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Resilient: Felt finds its place within key market sectors

December 18/25, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 14

By Lindsay Baillie

 

Anecdotal research shows fiberglass sheet vinyl continues to capture market share from felt products. But that’s not deterring manufacturers from supporting the sub-category. Many resilient flooring executives believe the product is still finding favor in various markets. What’s more, executives say felt’s unique characteristics will help it stay afloat in the sea of resilient products.

While felt is part of a mature market, executive say it still provides greater durability over similar fiberglass backed vinyl sheet products. As Bill Furman, product marketing manager, Armstrong, explained: “Segments such as property management and builder still put a high value on rip, tear and gouge performance, and felt products continue to do well with these customers.”

Beyond the product’s use in those key end-use markets, felt also appeals to consumers looking for overall value. “Price, design and performance all come together to make it one of the best values in flooring,” said Kurt Denman, chief marketing officer and executive vice president of sales, Congoleum. “It is incredibly durable and is the original child-proof, pet-proof, waterproof flooring.”

Installation is another key factor driving felt growth, experts say. Unlike other types of flooring, felt can be installed with a perimeter fasten. Suppliers say this type of installation is ideal for consumers looking to do a full kitchen remodel or install flooring before cabinets or an island. “Many other types of flooring—fiberglass-backed sheet included—cannot have a perimeter installation,” said Mary Katherine Dyczko-Riglin, product manager for resilient sheet vinyl, Mannington. “This feature can make an installation job much simpler.”

By utilizing felt’s well-known installation benefits and value proposition, manufacturers are able to provide flooring solutions for any budget.

The fate of felt
FCNews research shows felt fell 6% in 2016. Despite this market-share loss, suppliers say felt will continue to hold its own. This is a result of felt’s continued use in particular flooring markets as well as the product’s construction.

“The move from felt to fiberglass is definitely continuing,” Mannington’s Dyczko-Riglin said. “As a large supporter of the felt-backed products, we have experienced a slower switch. However, we are continuing to see increasing demand for fiberglass. We believe there will continue to be a place for felt-backed products in the market.”

Armstrong has also taken note of the slight shift and is taking steps to provide enticing solutions for both product types. “There is a place for felt, just as there is a place for fiberglass, LVT, VCT, etc., as long as it delivers on true value and innovation,” Furman explained. “Not only do certain segments—such as property management or builders—continue to use felt-backed products, but some regions of the country prefer the price and durability benefits they offer.”

Some executives believe the basic elements of construction for felt and fiberglass are relatively similar. For example, both products contain a base or carrier layer, a gel and print layer and a wear layer. However, the real differences between these two constructions can be found in what goes into each layer. “Congoleum uses natural limestone as the base,” Denman explained. “As the name implies, limestone makes for a very dense foundation that does an incredible job of resisting indentation. When we add our UltraTec backing as in our AirStep products, you now have [more] versatility—fully adhered, perimeter install and loose lay. Unlike fiberglass, the limestone base eliminates any restrictions on seaming.”

Even though fiberglass continues to capture market share, its limitations in construction will allow for felt to recapture a certain percentage of market share. As Denman explained: “We have enjoyed significant growth in manufactured housing and the recreational vehicle markets and modest growth in the builder and multi-family segments. Our retail business has remained flat while others have seen significant declines. All told, that means we’re taking back market share.”

To help felt gain market share in a heavily saturated market, manufacturers are developing new products as well as new designs for existing flooring. “2018 is a year of felt revitalization for Mannington,” Dyczko-Riglin said. “We are overhauling the Mannington felt offering to allow retail salespeople to better focus their selling efforts on what consumers want—the most popular patterns. We started this effort this year by offering the Revive collection in base-grade felt lines to allow these high-fashion looks to be accessible to as many budgets as possible. In 2018, we will continue this commitment to style leadership by introducing new patterns into these lines to keep them fresh.”

Armstrong, for its part, continues to see success with its StrataMax flooring, which is the company’s proprietary, limestone-encapsulated, felt-backed product. “StrataMax offers enhanced durability over traditional felt products, and it can be loose laid like a fiberglass-based product, offering the best of both worlds,” Furman noted.

In developing new products for the category Congoleum is taking into account all of felt’s appealing attributes. “In addition to our relentless pursuit of design leadership, we are careful to control costs to ensure our products are competitively priced and deliver exceptional value without any compromise to our long-standing commitment to quality and performance,” Denman stated.

 

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Next-gen felt products provide new sheet advantages

September 15/22, 2014; Volume 28/Number 7

AirStep, StrataMax lead the way in alternative options

By Jenna Lippin

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 2.45.07 PMWhile many flooring executives note the importance of fiberglass sheet vinyl in their product offering and its ongoing capture of market share, felt products still command a significant portion of the market. In fact, FCNews research reveals felt still represents 38.6% of residential sheet sales dollars and 45.5% residential sheet volume (FCNews, June 30).

Felt remains desirable in sheet vinyl because it allows for some movement of wood subfloors. When examined under a microscope, felt contains long fibers held together with latex resin. When glued to wood subfloors that expand or contract due to atmospheric moisture or drying from heat, the felt will move with the wood.

Felt is also beneficial on concrete subfloors as the residual moisture collected from the ground can lift into felt layers, move to the outside edges of a room and fade off.

Unlike felt, fiberglass stays its absolute size, so on wood subfloors it is unable to expand and contract in harmony with the subfloor, which can lead to buckling or gapping. On concrete, the problem becomes one of moisture. If moisture is trapped underneath the floor there is no place for it to go, making the floor susceptible to mold and mildew.

While some major industry players continue to make felt products, those offerings are not felt in the traditional sense. Rather, an increasing number of companies are developing alternative sheet products in which felt is utilized but not necessarily for backing.

A benefit of fiberglass is its ability to lay flat, a characteristic considered by felt producers. Congoleum’s AirStep product, which the company categorizes as “flexible flooring,” includes felt in its construction but with a polymer composite backing underneath the fiber layer. “Now you have a felt product that can handle some expansion and contraction that you get in seasonal change in size in wood subfloors without buckling, whether glued down or loose laid,” explained Mike Sansone, senior vice president of sales at Congoleum. “With this construction we can offer all the benefits of felt with all the benefits of fiberglass. Fiberglass does not have the ability to move with the seasonal changes in temperature and humidity of wood subfloors the way AirStep can.”

Similar to Congoleum, Armstrong created its StrataMax line as a felt product with an extra layer on the back of that fiber portion. “We’ve taken felt products as they exist today and added a layer on the backside of the felt to encapsulate it and receive adhesive that sticks to the floor and provides that loose lay benefit,” said Rachel Lombardo, general manager of residential vinyl sheet for Armstrong. “There is enough product on the back of the felt to balance the structure as we would in a fiberglass product. Glue is not needed because the product won’t curl.”Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 2.45.14 PM

Installation options are critical in determining the desirability of a flooring product. While most fiberglass sheet floors are glued down, both AirStep and StrataMax boast loose lay capabilities. AirStep can also be perimeter installed with no size or seam restrictions. “[AirStep] can go directly over a ¾-inch subfloor without the added expense of a ¼-inch underlayment,” Sansone explained. “A typical subfloor today costs about $1.50 per square foot installed. You can save $14.50 a square yard in underlayment expense, or on a 20-square-yard kitchen, for example, you save 4 cubic feet of wood, so it’s a greener installation. There are no chemicals involved, no adhesives or odors/fumes. With loose lay or staple around perimeter you have a better system.”

According to Lombardo, installation—not construction—is what separates StrataMax from other sheet products on the market. “We don’t look at it through that lens [of fiberglass vs. felt]. We look at loose lay vs. glue down. Felt is insignificant to the story for our customers; the attribute they seek is loose lay, or products that can be easily removed when replacing. We will mention features and benefits of our construction, but it’s not our story.”

In terms of price, while StrataMax and AirStep are some of the more expensive products on the market (namely because of the additional layer in the product), the cost ends up being less to the end user due to a lower-price installation.

Armstrong has plans to launch a value-end product line from StrataMax to aggressively enter lower points where the larger piece of the market is flat. “That value product is more expensive than felt but less than glass,” Lombardo said. “It’s a better product for a cheaper price. We have an advantage as the cost of manufacturing is not as high as glass.”

Sansone anticipates improved technology relating to printing and design for products that include felt, particularly in creating more texture. “It’s very difficult to get in-depth embossing with fiberglass products because of the way they are constructed. There is a technical limitation to the manufacturing process of fiberglass.”