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Armstrong Flooring names 2017 Elite Retailers of the Year

Lancaster, Pa.—Armstrong Flooring has named three companies 2017 Elite Retailers of the Year. Dalton Wholesale Floors was awarded Gold; Airbase Carpet & Tile Mart received Silver; and Flooring America-Fairfax earned Bronze. Mercer Carpet One Floor & Home and Carpets Unlimited received honorable mentions. The award is based on a variety of factors, including sales, lead conversion rates, overall program support, showroom quality and website excellence.

“We are delighted to recognize and thank the best of the best for their continuing excellence as Armstrong Flooring Elite Retailers,” said Chris King, vice president of residential national accounts, residential distribution, Armstrong Flooring. "We are grateful to work alongside a great team of retailers who exemplify the values of Armstrong Flooring and help us to be seen as the world's best and most trusted flooring company.”

The 2017 Gold Elite Retailer of the Year, Dalton Wholesale Floors, has been a proud Elite Retailer since 2015. Barry McEntire and Todd Stephens started Dalton Wholesale Floors in 2004 with only a handful of employees. Through the hard work and dedication of employees, it has now grown to five retail locations with over 70 employees.

Silver winners AirBase Carpet and Tile Mart’s 12 superstore locations serve Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, South Jersey and South Carolina. Carpet & Tile Mart is a third-generation, family-owned and operated business. They carry a wide variety of flooring options for the home, available to pick up in stores, shipped anywhere in the USA or installed next day by professional installers.

Bronze Elite Retailer of the Year, Flooring America-Fairfax, takes pride in its experience and staying power. Flooring America-Fairfax is locally owned and operated by the Menefee family. The flooring business began in 1979, and FA Design Build was launched in 2004 based on the vision of providing flooring clients with full-service remodeling from inspiration to installation. The showrooms feature a full range of flooring choices—from hardwood, luxury vinyl tile and plank, laminate and tile to carpet, area rugs and runners.

One of two distinguished Honorable Mentions is Carpets Unlimited, a family-owned and operated company established in 1969. Carpets Unlimited is dedicated to customer satisfaction and committed to bringing the highest quality products to its customers’ homes. Known as Owensboro’s premier flooring and furniture store, Carpets Unlimited was founded in 1969, and has grown in many ways over the last four decades.

Honorable Mention Mercer Floor & Home Carpet One is a local, full service floor covering store for excellent service and quality carpeting, hardwood, luxury vinyl tiles, ceramic tiles, custom area rugs and more. As a third-generation family business, Mercer has been servicing the Greater Baltimore region—especially Carroll and Howard Counties—since 1959.

 

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Novalis launches new consumer online promotion

Toronto, Canada—Novalis Innovative Flooring has launched a new promotion inviting consumers to share their new NovaFloor LVT flooring with the world. The NovaFloor Us! promotion encourages new NovaFloor owners to go to NovaFloor.us to register their new floor and then to upload photos of it on the brand’s Facebook page: NovaFloorLVT.

Novalis will select photo entries to share online and reward the best entry each month with a $100 gift card. “People are always proud of their new floors,” said Julie Foster, residential product and marketing manager for Novalis. “NovaFloor Us! gives them a fun and rewarding way to show their beautiful new floors off.”

For more information, visit novafloor.us/novafloorus.

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Lisbiz strategies: Hope for the best, but plan for the worst

February 19/26, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 18

By Lisbeth Calandrino

 

I was traveling through Newark Liberty Airport recently and stopped for a bite to eat. I didn’t have much time in between flights and was definitely feeling rushed. By the way, I was on my way to do a presentation for the Mid-Atlantic Floorcovering Association on how to acquire more outside business. (This story kind of emphasizes this.) While I was eating, I heard the server say the credit card machine was not working and they could only take cash. I knew I didn’t have cash on me. When I was at the Albany Airport the ATM machine wasn’t working so I just got on the plane.

I told the server I didn’t have cash and would have to send it to her. She was very sweet and told me not to worry; she didn’t have an address or any alternatives for me. She also didn’t know where the ATM was.

I told her, “I have to worry about it because if no one pays you, that will be the end of the business and your job, and I don’t want that to happen.” I was obviously more worried about it than she was because she told me again not to worry. I finally stood up in the restaurant and explained the problem to anyone who would listen. I said we should try to figure out how to pay them. If we didn’t, the servers wouldn’t have any tips for the day. People clapped and agreed so I left. I found an ATM, I got my money and went back and paid the bill. The server was very thankful, but the problem was not corrected. I know I could have gotten away without paying but that’s stealing. What bothers me is there was obviously no contingency plan in place. Can you imagine the cost ‘per square foot’ for that restaurant?

When I got back to Albany I went to the UPS store. The staff was talking about how they couldn’t get the password to work in their computer and they couldn’t access emails. The discussion was about whether they should call the owner. There was a conversation as to whether or not the owner was out of bed yet. In the meantime, the customers left disgusted.

There are a couple of important issues in both instances. One, there seems to be a lack of communication between the owners and the employees, and how much authority employees should have. An even bigger issue is employees having an understanding about business and customers in general. Employees should understand they are actually entrepreneurs. Taking care of customers and bringing money into the business are their two main jobs. When they do both well, everyone gets paid and the business flourishes. In both instances, the owners seemed to be lacking in their understanding of business.

Motivating people isn’t easy. They have to feel needed and important if they are to take their job and the business seriously. Helping your employees understand their importance the best way to motivate them. The level of authority and responsibility given to employees varies, but they should at least know what to do in an emergency.

Hamburger University was created to train McDonald’s employees in the art of restaurant management. “Everyone who works there must understand that each of them is running a multimillion-dollar business,” said Rob Lauber, vice president and chief learning officer of McDonald’s Restaurant Solutions Group. “So, we want to make sure they have good business grounding.”

Don’t your employees need the same thing?

 

Lisbeth Calandrino has been promoting retail strategies for the last 20 years. To have her speak at your business or to schedule a consultation, contact her at lcalandrino@nycap.rr.com.

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Flooring America: Times are good, no time to get complacent

February 5/12, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 17

By Ken Ryan

 

Grapevine, Texas—Flooring America’s winter conneXtion, held at the Gaylord Texan Resort, was a celebration of the good times that most members are experiencing. And president Keith Spano’s message to the group: Let the good times roll. “We have to make hay when the sun is shining, and the sun is shining now,” said Spano, who oversees the Flooring America, Flooring Canada, Floor Trader and IDG brands.

Spano told FCNews that 49% of members were up 10% in 2017, while 27% were up 20%. That means 24% had gains in the single digits and lower. “If you are not experiencing the success your peers are, we are here to help,” Spano said. “In fact, we have members who came up to us and mentioned that a couple of members were struggling, and they were like, ‘We want to help them.’ That’s the great thing here; everyone’s on the same team. It is all about unity and staying together.”

Rick Bennet, co-CEO of CCA Global Partners, echoed Spano’s sentiment that the economy is in a good place and 2018 is the time to invest. “If you are not having fun right now you may want to think of something else to do because business is good.”

Flooring America/Flooring Canada retails have aggressively ridden the wave of momentum the LVT category has created. As Cathey Gundlach, vice president of merchandising explained, “Our hard surface to soft mix is higher than CCA and the industry. Very early on our members embraced LVT.” As an example, Flooring America retailers have 66 exclusive SKUs of COREtec, USFloors’ highly acclaimed WPC product. Shaw Floors, another major LVT/WPC member, introduced Galvanite to members at the show. This solid core product features a 9.5mm core and 30 mil wear layer; it is offered in plank sizes of 9 x 72 and 18 x 36.  It will be available to CCA members in April.

However, the biggest vendor news was from soft surface company Engineered Floors, which has joined the co-op. “This is a huge boon for us,” Spano said.

New initiatives
For the first time in several years Flooring America did not unveil any new marketing programs at this convention. This was by design as members absorbed a bevy of new programs. “We decided let’s take inventory of everything that is available to us,” Spano said. “We tried to simplify this convention and not overwhelm members.”

The group did announce a new online visual aid, My Design Finder, which is heralded as a way to connect with consumers searching for floors. According to Frank Chiera, senior vice president, marketing & advertising, “My Design Finder is a visual way that allows a consumer to select her design style based on a project need, with Pinterest-like room scene photography which then identifies her persona based on that preference.”

Flooring America has hired a new advertising agency, Comm Creative, which was selected over six other candidates, including the previous agency that had served FA/FC for the past 18 years. “We are asking our members to change, so we have to lead by example,” Chiera said. Beginning in April Boston-based Comm Creative will launch an all-new creative featuring more customization and personalization to customers’ stores. Intricate details such as the size of a store’s windows and ceiling heights will be factored into the creation of signage for a store. “This is going to be huge for us,” said Bobby Meredith, owner of Flooring America OKC, who sits on the advisory council and was briefed on this move. “Comm Creative is very proactive and that lends itself to our group which is ahead of the curve in digital and social media.”

Chiera noted that Comm Creative “is an agency that clearly thinks with its heart. We realized they understood not only how to tap into the mind of our core customer but also that they would be an incredible strategic partner for us.”

Personalization counts

To stay relevant in a shrinking brick-and-mortar retail world, flooring dealers are often urged to deliver more personalization in their customer interactions. That message rang loud and clear at conneXtion with several executives imploring retailers to treat their customers with more tender loving care, Referencing the spate of retail store closings in 2017, co-CEO and co-founder Howard Brodsky told dealers they should treat customers the way hotels welcome guests.

“It’s about personalization, intimacy, one on one,” he said. “Consumers want to be talked to as individuals, not as a mass. And that person is willing to spend more money.”

Spano closed the convention with an important message to the members in attedance: “When you go home don’t get comfortable. Do something different. Make a change. Control your own destiny—or someone else will.”

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Financial: How changes in tax law will affect dealers

February 5/12, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 17

By Bart Basi

 

(Second of two parts)

In my previous column, I broached the subject of the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—also referred to as the Tax Reform Bill—and what the changes mean for small businesses and retailers in the floor covering space. In this installment, I will delve deeper into the benefits of the law relative to how a business is structured.

One of the biggest changes in the law relate to Subchapter S corporations. (Most of my clients in the flooring space are Subchapter S.) If a business is registered as a Subchapter S corporation or a partnership 20% of an income calculation (not 20% of profits) is not subject to tax.

What that means is, if a large company is a Subchapter S corporation, then its taxes essentially decrease from 35% to approximately 29.7%. (Note: This is the maximum rate—it could actually be lower than 29% but it will never be less than 21%.) It’s still higher than a C corporation (21%), but it does help small businesses that are Subchapter S corporations or partnerships that want to stay as they are.

But what happens if you’re not classified as a Subchapter S corporation or partnership? For example, take limited liability corporations, or LLCs, which, are still very popular with people mainly because there is no tax rate applicable in the U.S. for LLCs. Accountants who advise business owners who operate under this structure ask that owners make a choice between paying taxes as an individual proprietor of a Schedule C, a Subchapter S, partnership or C corporation. In other words, the federal government states that if you are an LLC, the accountant is supposed to check a box that essentially says, ‘We are a limited liability company but we’re going to pay taxes as…” At which point the owner of the business files the appropriate tax return. Remember: There’s no such thing as a tax return for an LLC.

But it’s important that small businesses operating as an LLC remember they cannot use anything other than the letters “LLC” when referring to their company. Also, the letters LLC must appear on every single document in order to enjoy the protection it affords. The law states that if you operate as an LLC, then you must notify every single person you deal with—right down to the stationery, business cards, invoices and even truck signage you use. Otherwise, a third party can sue you personally because you haven’t shown that person—as a customer—that you’re an LLC. Note: A lot of people in the flooring business use a “dba” (or doing business as) designation. Warning: LLCs cannot use dbas; they will lose the legal protection of the LLC if they use the dba. Many flooring retailers who operate under this classification are not aware of the rule.

It’s also important to note some of the laws regarding LLCs are changing; specifically, a proprietor of an LLC can longer have an individual listed as an owner. There must be two people on file as owning the company, or else the government will claim it’s a de facto company and therefore defaults the company to a Schedule C on the tax return. This means everything will be taxed, including social security.

LLCs are good as long as people understand three things: 1) make sure the accountant knows which tax return you intend to file, i.e., “check the box”; 2) do not use a dba; and 3) make sure the state in which you are incorporated allows one person to own an LLC and still be a legitimate company.

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Credit: The importance of offering financing to consumers

February 5/12, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 17

By Rose Burke

 

When consumers shop for big-ticket items such as new flooring, they are likely to use some kind of credit to make the purchase. What’s more, some credit experts believe people are far more compelled to commit to bigger purchases when they can see their payments broken down into monthly installments instead of seeing the total amount. For example, a $7,000 purchase might not be affordable for most people, but a $400 monthly payment can appear more manageable.

While it is important for retailers to consider offering credit terms to their consumers, it is also crucial they’re offering attractive financing that will actually bring people into their store. What makes credit terms attractive differs from dealer to dealer, industry members say.

“Our financing programs are available on all purchases in the showroom, not limited to just one display or manufacturer,” explained Keith Spano, president of Flooring America. “This gives our retail sales professional the ability to move a customer up and down through the trade-up process without fear of losing the favorable payment terms.”

Other retailers are providing their customers with several credit options in order to make them more attractive.

Ari Ziskin describes the credit terms at Mesa, Ariz.-based Flooring Inc., as transparent, saying, “Our goal is always to make the purchase process as easy and stress-free as possible. One way we do this is by offering several financing options. As a company offering high-value items, we believe this is incredibly important to both the customer experience and continued sales growth.”

When customers walk into a jewelry store or car dealership, they’re often provided with credit terms that lead them toward making a purchase, and flooring retailers should be no different. “Offering credit lets our customers know they can get the flooring they want on good terms, which opens the door to other parts of our business,” said Bob Pireu, president of Bob & Pete’s Floors, Canton, Ohio. “Customers know they are getting a competitive price, plus they can be comfortable with the quality of our services and installation.”

Other retailers have also learned to leverage consumer financing to their advantage. “We have always been a huge proponent of consumer credit financing and the benefits that come along with that,” said Eric Langan, president and owner, Carpetland USA (Langan Group), Davenport, Iowa. “This includes larger average tickets, reduced accounts receivables and differentiation among competitors.”

In addition to being a proven sales tool, credit is something customers have come to expect and is almost no longer an option, Spano said. “Retailers need to look at financing costs as a marketing cost and a cost of doing business in a competitive retail landscape.”

As a recognized sales technique, retailers who have trained their sales staff on the appeal of their credit terms have seen a significant increase in sales. “We’ve spent considerable time training our members and retail sales professionals to discuss financing early and often in the sales process.” Spano said. “Through our training and aggressive buy-downs for our members, we’ve seen our financed sales grow to three times that of the industry while also seeing our average ticket grow almost three times our average credit card sale.”

The most common credit terms offered by flooring retailers is 12-month financing. This breaks down payments into a few hundred dollars a month, but still, retailers hope to see more attractive credit terms for their customers in the future.

“Can you imagine advertising putting hardwood in your whole house for $149 a month?” said Adam Pace, CFO at Metro Floors Inc., Lancaster, Calif. “This would be possible if we had 48- or 60-month financing. It would be a huge boom for the industry. We can offer 36-month financing as it is now, but the cost to the dealer makes it a no-go. The manufacturers need to set-up their own credit unions, especially those that are multi-billion dollar companies.”

Synchrony Bank is a popular option for retailers seeking to offer appealing credit terms to their customers; they offer over 100 different kinds of credit cards and work with dozens of major retailers. With a specialty program specifically designed for flooring retailers, Synchrony  can offer solutions that other banks cannot.

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Surfaces Ceramic Coverage: Tiles go bigger, colors stay neutral

February 5/12, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 17

By Nicole Murray

 

One thing still seems to be true regarding the tile trends at this year’s Surfaces: the bigger the better. Large slabs with infinite design possibilities due to printing technologies were seen all over the showroom floor in varied thicknesses. These new slabs are available for floor, wall or countertop applications.

Roy Viana, Dal-Tile’s director of slab and natural stone tile, raved about Daltile’s Panoramic porcelain series. The series’ larger tile formats, which include a 10 x 6-foot tile, provide a cleaner, monolithic look. Industrial Panoramic comes in four colors, while Elemental Panoramic is available in seven colors that mainly revolve around shades of white with marble imitations. Tiles for both of these collections are available in varied thicknesses including 12mm, suitable for countertop applications, and 6mm, ideal for floor and wall applications.

“We had to go bigger because peoples’ kitchen islands are growing larger and their surrounding counters have larger wrap-arounds,” Viana explained. “Within this collection alone there are various color and texture options for just about any look to be achievable along with the durable and long-lasting benefits of porcelain.”

Some of Daltile’s other offerings include Emerson Wood, a wood-look tile with subtle wire-brushed effects in 6 x 48, 8 x 48 and 12 x 48 formats. The large format tiles also feature Daltile’s innovative StepWise technology for improved slip resistance. RetroSpace is a translucent-glazed wall tile that reflects light in spaces and can be mixed with other tiles designs. There is also Chord, a cement-look offering available in a floor tile, 12 x 24 decorative accent and 3-inch triangle mosaic.

Also from the Dal-Tile family of brands, Marazzi is launching D_Segni this spring, which offers a classic reinterpretation of traditional handmade cement tiles. The product will be available in an assortment of colors and decorative accent tiles that can be used individually or mixed together. D_Segni is available in an 8 x 8 floor and deco tiles. Hawthorne is one of Marazzi’s new wall tiles available in an 8 x 24 large format as well as 10 x 14 and 4 x 12 versions. Colors include monochromatic shades of white, taupe and gray in two types of construction: smooth flat surface or beveled edge. Arenella, another introduction, presents the illusion of marble with soft natural tones. It is available in a variety of sizes for floor and wall applications as well as a 2 x 2 mosiac dot-mounted on a 12 x 12 sheet.

American Olean, another Dal-Tile brand, highlighted three of its new spring collections. Union offers an authentic interpretation of time-worn, weathered concrete factory floors. Designed with StepWise technology, Union touts improved slip resistance. Windmere provides smooth concrete and weathered stone looks in a monochromatic color palette. The collection features a full assortment of floor and wall sizes including a mosaic and jolly trim. American Olean’s third collection, Visual Impressions, offers a contemporary and fashionable wall tile in neutral colors and 3D patterns.

Other manufacturers are also taking advantage of the latest printing technologies. For example, Del Conca showcased its Boutique collection—a marble-inspired porcelain series available in four colors. The collection was also just released in 48 x 48 panels.

“The bigger face is so much easier to sell and offers a rustic charm with the dark brown and taupe options,” said Kendall Litton, marketing specialist, Del Conca. “There are visible veins where one could truly be fooled into thinking this is a marble product.”

Among Emser Tile’s product debuts was its Porch collection, a porcelain plank printed in wood patterns with color variations in each individual piece. The collection comes in four colors, but the plank’s “cutting-edge” attribute is its wide range—6 x 47, 8 x 47 and 12 x 47—a variety that allows for staggering patterns when various widths are used side by side.

“The [ability to] mix and match the widths along with the color variation allows for experimentation with light and dark colors as well as patterns and shapes all in one material,” said Barbara Haaksma, vice president of marketing, Emser Tile. “You have the option to use only one size panel for a more uniform look, but that would not be taking advantage of all this collection has to offer.”

The manufacturer’s other offering, Façade, is a cement-themed collection that is combined with a plaster effect to give the tile a much softer, more pleasant feeling. This collection, which can be used for interior and exterior applications, is available in four colors in two panel sizes: 12 x 24 and 18 x 36. As Christine Wu, product development manager for Emser Tile, explained, “We are building on the concrete trend but offering a more welcoming texture, which is something you don’t see very often on the market these days. These colors are so understandable and very diversified.”

Lindsey Waldrep, vice president of marketing, Crossville, said the manufacturer’s new porcelain stone tile collection, Java Joint, exemplifies the continuous need for fresh designs that play with the basic neutrals. Java Joint is available in 12 x 24, 2 x 2 mosaic and is offered in five different colors. “The colors of this collection are all warm and comforting—similar to the feeling of a coffee shop,” Waldrep explained. “These colors give you flexibility but have just enough edge so your final design looks new and fresh.”

On the topic of flexibility, Dal-Tile’s Viana added that white continues to be one of the best-selling colors within the tile industry because of its ability to balance with the other patterns or designs. “White will always be a best seller,” he said. “Now consumers can have an easily maintainable product that offers a clean and chic look but will complement these bold and more accent-like designs for a nice, easy balance.”

 

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Surfaces Resilient Coverage: Innovations aim to add simplicity to the buying and selling process

February 5/12, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 17

By Lindsay Baillie

 

There’s a common thread among the plethora of new resilient flooring products introduced at Surfaces: They all aim to make it easier for retailers to sell and consumers to understand.

A majority of the manufacturers at the event noted that the resilient market is saturated with products—a phenomenon that can cause confusion for distributors, retailers and consumers alike. To address this issue, manufacturers are providing retailers and distributors with updated styles and newer product constructions in conjunction with greater education, explicit branding and unique product stories.

Education and innovation was a focal point of Karndean Designflooring’s 2018 introductions, which entailed new SKUs across three formats: glue down, loose lay and rigid core. The ultimate goal, the company said, is to encourage retailers to rethink flooring. “We’re trying to get retailers to see flooring differently, design flooring differently and specify flooring differently so that they have a way of making more margin and really beating out the competition,” said Emil Mellow, director of public relations.

Part of rethinking flooring involves a complete understanding of how Karndean’s products work together to create designflooring. “With our new SKUs, we’re trying to push design differently,” Mellow explained. “For example, with Korlok, we tell retailers you can blend SKUs.”

Mohawk’s new sheet vinyl lineup is bringing awareness to a product category that has consistently been losing market share to LVT, WPC and SPC. According to Angela Duke, senior brand manager, Mohawk, the company still sees a market for sheet vinyl and so should retailers. “This is one of the most durable floors. It is one of our highest margin products because of its lower price.”

Mohawk’s new sheet vinyl features a new technology called ClearGuard, which aims to show consumers how easy it is to clean the product. Duke explained dealers should also take advantage of the product’s waterproof qualities. “We’re seeing a lot of push for this product in different areas such as laundry rooms, basements and bathrooms.”

Educating dealers on product features is also a key point for Forbo. The manufacturer’s Marmoleum with click cinch lock is available in a wide array of colors, allowing retailers to offer consumers something out of the ordinary. What’s more, dealers can mix and match the square and plank formats to create unique flooring designs. “What if you could get a click product that is easy to install and with more vibrant colors?” asked Tim Donahue, residential national sales manager. “You’re not going to get these colors in an LVT.”

Forbo has also added FlowTex to its product portfolio. To create the texture of FlowTex the product is “flocked,” a manufacturing process that combines a PVC backing, a layer in between and an adhesive on top, followed by a magnetic charge that activates the product. Once the product is dried, it becomes  impenetrable to water, Donahue said. “FlowTex is a textile version of a resilient and is actually closer to a hard surface than a carpet.”

Fusion, the distribution division of USFloors, is focused on educating its customers on the positives of doing business with the company. “We offer completely different colors and SKUs than USFloors,” said Jim Nielsen, vice president of sales. “We cover all of the bases with this category, and we’ll stay at the very forefront of technology and give our distributors service and compassion.”

The company’s two investments for 2018 are its enhance bevel WPC and SPC. “These are higher end, design-focused products,” Nielsen explained. “They’re very realistic looking compared to what we’ve had in the past. We’ve also attached a pad, which provides more comfort and is sound deadening. Distributors will be able to get more premium price on these products than what is out there.”

Happy Feet also emphasized the importance of educating the retailer on the benefits of partnering with the right manufacturer, going beyond product specs. In addition to the company’s new products such as Blockbuster and Gladiator, Happy Feet boasts competitive pricing, shipping within 24 hours and unmatchable inventory. “We want to help retailers make money,” said CJ Johnson, sales.

What’s in a brand?

Some manufacturers introduced new products at Surfaces that aim to help strengthen brand recognition in consumers and make it easier for dealers to better identify products in a saturated market. Case in point is Armstrong, which is looking to leverage its Diamond 10 technology to create brand awareness with consumers. “We’re pushing our Diamond 10 technology, which is a differentiating factor,  to bring consumers into retailers’ stores,” said Morgan Hafer, product manager for Alterna. “It’s being used in shows on HGTV and throughout social media to [drive] brand awareness.”

EarthWerks is also using its branding to make it easier for retailers to distinguish between different sizes of products. The company showed Noble Classic Plus and Plus XL as well as Parkhill and Plus XXL. Plus XL and Plus XXL represent thicker, longer versions of their respective lines.

“At EarthWerks we say style, availability and service you can trust,” said Lindsey Nisbet, strategic marketing and product development. “Our style is getting better every year; with respect to service, we have some of the best distribution.”

Quick-Step and IVC are also making it easier to identify their resilient products. Quick-Step has updated the products it sells to focus less on the product lines and more on its attributes. The company is now using the term “EnduraTEK” for its resilient products. “We consider resilient as the entry into hard surface,” said Jason Sims, senior brand manager, Mohawk Industries. “All of our flexible product is called EnduraTEK. As you trade up, the rigid offerings are called EnduraTEK Ultra.”

Quick-Step is doing its best to provide distributors with better and best offerings within the resilient category. “What we’re featuring this year is the ability for them to trade up within the category from flexible to rigid,” Sims said. “We are also offering for the first time flexible LVT tile that has a hidden grout line. You can mix them and it quickly installs. These are all available on one display as well.”

IVC is updating its brand to reflect the resilient category. The company showed its new Artera and Millright lines, both sheet vinyl, as well as Urbanne, its new flexible tiles. Sims explained that the word “resilient” not only describes the category, but also highlights what the segment can ultimately provide consumers. “We have positioned our brand as uncompromised design for life. We bring a different design element to everything we do.”

While some companies are promoting various product names to drive brand recognition, others are looking to better leverage their own corporate identities. DuChâteau, primarily known for its innovations in hardwood for flooring and wall applications, has expanded its reach to include luxury vinyl plank products. “We conducted extensive research with designers, architects, contractors and homeowners to see where they wanted to go with more luxurious and distinctive flooring designs,” said Misael Tagle, CEO and co-founder of DuChâteau. “The craftsmanship and fashion-forward designs of our new collections meet their needs.”

The manufacturer’s new Atelier Series’ Sovereign edition features the sought-after signature aesthetic of European-style exclusive designs in a glue-down vinyl plank. Then there’s the Vinyl Deluxe Grand collection with LuxCor technology, followed by the Vinyl Deluxe Classic collection. Rounding out the offering is the American Guild collection, which features classic colors and a contemporary American design aesthetic with the realistic look and feel of wood and stone.

Congoleum is looking to take branding a step further with the creation of CLEO Home—a separate, standalone brand that features healthy and environmentally conscious flooring. According to Kurt Denman, chief marketing officer and executive vice president of sales, CLEO Home is intended to help consumers who might be struggling with design confidence.

“We wanted to create something from a designer standpoint that really appealed to the consumer. We have great brand recognition with Congoleum, with our legacy products. This new foray into the marketplace is a great way to connect with the next generation.”

CLEO breaks down into three different layers. The base is 85% limestone and the other 15% is a binder that is not made with PVC. The top layer is digital imaging with a high-performance coating. “When you get rid of PVC you get rid of plasticizers, phthalates and all the things that are perceived as negative words in the industry,” Denman explained. (Incidentally, Congoleum was honored for a Best of Surfaces award in sustainability for CLEO Home.) “This product is 100% manufactured in the U.S., so we’re not relying on print films shipped from China.”

A compelling story
Manufacturers are not only developing unique product stories to help differentiate offerings, they are ultimately providing retailers with product education and strong brands. Mohawk, for example, has updated its campaign for SolidTech to play up the product’s resistance to hurricanes. As Duke explained: “We have a good story from a builder in Dallas who put SolidTech in one of his model homes; after the hurricane hit the dealer was able to salvage the floor in the model home, clean it up and reinstall it without any problems.”

Armstrong has developed its own story for its Alterna plank product—an engineered tile now available in a 6 x 36 plank format. “We call it Alterna because it is an alternative to ceramic and tile,” Hafer explained. “The story behind engineered tile is its more durable and comfortable to live on and easier to install than real tile. Alterna plank also features our Diamond 10 technology.”

Product story is also key to Beauflor’s new introductions, Blacktex and Boardwalk. The former is a roll product that can also be merchandised with boards and marketed as either a sheet vinyl or LVT product. The textile backing provides users with some of the benefits and features of LVT. Meanwhile, Boardwalk is a rigid click, loose-lay product with an attached pad.

“Our Blacktex sheet product is really the original waterproof product,” said Johnny Barnes, general manager. “If you look at the top layer, you can achieve some of the visuals with this line that you can’t necessarily achieve with the WPC products.”

Boardwalk, initially available in 14 SKUs, is equally rich in terms of aesthetics. “We have several dimensions and three SKUs that are random width,” said Nick Brown, vice president of sales North America. “There are all these different products within the collection, but they’re all at the same price point.”

Raskin Industries’ Ceramix, the company’s built-in-grout, loose-lay LVT, has its own story—one built on ease of installation. According to the manufacturer, the offering allows retailers to sell a grouted tile look without the headache of a typical tile installation. What’s more, Ceramix, which made its official debut at Surfaces 2017, earned a Best of Surfaces award for innovation at this year’s event.

Michael Raskin, founder and president, said the realistic look of the grout is a difference maker. “You can’t tell it is not ceramic, and with labor as a big issue in the market—the labor is sometimes two to three times more than the product—this can be put in with a perimeter install. It’s also warmer, slip resistant and doesn’t shatter.”

Novalis continues to push its environmentally friendly products with the development of Serenbe, a SPC product boasting high-density core technology, NovaShield coating and an attached pad. “Serenbe is ultra-realistic,” said Steven Erlich, vice president of sales and marketing. “There are ceramic planks and herringbone patterns to name a few. In addition, all of our products are pressed with a rolled edge, or groutable edge.”

Nox U.S. highlighted its new Genesis technology at Surfaces. The new line, the company said, creates a bridge between WPC and SPC products. ““WPC is growing for everyone but there are challenges with indentation and brittleness,” said Eric Erickson, senior vice president sales and marketing North America. “Also, everyone is chasing SPC but it’s really heavy and stiff. What we’ve been able to do is develop new technology in our core so that it is a little less dense and as you move up layers it becomes denser like a rigid product. This is an 8mm product and it feels the same weight of WPC but has the performance of rigid.”

Mills flood the arena
Engineered Floors, previously a carpet-only company, officially debuted Revotec, a high-density, rigid-core floating floor featuring tile visuals with a realistic grout line embedded; and Triumph, a click floating floor that employs high-density core technology for improved dimensional stability and better indentation resistance. “Our plan is to be a player in this segment,” said Brandon Kersey, brand manager for Main Street commercial and hard surface. “We are transitioning to the new version of rigid core, and we think Revotec can take us to another level.”

The acquisition of Beaulieu’s assets helped EF enter hard surfaces since the former company was already in the WPC space. Ana Torrence, product manager, hard surfaces for EF, said Revotec looks like real grouted tile. She cited other advantages: “It’s a really fast install. It is a better alternative than stone or ceramic in terms of installation time.”

A year after entering the LVT category, Phenix Flooring is doubling its assortment of PetProtect LVT, rigid core, click and loose lay offerings. In 2018, Phenix will market two display fixtures that blend hard and soft surfaces. The fixtures were consolidated into smaller footprints to provide design flexibility and allow every SKU to be merchandised differently. “We’re a year into hard surfaces, and I can tell you we are committed to it,” said Mark Clayton, president and CEO.

Marquis Industries made its mark 10 years ago as a mid-sized mill that ventured into LVT.  The company did not enter the category for the sake of it; its executives traveled the globe extensively to source the right raw materials and ensure quality control was followed along the way. “When you spend half a million bucks on an opening order you better be right,” said Larry Heckman, CEO. “If you don’t anticipate it correctly, you can be out of stock three to four months and you never get caught up. We took it seriously.”

Marquis’ 2018 offerings include two 5-foot-long x 9-inch wide rigid core lines—Whispering Pines and Biltmore Classic—with a 20-mil wear layer. The Dalton-based company opened a new building in Georgia devoted entirely to hard surfaces. It also has an existing West Coast distribution center to service customers. The mill still maintains a two-thirds to one-thirds split in favor of carpet.

The Dixie Group began as a yarn company that transitioned into a carpet manufacturer that is transforming into an all-surface supplier—all the while doing it in a way that best represents the Dixie, Masland and Fabrica brands. In 2017, Dixie was one of two companies (Phenix was the other) licensed to sell Stainmaster PetProtect LVT products. The launch exceeded expectations and now Dixie and Masland are coming out with eight new styles each for high performance core, including wood planks with a painted beveled edge.

“A lot of our good customers were moving with the market into hard surface categories like luxury vinyl and we felt like we had an opportunity to enter that market and could be relevant,” said T.M. Nuckols, president of the residential division, the Dixie Group. “We tried to take the right approach from a distribution standpoint to create a profit opportunity for our partners.”

Southwind is another traditional carpet company that made the leap when LVT got hot. The company unveiled Authentic Tile, an SPC core product that has the feel of ceramic tile along with the heft (each 8-piece carton weighs 40 lbs). “It has been very well received at the show,” said Tim Gilmore, Southeast regional vice president. “Several big dealers are taking it on.”

Wellmade Flooring is pushing its Opti-Wood Flooring line with Hydri-HDPC technology and the PowerShield moisture protection system, which company officials say is the difference maker. Wellmade showed 16 SKUs in poplar, eucalyptus, hickory, oak and bamboo. Steve Wagner, director of sales and marketing, does not believe the LVT/WPC/ SPC market is saturated just yet. “I think there is a home for everybody who can come to market with different formulas.”

 

COREtec Stone: The next big thing?

By Ken Ryan

Piet Dossche knows a winner when he creates one. Five years ago, despite serious doubts from some well-respected retail executives, the USFloors’ founder and president launched COREtec and predicted success. He got it—in spades, helping to launch a category that has surpassed $1 billion in sales.

“People said it wasn’t going to work,” he recalled of COREtec. “I was saying, ‘Good, keep thinking like that.’” COREtec was a runaway hit and helped launch the breakout success of the LVT sub-segment.

Dossche has similar expectations for COREtec Stone, which the company showed at Surfaces 2018 as an alternative to ceramic and porcelain tile. The product—a composite/SPC engineered tile—is expected to be ready for market in the second half of 2018. “This is going to be huge,” Dossche said. “It is going to bring solutions to the ceramic tile category.”

Ceramic tile is a growing business, but it has issues. For starters, ceramic tile is heavy and may not be appropriate for certain installations; it is cold and can crack or break easily; it is a time-consuming installation process, and it is also an expensive installation with special tools needed, critics say. Sometimes the cost of the installation is more than the materials. It is also messy and expensive to remove ceramic or porcelain tile.

Enter COREtec Stone, which is lighter, warmer, cheaper and easier to install with no grout needed, easier to remove and more comfortable to walk on because of its attached cork backing. Plus, it doesn’t break.

Dossche, who believes this segment could grow to be a $500 million business in a few years, is optimistic. “If you bring to market a good-looking product that solves issues you have a winner. Composite weatherproof flooring will be the high double-digit growth engine in hard surfaces for the next five years.”

 

 

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Surfaces Wood Coverage: New finishes, formats steal the show in Vegas

February 5/12, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 17

By Reginald Tucker

 

Hardwood flooring suppliers across the industry are combining creativity and technology as they seek to develop the next generation of products that will compete against the likes of WPC, LVT and rigid core floors.

Case in point is the staining technology employed by Hearthwood in the manufacture of its Controlled Chaos and Dynamic Earth lines. Designed to mimic a process known as reactive staining—whereby chemicals are used to manipulate the visual appearance of a hardwood floor—the technology Hearthwood employs is able to produce more consistent results. As Allie Finkell, executive vice president, explains: “Some of the chemical reactive staining processes are really hard to control, making it difficult to be consistent across production over time and from run to run. But we’ve been able to recreate the highlights of those chemicals utilizing a regular water-based UV-cured stain, which is done in our Tennessee plant with low-emitting finishes.”

Controlled Chaos features a light wirebrushed finish on white oak for a more contemporary look in a 7-inch-wide x 8-foot-long format in colors ranging from, in Finkell’s words, “shocking to subtle.” Meanwhile, Dynamic Earth, which is also in a sliced white oak product, has more of a reclaimed, scraped texture. “Our handscraping technique is not the old, machine-scraped process that’s common in the industry,” Finkell explained. “Our process delivers more of that reclaimed barnwood look. This way the customer gets a modern format in long lengths and wide widths, but she can still pick a timeless color so she’s not going to get sick of looking at the color.”

The latest offerings from Provenza also represent a play on color and texture. Several new additions are being added to the Lighthouse Cove line, which is part of the award-winning Colour Nation collection, which took home a Best of Surfaces award in 2017.  “We are bringing in white oak product from Europe in a format and range that appeals to all levels of consumers,” said Ron Sadri, principal owner.

Also new from Provenza is the Dutch Masters collection—a portfolio of unfinished European species that are stained at the company’s facilities in the U.S. “Dutch Masters falls under our custom collection category, which is exclusive to us,” Sadri said. “These products provide better margins for dealers; it’s not going to be in every store and it’s very exclusive.”

Other European-inspired lines come courtesy of The Dixie Group, which showcased its first hardwood line, Fabrica Fine Wood Flooring. The Fabrica collection will feature 70 SKUs—40 for the floor and 30 companion SKUs for wall covering. The line will include French oak, maple and birch—with a style and quality consistent with the Fabrica brand promise, said T.M. Nuckols, president of the residential division of The Dixie Group. Each flooring panel features the letter ‘f’ for branding purposes. “We are sourcing the product both domestically and in Canada and Europe to create the assortment,” Nuckols said.

The Fabrica wood line will be launched initially in the Southeast U.S., and will be priced at the upper end of the market. “We are restricting distribution—not everyone is going to have it,” said Dan Phelan, vice president of marketing, residential division, The Dixie Group. Those that do get the line will primarily be high-design retail flooring stores. “We feel the wood line fits for Fabrica because it is consistent with the high-end quality of Fabrica’s name.”

HF Design is also playing the quality card, but with a twist—making its floors more accessible to mainstream consumers. To that end, the company took the wraps off two new collections: Pacific Point, a 7⁄16, 3⁄8-inch, 6-inch wide product that’s thermotreated and topped with a  urethane finish, and Brentwood Hills, which is a step up 5⁄8 platform, 7 inch wide.

High-end looks at an affordable price was also the inspiration for the latest offerings from USFloors. While its name may be associated with the wildly successful launch of the COREtec brands, USFloors wants retailers to know it is a bona fide player in the hardwood sector as well. To that end, the company is unveiling a total of 56 SKUs across various collections and formats.

“Our biggest launch right now is our Natural Woods line, where we took some of our best-selling products in the Castle Combe oil finished lines an put an acrylic finish on them,” said Jamann Stepp, director of marketing and product management. “You still have that oil finished look without all that gloss in there.”

EarthWerks, historically known for its LVT offerings, is also looking to make some noise in the hardwood arena. The strategy, according to Brenda Cashion, who heads up hardwood product development and marketing, is twofold: Expand EarthWerk’s wood program beyond Texas into other markets around the country, while positioning the Pinnacle brand as an upper-end “designer” offering.

“The EarthWerks hardwood brand has always been in our distribution footprint paired with the LVT teams,” she explained. “Now we are taking a select group of products nationally. We had to reengineer and redevelop those products to give them a broader appeal nationally.”

Whereas EarthWerks wood is being positioned as the “meat and potatoes line,” Cashion said, the Pinnacle offering will be positioned as a high-style designer driven. Standouts include Country Estate, which features a natural, almost unfinished, matte look, and Grand Reserve, which is a hefty 4mm dry-sawn face with a suggested retail price point of $5.99 per square foot.

Over at the Satin Flooring space, the company put the focus on red and white oak species in a 7-inch-wide format, mostly engineered. “We’ve been happy with the feedback,” said Dennis Mohn, director of marketing. He cited interest from top distributors such as NRF and Galleher “We also sell some unfinished solid products to certain markets such as Chicago.”

New formats are also coming out of the Preverco camp. The company is putting the spotlight on Max 19, a ¾-inch thick engineered product featuring a 4mm top wearlayer on a ½-inch-thick vertical quartersawn softwood core, backed with a 2mm bottom panel for balance. Right below that is a 5⁄8-inch thick engineered product featuring a 2mm top layer on a 9⁄16-inch five-layer construction. range of budgets.

Wading into water
SEM Group showcased Aquawood, the company’s waterproof hardwood line. The product is patent pending in 14 countries and features real hardwood on a waterproof core. “Not only is it waterproof, but it’s also great in extreme climates,” said Nathan Carter, product sales/development and hardwood specialist. “We have two versions available: Elegant Traditions is our 7½- inch wide 3⁄8 product and we just launched Carson—our 5⁄16 overall with a click and pad attached.”

Both versions are fully submersible in water and can be maintained just like tradition hardwood floor. What’s more, the products contain zero repeats.

In that same vein, Uniboard offers Aqua Allira, a waterproof engineered wood flooring made of a rigid core and a real veneer overlay. According to Daniel Seguin, product development manager, it marks the next generation of Allira engineered flooring, which produced by transforming 100% reclaimed pre-consumer wood fibers into a coreboard. Allira products use specially-formulated HDF panels that offer greater resistance than a plywood core, he noted.

Focus on green
Suppliers are also leveraging wood’s environmental story. For instance, Lifecore has developed a unique selling story to help retailers increase margins. Lifecore created Ai.r with no added formaldehyde to its adhesive, According to Jim Fiore, vice president North America, Samling Global USA, the product is 70% below the current CARB 2 regulations. “We’ve also been awarded the Indoor Air Quality Certification which is unique and we’re proud of that. Our focus when we were launching this line was giving the retailer something that would be of value to them and have a story behind it. With this line, it’s all about not having to compromise.”

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Surfaces Carpet Coverage: Despite hard surface surge, mills double down on soft

February 5/12, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 17

By Ken Ryan

 

Traditional carpet mills invariably face this decision: Do we ride the hard surface tide and introduce our own products, or do we stick to our knitting and stay soft?

Surprisingly many are choosing the latter, and they are not apologizing for it. While Dixie Group, Phenix Flooring and Marquis Industries expanded their hard surface assortments at Surfaces—while Engineered Floors officially entered the category—many are passing on the opportunity to jump on the bandwagon.

“We make no bones about it, we are soft flooring,” said Brian Warren, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Foss Flooring, which showcased carpet tile and indoor/outdoor broadloom under a “carpet reinvented” theme.

The way Warren sees it, Foss’ business is good, so why disrupt the flow? “Our tile business has grown double digits each year for the past six years. Our tile business is through the roof. We have some unique technologies and have found a way to position these technologies in such a way that retailers get the advantages.”

Foss introduced DuraKnit, a broadloom line that can be installed over pad. “We’re selling $40 looks for less than $6 with a great performance story, a product that won’t fray, wrinkle or unravel. We’re pushing the attributes that only we have. We’re screaming that it is carpet reinvented. Bottom line—we love giving retailers a selling story they can position against competitors.”

Stanton is another mill sticking to soft surface. “Not now. You can’t do it just to do it,” Jonathan Cohen, CEO, said when asked if the company was contemplating a move into hard surfaces. “We are way too protective of the brand to do that.”

Stanton, which is introducing 125 soft surface products in 2018, is entering the commercial Main Street market through Stanton St. Decorative Commercial. Stanton Street is located in the Soho section of Manhattan, near the location where company founder, Sy Cohen, grew up. “We always liked the idea of getting into commercial but it had to match our identity,” Jonathan Cohen explained. “This fits for us. We can be competitive with price, and as long as we stay decorative we feel like we can have a place within the market.”

Couristan has been a soft surface company for 92 years and has no plans to deviate from that course. That’s according to Len Andolino, executive vice president–residential division, who rejoined the company last fall. “We are a soft surface company, that is who we are. The hard surface [surge] has actually helped our business. For example, our broadloom business is heavily fabricated. More than 50% of our business will be fabricated rugs. We’re pushing the envelope with the fabricated rug business.”

Southwind, a carpet and hard surface supplier, focused more of its efforts on soft at Surfaces with six new LCL patterns and six new colorpoints using its soft yarn system. “People are starting to talk about carpet again,” said Tim Gilmore, Southeast regional vice president. “With this new line we wanted to give dealers some options over the typical beiges and grays.”

Prestige Mills is another tried-and-true soft surface company with no plans to make the leap to hard surfaces. But like so many other mills Prestige is looking to leverage the growth of hard surfaces. Peter Feldman, president, said a good deal of its broadloom business ends up as rugs, in some cases cut by their dealers after shipping. “While cutting broadloom carpet into rugs is good for the rug business, you are only using part of the room with rugs, so more carpet is required if you are going to go that way,” he explained. “It is a challenge, but we are up for it.”

Surfaces 2018 marked the return of Gulistan, which went under in 2012 but has been resurrected by Lonesome Oak. John Sheffield, recently of Godfrey Hirst, has taken over as vice president of sales. Tom Mathis, most recently with Lexmark, serves as strategic sales director. The strategy going forward, Mathis said, is to focus strictly on broadloom and to be selective with retail distribution. Its lineup of 20 products is divided equally between Stainmaster offerings and solution-dyed PET. “We are pretty careful who we are partnering with,” Sheffield said. “We are looking for meaningful partners who can grow the business.”

The return of this venerable brand was well received at Surfaces, Mathis said. “Not a single person said, ‘Oh, I don’t want these guys again.’ The Gulistan brand has more equity than we ever imagined. It’s pretty synonymous with Stainmaster, so that is a plus. And despite the fact carpet is losing share, we are a breath of fresh air and we are starting with a clean slate.”

Crossover continues
Long-established carpet mills that have ventured into hard surfaces and, in some cases, expanded their offerings, have not given up on soft surfaces. Quite the contrary. Phenix, for example, introduced 25 new residential carpet products–PetProtect and polyester—and announced its entry into the area rug business under the Cleaner Home Rugs banner. “We all know carpet is the largest category, and we are expecting carpet to lose share again,” said Mark Clayton, president and CEO. “Our challenge is to keep producing unique stories around the products. The business we are serving—what we call the belly of the country, states like Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Utah—is still very strong in carpet.”

Clayton said the jump into rugs is a nod to the explosive growth of hard surfaces. “With so many beautiful patterns in our line this is just a natural addition to what we are doing for hard surfaces.”

The bedroom remains one of the last bastions for carpet in the residential sector, and consumers have shown a willingness to spend more for higher-end goods. To address that trend, Dixie Home launched several Stainmaster offerings with differentiated PetProtect loops and patterns as well as some multi-colored textures. “We think the consumer is buying carpet by the room, not by the whole house, and that leads to better opportunity for better goods,” said T.M. Nuckols, president, residential division, The Dixie Group. “The market is looking for better goods and products that work well with hard surfaces.”

The Masland brand showed new PetProtect collections as well as Masland Energy, a broadloom and tile program for the commercial segment for retailers targeting the upper end of Main Street.

Mills agree Main Street commercial is hot these days. Engineered Floors’ Pentz brand of broadloom and modular tile is keeping pace with several new products, including some from the former Beaulieu’s commercial division. EF’s new 500,000-square-foot carpet tile plant will be in full production in the next few weeks and has already been graded for expansion.

At Surfaces EF touted PureBac, its premium, no-latex backing system. “The dealers say they can get more money on it,” said Will Young, director of national accounts. “PureBac offers a complete story on cleanability, with no latex and a hypo-allergenic face fiber. It is a very installation-friendly product.”