helps to support construction spending,” Lechner observed.

K-12 represents the lion’s share of the education sector, accounting for approximately 75% of flooring sales, with the remainder generated from colleges/universities, according to FCNews research. The driving force impacting interior design within K-12 schools is the notion of the active learning classroom, experts say.

Performance, health and safety requirements are also important selection criteria, as flooring needs are changing to support new learning environments. For example, schools are looking for ways to optimize their learning environments to have the right sounds and acoustics, avoiding vibration issues. Materials such as flooring must meet stringent criteria for issues such as indoor air quality, sustainability and maintenance.

“University systems as well as high schools are looking at having a better teaching and educational space,” said Rives Taylor, director of design resilience, Gensler.

An estimated 50% to 60% of the business is hard surfaces, as its versatility enables it to be found in virtually all learning environments. LVT is the leading resilient product utilized across the board, FCNews research found. The latest WPC products offer color and design flexibility which enable designers to apply numerous looks into learning environments.

As awareness around the maintenance and lifetime cost of owning floors grows, school officials are seeing the budget-friendly benefits of investing in quality products, according to industry executives. Premium materials such as ceramic and porcelain tile, terrazzo, rubber and linoleum are often utilized in high-traffic areas on campus such as corridors, lobbies, retail stores and restaurants.

Education is the second-largest commercial segment for carpet, representing approximately 30% of sales. However, broadloom is limited to small areas, such as stairs. “Education has the second highest penetration rate of carpet tile,” Interface’s Miller explained.

Outlook
Leading indicators such as ABC’s Construction Backlog Indicator and Construction Confidence Index strongly suggest that 2019 will be another year of nonresidential construction spending growth in the United States. “There are many variables to watch, including interest rates, worsening skilled worker shortages, rapidly rising construction compensation costs and the U.S. economy’s broader trajectory in the context of a slowing global economy,” Basu stated. “Rapid job growth should boost demand for office and commercial space. Healthier state and local government finances should help fuel additional spending across multiple categories.”

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Ceramic: Lower consumption keeps growth rates in check

June 24/July 1, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 1

By Megan Salzano

 

For the ninth consecutive year since the fallout of the Great Recession, the U.S. ceramic tile market registered growth. However, the growth witnessed in 2018 was not on par with the 5%-6% increase the category experienced in both volume and sales since 2016. In fact, many industry observers noted a significant slowdown in 2018.

“In the past year, we saw growth in both residential and commercial segments for ceramic tile,” said Raj Shah, president, MSI International. “That said, the growth was the lowest we have seen since the economic crisis.”

FCNews research shows the category saw about 2% growth in volume from 2.426 billion square feet in 2017 to 2.474 billion square feet in 2018. Sales were relatively flat for the category, registering less than 1% growth from $2.921 billion in 2017 to $2.935 billion last year. “It is important to note there was a lot of buildup of inventory, especially from China, during last quarter of 2018 in anticipation of higher tariffs scheduled to start January 1, 2019,” Gianni Mattioli, executive vice president of Dal-Tile, explained.

Even with the slowdown, the category still held strong in 2018 as the third-largest sector in flooring in terms of dollars and volume, representing 12.8% of all flooring sold in 2018—although down from 13.3% in 2017—and 12.6% of total industry volume, slightly up from 12.35% in 2017. Only the carpet/rugs and resilient categories accounted for more volume and sales.

Commercial gains
The commercial market saw a slightly better outcome in terms of growth when compared to residential. Commercial projects and spending continued on the growth path they have experienced since 2015. FCNews research showed ceramic’s share of the commercial market increased slightly to 15.4% last year, up from 14.1% in 2017. This was driven by strong growth in the hospitality, corporate, retail and assisted-living segments. Multi-family construction also rose in 2018.

Tile suppliers noted the ongoing success of wall tile within the commercial market and the possibility of its future growth within both the commercial and residential segments. “We have seen a renaissance in wall tile happen with all kinds of new formats and aesthetics being popularized in the market,” Shah said. “Long term, I believe the percentage of wall tile to floor tile will continue to grow as wall tile is not as susceptible to product substitution and due to the innovation in formats and aesthetics.”

Imports vs. domestic
U.S. imports in 2018 comprised about 70% of tile consumption in square feet, up from about 68% in 2017. In 2018, the U.S. imported 2.2 billion square feet of ceramic tile, up 4.7% from 2.1 billion square feet in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

China remained the largest exporter of ceramic tile to the U.S. (in square feet), a position it has held each year since 2015. Chinese imports made up 31.5% of U.S. imports in 2018, the highest annual percentage China has ever held of the U.S. import market. The 10% tariff increase on Chinese ceramic tile imports imposed by the Trump administration took effect at the end of September but, according to the Tile Council of North America (TCNA), was unlikely to have a meaningful impact on China’s market position.

Despite the peso’s significant decline vs. the U.S. dollar over the last six years, losing nearly half its value, Mexican ceramic tile exports to the U.S. have fallen each year since 2015, the TCNA reported. In 2018, tile from Mexico comprised 17.3% of U.S. imports vs. 18.9% the year prior, the lowest share since 2006. Italy was the third-largest exporter of tile to the U.S. in 2018, making up 16.4% of U.S. imports, down from 18.1% in 2017. The next largest exporters to the U.S. were Spain (14.1%) and Brazil (7.3%).

In terms of dollars (including duty, freight and insurance), Italy remained the largest exporter to the U.S. in 2018, comprising 30.9% of U.S. imports. China was second with 27.3% and Spain was third with 15.6%.

Compared to 2017, U.S. shipments of ceramic tile in 2018 were down 5.4% to 911 million square feet. This marked the first year-over-year decline in domestic shipments since 2009. Even still, domestically produced tile is still the tile of choice for consumers as it accounted for 29.3% of all U.S. tile consumption in square feet in 2018. The next highest countries of origin were China (22.3%), Mexico (12.2%) and Italy (11.6%).

In dollar value, 2018 U.S. FOB factory sales of domestic shipments were down 4.4% to $1.39 billion, vs. $1.45 billion in 2017. (FOB port means the seller pays for transportation of the goods to the port of shipment, plus loading costs. The buyer pays the cost of marine freight transport, insurance, unloading and transportation from the arrival port to the final destination.) Domestically produced tile comprised 37.7% of total U.S. tile consumption by dollar value. The per-unit value of domestic shipments increased from $1.51 in 2017 to $1.53 in 2018.

U.S. ceramic tile exports in 2018 were 29.7 million square feet, up 4.4% vs. 2017. Most of these exports were to Canada (79.6%) and Mexico (4.5%).

Ongoing challenges
Industry observers cite several challenges that led to the reduced tile consumption in 2018. Among them: tariff wars, a less robust housing market, competition from other categories and continuing labor/installation woes. “Generally speaking, it was a strong economy throughout the year,” MSI’s Shah said. “That said, beginning in the second quarter a lot of confidence began to deteriorate with the threat of trade wars between China and the U.S. Section 301 tariffs did get set at 10% with a threat of 25% for most of the year, which hurt overall confidence. The third and fourth quarters of 2018 were dramatically slower than the first half of 2019 for ceramic tile.”

One key indicator for the health of ceramic tile is that of the housing market, which continued to have heavy implications for 2018. “After the end of the recession, the ceramic tile market increased quite a bit, but last year the increase became very small compared to previous years,” said Donato Grosser, industry consultant. “The main reason is the housing market is not moving—it’s basically flat. Housing is a very important factor for ceramic tile. During the recession housing starts fell by more than 70%, tile declined 30% and you saw that immediate decline.”

Grosser added that while the remodeling segment of the housing market is doing fairly well, “we don’t sell as much tile in remodeling projects as we do with new projects.”

Competition from other categories, namely resilient, also put pressure on tile. “LVT is widely reported to have been the largest growth category in flooring in 2018, taking significant share and putting pressure on other categories of flooring,” said Jeff Daniel, vice president of sales support and planning, Emser Tile.

The novelty and low cost of LVT—and its WPC/SPC brethren—were major factors for its growth, observers said. “It’s a new product, it’s inexpensive, it’s easy to install and people are not looking at which product is superior; they’re looking at how much they’re spending,” Grosser explained. “People look at the first thing— cost. Then, the second—looks. That’s basically what affects the whole market and part of ceramic tile.”

In order to push back against LVT, suppliers said continued innovation within the category as well as adding value will be key. Some also noted several advantages tile already has in the market that should be better leveraged. For example, MSI’s Shah noted the growing popularity of new looks in tile vs. current LVT visuals. “LVT is still primarily a wood-look category,” he explained. “We are starting to see more non-wood visuals coming to market. The aesthetics available in ceramic tile that are non-wood still are significantly higher quality than can be found in LVT. In addition, with LVT there are technical difficulties with certain looks that are available in ceramic tile. This remains an opportunity for the LVT market, but at the same time it seems ceramic tile has a large head start in these looks.”

Emser’s Daniel focused on the upside—the belief that ceramic tile has not been as heavily impacted as other flooring categories by LVT’s growth. “Based on our view that the tile category continued to grow year over year, the market share pressure was likely hardest felt in soft flooring and wood categories.”

Another challenge the category continues to struggle with is the shortage of qualified installers. “This problem continued to be present in 2018,” Shah said. “This definitely accelerated the push toward LVT, which has a faster and lower install cost.”

Emser’s Daniel agreed, adding: “It is certainly impacting the cost of the final delivered product to the owner/buyer of both residential and nonresidential builds. There are issues with delays due to labor, but most issues appear to be pressures on the installation cost side due to competition for qualified labor. Innovation in products that require less labor to install will help offset labor time and cost.”

Looking ahead
While the ceramic tile market slowed its growth in 2018, sup- pliers are hopeful about the category’s potential for the remainder of this year and into 2020. “Innovation will continue to be the key to growth in the future,” Dal-Tile’s Mattioli said. “Advancements in decoration technology and impressive sizes such as 5 x 10-foot porcelain slabs are examples of how tile has been an innovation leader in the flooring industry.”

Pre-recession numbers remain on the minds of industry observers. For the category to return to its heyday, some believe both commercial and residential construction will have to continue on the path of stable growth. “Despite the long post-recession recovery, many would argue we are still falling 10%-15% short of the annual residential starts number to support population and demographics,” Daniel noted. “Affordability aside, that supply shortage would aid to the growth in the category when realized.”

Overall, ceramic tile has its inherent qualities that keep end users—both big and small—coming back for more. MSI’s Shah noted that ceramic tile continues to be the flooring option that has the highest longevity, least maintenance and most décor options.

“As an industry we can continue to see growth in ceramic by making it affordable and accessible,” he explained. “This specifically means making sure there is inherent value in all of the positive aspects ceramic tile has to offer while bringing more innovative aesthetics and performance that consumers are looking. At the same time, we have to take into account the relative value and competing products.”

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Laminate: Segment feels heat from hard surface counterparts

June 24/July 1, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 1

By Reginald Tucker

 

Fierce competition from alternative hard surface categories—combined with a diminished number of laminate displays in many independent specialty retail showrooms across the country—kept the category’s growth in check for much of 2018.

FCNews research shows laminate flooring sales dipped to just over $1.103 billion last year, a 1.7% decrease from 2017. It also represents the second consecutive year of sales declines in the category.

Likewise, volume took a hit as square footage sold fell to roughly 1.012 billion square feet, a 2.1% decrease over the prior year on top of a 1.9% decrease in volume sold in 2017.

To put things in greater perspective, laminates’ part of the overall flooring market fell to roughly 4.8%, down from 5.1% of total industry dollars in 2017. With respect to volume, the category represented approximately 5.1% of total square footage sold, down slightly from 5.3% in 2017. Going back 10 years, laminate represented roughly 5.7% of total industry sales and 4.4% of volume.

The falloff is even more pronounced when measuring laminates’ performance against competing hard surface categories. Last year, for example, the category accounted for about 9.5% of total hard surface sales and 11.2% of hard surface volume sold. That’s down slightly from 10.6% of sales and 11.6% of volume in 2017, respectively. But just five years ago, laminates’ share of total hard surfaces was 15% in dollars and 17% of square footage.

It’s no coincidence that the laminate category has lost the most market share over the past five to 10 years; over that same time span, certain segments of the resilient flooring category have increased share. “Without a doubt the biggest issue facing the laminate category is competition from WPC/LVT/SPC,” said Dan Natkin, vice president of hardwood and laminate, Mannington. “These categories have grown tremendously in the past 10 years and have presented some headwinds for laminate.”

Other laminate flooring manufacturing executives—even those who participate in the competing rigid floor covering segment—agree. “Clearly the biggest pressure on laminates is the competition from rigid core vinyl in all its forms,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO of Inhaus, manufacturer of the Sono ceramin-based line as well as company-branded laminate flooring. “As the industry statistics clearly show, these resilient products are continuing to claim market share against all categories and, in particular, laminate flooring.”

As more retailers participate in the explosive rigid core sector, they are devoting more of their floor space to these products and less to others, namely laminate. “During laminates’ heyday between 1996 and 2003-04, the average retailer had five-plus laminate displays on the showroom floor,” said Drew Hash, vice president, hard surface product/category management, Shaw Floors. “Now you’re lucky to see one laminate display on the showroom floor.”

Mannington’s Natkin agreed. “At independent retail, we have seen some choosing to dedicate less space to the laminate category, instead focusing in on two or three key brands they know and trust.”

Not everyone is in agreement that the laminate category has fallen off to the degree that many suggest, however. “We continue to estimate high market share for laminates in North America than what is published,” Inhaus’ Welbourn stated. He puts 2018 volume in the 1.2 billion-square-foot range. “The added features have driven more top-end sales, escalating the average sales price of laminate.”

Other executives such as Travis Bass, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Swiss Krono, a private-label supplier, believes volume was even higher than that in 2018. “We believe the market to be approximately 1.3 billion square feet and in excess of $1.2 billion in sales.”

Changing dynamics

Along with the overall shift in hard surface preferences, there has also been some movement internally within the laminate category as it pertains to how and where the product is being sold, distributed and consumed. For instance, laminates’ share of the commercial sector continues to dwindle (combined Main Street business and specified commercial business account for only 1.1% of sales) while residential replacement and builder applications are holding steady. FCNews research showed a slight uptick in new construction applications (12% of sales) with residential replacement activity—the leading end-use sector for laminates—hovering around 87% of sales.

“Residential remodel is still the strongest market for laminate, but we’re seeing growing acceptance among the builder community,” Mannington’s Natkin said.

In that same vein, industry observers reported greater activity at the home center level as big boxes dedicate more space (and SKUs) to flooring. FCNews research shows that Home Depot and Lowe’s collectively generated roughly $13 billion in total flooring sales in fiscal 2018. With respect to laminate in particular, there has been strong activity among entry-level laminate products in the $0.99 to $2.49-per-square-foot range. For 2018, FCNews research showed the major big-box chains—including Home Depot, Lowe’s and Menard’s—grew their collective share of laminate flooring sales to 51% of the market, as the specialty retail segment’s share dipped slightly to roughly 28%. The industry also saw other mass merchants—including the likes of warehouse clubs and Lumber Liquidators—increase their respective shares of the market.

The good news for specialty retailers is the kinds of laminate products in which they choose to specialize generally represent higher-margin opportunities. “We’re seeing more activity with the 12mm laminate products at specialty retail vs. the less expensive 8mm products you generally find at the home centers,” Shaw’s Hash explained. “Not only do the thicker products translate into bigger profits for our retail partners, but they also mean better-performing products for the consumer.”

Domestic vs. imports
The high volume of entry-level laminate flooring products moving through the home center channel—combined with fewer brands being represented at the specialty retail level—has impacted the supply chain dynamics in recent years. As stateside suppliers look to remain profitable in a market segment where the basic wholesale price of the product hasn’t budged much, there has been an increasing reliance on private-label manufacturers located in the U.S. Companies like Clarion and Swiss Krono, for example, have invested millions in their stateside operations to meet demand for what they view as a steady home center business. At the same time, they continue to make higher-end goods for some major American suppliers.

Nonetheless, the U.S. market is still attractive for laminate manufacturers based in Europe, China and, to a lesser extent, Canada. While imports have fallen off somewhat over the past two to three years, inbound shipments still represent a respectable portion of laminate flooring products making their way to U.S. shores.

A cursory view of statistics provided by the European Producers of Laminate Flooring (EPLF) bears this out. Last year, manufacturing members of the EPLF (including Classen, Alsapan, Berry Alloc, Egger, Haro, Faus, Kaindl, Balterio, Swiss Krono and Krono Flooring, among others) achieved worldwide sales of European-produced laminate flooring totaling 4.9 billion square feet, down 4.6% compared to 2017. This indicates that even with a downward trend in some regions, the global laminate market remains at a high level.

North America in particular continues to be a profitable sales region for the European laminate flooring sector, although weaker figures from Canada have mitigated those results. At 476 million square feet, total sales for North America in 2018 are off about 10.4% against the previous year. With around 330 million square feet sold in 2018, the U.S. market exhibited a slight reduction of 2.4%, while Canada recorded just under 146.3 million square feet for 2018, representing a drop of 24.5%.

By comparison, in Western Europe, the “home market” of the EPLF, sales declined further in 2018. Last year total member sales to the region reached 2.42 billion square feet, down 7.3% compared to the previous year. Meanwhile, EPLF sales to Latin America and Asia once again recorded the biggest increases. EPLF sales to Latin America grew 4.7% to approximately 200 million square feet in 2018 with Chile, the largest individual market, rising 5% compared to the previous year. Mexico recorded 42 million square feet, down from 46.3 million square feet in 2017, while Colombia registered 22.6 million square feet, up from 17.2 million square feet the year prior.

In Asia, EPLF producers achieved total sales of around 323 million square feet, up 2.8% over the previous year.

Silver linings
While the laminate flooring segment faces ongoing challenges from external forces and internal dynamics alike, suppliers continue to invest in the category. Mohawk Industries, for one, is looking to continue ushering the category into the next stage of its evolution via both its RevWood and Quick-Step NatureTEK offerings—products that tout enhanced durability as well as resistance to water incursion.

“We have a pretty good base here in the United States for production of RevWood products,” said Jeff Juzaitis, vice president, product management, Mohawk. “We have a breadth of design styles that satisfy almost every design whim. So that’s our focus—keeping the features at the forefront of the market and making sure we have price points across the entire range. We have the best partners out there in the marketplace to convey the story of RevWood to our end consumer who’s going to put it on the floor.”

It’s specifically the “waterproof” segment within the laminate flooring category that Mohawk sees the greatest potential. “In a world where everybody is being bombarded by rigid LVT, it’s really refreshing to have a different product category to talk about,” said Paul Murfin, senior vice president of distribution at Mohawk. “I would argue that this category of flooring is actually the fastest growing category in the industry today, growing faster than SPC or WPC. We are potentially looking at high-double or potentially triple-digit growth for this type of product.”

Quick-Step distributors like Owings Mills, Md.-based Elias Wilf tend to agree. “The laminate category has taken a pretty good hit over the past few years; WPC and rigid core floors certainly haven’t helped that,” said Jeff Striegel, president. “But the relaunch of Quick-Step in the form of NatureTEK just goes to demonstrate that if you keep a product current, fashionable and in line with the attributes that consumers are actually interested in and looking for, it still has a meaningful place on the floor both in the retail space and at the builder level.”

For companies like Shaw Floors, the greatest opportunity lies in step-up products. “Sales of our better-end, moisture-resistant products—which we classify as Repel—are doing very well in the market,” Hash explained. “Where we have had more challenges within the laminate category, quite frankly, is on the entry-level side where there’s more pressure from inexpensive 7mm-8mm products vs. the higher quality 12mm option, which accounts for a much smaller piece of the pie.”

The goal, according to suppliers like Shaw Floors, is to put more “distance” between the types of laminate products primarily sold at home centers and mass merchants vs. the more differentiated, higher-margin goods predominantly peddled by independent specialty retailers. “At Shaw we have launched 72-inch laminate boards, which have come a long way compared to a time when everything was 48-inch, fixed lengths,” Hash stated. “Also, with laminates today, the depth of the embossing is much better and the visuals are much stronger than they were in the past. When you take into account the apparent value of the products along with the visuals and the water-resistance story tacked on—it’s still a great value for the product.”

Swiss Krono’s Bass agreed, citing the vast improvements made in recent years. “With the product evolution into moisture resistance, laminate has solidified its place in the overall floor covering market. Moisture-resistant laminate gives the consumer a desired wood product with a wonderful environmental story and a great product with the best features and benefits of all floor covering choices.”