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Resilient: Can WPC/rigid core coexist with LVT?

May 22/29, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 25

By Ken Ryan

 

The overarching luxury vinyl flooring category featuring the incumbent LVT/P and newcomers WPC and rigid core continues to flourish and growth rates collectively are expected to exceed that of every other flooring category for at least the near term.

Will there be an eventually category champion? Does there have to be one? Flooring executives differ slightly on which segment will win out, but there is consensus that the three product types (for now) will peacefully coexist as they serve different market segments and applications.

WPC/rigid core: The once and future king?
Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 10.15.49 AMAs a sub-segment of LVT, WPC/rigid core has usurped LVT in many areas of the market, executives contend. “My sales have completely switched from LVT to WPC,” said Eric Mondragon, hard surface buyer for R.C. Willey, Salt Lake City. “WPC definitely has had the biggest growth, and WPC/rigid core has an advantage in click and floating installations due to the ability to hide subfloor imperfections.”

Jeremy Kleinberg, senior product manager, Armstrong Flooring, said rigid core products are viewed by some as an evolution of LVT. “As with any innovation, rigid core products have helped to solve challenges that regular LVT could not—for example, telegraphing of minor subfloor texture.”

Some observers say that while WPC has already cut into the share of LVT, rigid core offerings will take share from both WPC and LVT. “While rigid will take share from WPC as well as LVT, I don’t think it necessarily translates into a decline of WPC’s overall business because WPC should more than make up for it in what it continues to take from LVT and other product categories,” said Jeff Jaeckle, vice president of Jaeckle Distributors.

Steve Kuhel, product manager, Tarkett North America, noted that next-generation rigid core products are beginning to show even greater flexibility and are a threat to both WPC and LVT (glue-down and floating). “I see more of the same over the next few years—growth for WPC and rigid core products. There will be a grasping at straws that will result in over-engineered products beyond the consumer’s needs.”

LVT is not going anywhere
As long as LVT/P products (glue-down or floating) have the advantage of cost, process and true sustainability over rigid core and WPC, there will be a place for these offerings. Indeed, no one disputes that LVT will remain a relevant product segment that works best in multi-family housing and commercial applications due primarily to the cost-effectiveness and installation advantages.

“LVT will be very successful in DIY as it is easy to install and does not require a saw,” said David Holt, senior vice president of builder and multi-family retail and hard surface for Mohawk Industries. “LVT will continue to dominate the multi-family market due to pricing requirements.”

Casey Dillabaugh, owner of Dillabaugh’s Flooring America, Boise, Idaho, picked up on the theme of pricing (given the fact WPC/rigid core is viewed as a higher-end product). “I don’t believe we’ll ever see WPC enter the sub $1 range like LVT, so LVT sets itself up for success based on price point primarily. I do believe WPC/rigid core will attempt to enter the commercial/multi-family space but will struggle for a while due to price constraints.”

Future looks bright for WPC/rigid core
The consensus among flooring professionals is the luxury vinyl product category will continue to grow exponentially over the next several years and outpace the other hard surfaces, in particular laminate, low-end wood and sheet. Jaeckle sees the category shaking out this way. “While rigid will take share from WPC as well as LVT, I don’t think it necessarily translates into a decline of WPC’s overall business, because WPC should more than make up for it in what it continues to take from LVT and other product categories. If you consider all of these as being under the LVT umbrella, then the LVT category will continue its strong growth as it takes more share from other product categories. The innovations of WPC and rigid are the engines that will drive that.”

Wellmade Floors, a relative newcomer to the category, is marketing its rigid core lines as a step up from WPC. Its high-density plastic composite (HDPC) products are positioned as the first fully closed cell offering, with different constructions. “While vinyl products across the board can all boast exceptional HD print visuals and EIR textures, WPC and rigid core products eliminated telegraphing from subfloor imperfections, a major improvement over traditional LVT,” said Steve Wagner, director of marketing, who, like many others, sees WPC and now rigid core as merely natural evolutions of the luxury vinyl category.

The case for coexistence
Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 10.15.39 AMFew executives are as adamant in their belief that these products will cohabitate than Russ Rogg, president and CEO of Metroflor, who argues that traditional LVT and WPC/rigid core/multilayer products “will absolutely” co-exist going forward. “While there is no question that the multilayer category—with all its variants—is arguably growing faster than any product on the market, there are still many areas where traditional, glue-down products will serve the customer or end user better than a floating floor. While the best multilayer products require very little expansion/contraction allowances, I don’t know of a manufacturer that isn’t recommending at least some degree of perimeter expansion as well as referencing size/area limits that will require the use of a T-molding eventually. This is a great example of where a glue-down LVT has an advantage. Think large, open spaces that could not accept a T-molding, for example.”

Scott Rozmus, CEO of FlorStar Sales, a top 20 distributor, said he doesn’t see the market as an either/or proposition for these waterproof resilient products. “Some folks might look at this as VHS vs. Betamax where only one technology survives, but I think it’s more like gasoline vs. diesel. There are pros and cons that may come into play with either variant, and the technology continues to evolve. The massive marketing behind WPC/rigid core certainly has—and will—continue to provide lift for these products. However, most of the options I’ve seen utilize a floating, locking system for installation. That’s not always the preferred methodology and in some applications actually is frowned upon. Thus other LVT variants will continue to have traction.”

While WPC/rigid core may not cannibalize LVT, it has eaten into traditional LVT’s share. Kleinberg’s take is that even as next-generation rigid core products win favor in the market there will still be demand for traditional LVT products. “Segment and channel considerations like the usage of the space, design aesthetics, installation techniques and price will be just some of the factors that will continue to fuel both rigid core and traditional LVT flooring.”

Piet Dossche dissects LVT, WPC
Who better than Piet Dossche, CEO of USFloors, marketer of the award-winning COREtec brand, to weigh in on the evolution of the LVT waterproof category. Here Dossche drills down into the different constructions that he said complement one another and help expand the overall category.

Solid LVT dryback. Mainly used in multi-family, commercial applications and where consumer price point is critical. Installed directly glued to the subfloor and requires extensive subfloor prep.

Solid LVT floating. Used in residential and commercial applications where subfloor conditions is addressed; exposure to sunlight/heat is not critical, but pricing economics is a factor. Requires substantial subfloor prep.

Rigid core. Composite core construction, a step up from solid LVT, with a higher filler content and higher density without any foaming agent creating air bubbles in the core. This results in a thinner, harder plank.

Primarily suitable where higher indentation resistance is required and extensive exposure to sunlight/heat can occur. Ideal for commercial applications. Relatively forgiving over imperfect subfloors.

WPC. Composite core construction with foaming agent, creating air pockets in the core that function as a heat and sound insulator for ultimate comfort underfoot. Indentation resistance is ideal for residential and light commercial applications and dimensionally stable under moderate exposure to sunlight/heat. The ultimate product for residential environments and suitable for active households with built-in sound abatement benefits.

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FlorStar: Building a business based on service

February 13/20, 2017: Volume 31, Number 18

The following feature is the second installment in a series highlighting the 14 distributors that constitute Bravo Services, a group comprising many of the top flooring wholesalers in the country. Here we focus on FlorStar Sales, whose origins are rooted in the 19th century.

Screen Shot 2017-02-20 at 9.26.29 AMFlorStar’s modern history began in May 1988 when Wade Cassidy, current owner and chairman, led a management buyout of the flooring division from Carson Pirie Scott & Co. The highly leveraged transaction was not lacking in risk—Cassidy and other managers put up their homes and provided personal guarantees to secure necessary financing. Fortunately, their entrepreneurial spirit, work ethic and support from vendors and customers allowed FlorStar to persevere.

FlorStar reflects its chairman’s humble origins. Cassidy grew up living over a chicken coop in rural Maryland and, as the oldest among his siblings, worked multiple jobs while attending school to help support his family.

In February 2005, the company moved to its current headquarters and main stocking warehouse located in Romeoville, Ill. In 2008, FlorStar entered the hardwood sundries and supplies business via acquisition and has continued building its presence in that space. Ownership consistently has embraced technology and reinvested in systems and its people. FlorStar was among the first in the industry to configure its warehouses with space-saving, narrow aisle racking and wire-guided turret vehicles. The firm’s long-tenured management team, averaging more than 20 years of FlorStar experience, is also relatively youthful with employees in their mid-40s on average.

“Wade’s fair and ethical treatment of customers, vendors and employees, as well as his constant reinvestment in the business, motivates folks to do business here, come here and stay here,” said Scott Rozmus, who was named CEO on Feb. 1.

Among the more significant challenges the flooring industry faces is the decline in the number of independent floor covering retailers and qualified installers. FlorStar addresses these challenges by, among other things, adopting policies and programs to support independent retail. Whether through flexible credit, just-in-time inventory services, technical support, training, participation in organizations or otherwise, FlorStar promotes and encourages the growth of healthy, independent retailers and highly qualified installers.

Going above & beyond
FlorStar has had sales professionals drive six hours to obtain and drop off additional material a dealer needed to complete a job… After the terrorist attacks on 9/11, when all the airports were shut down and no rental cars were available, the company gave someone who had been stranded a lift in one of its trucks (in the cab, not the van) so he could get to his home six hours away.

Nuts & bolts
Geographic coverage: All or part of 10 states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
Brands: Armstrong, BASF, Bella Cera, Bruce, FlorStar Glass Mosaics, FlorStar Porcelain Naturals, From the Forest, Healthier Choice, Homerwood, Inhaus, Lauzon, Milliken, Mullican Flooring, Next Floor Carpet Tile, Qu-Cork, Sika, Sound Seal and VPI.

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Wood—Inhaus, FlorStar: Partners in collaborative design

October 10/17, 2016: Volume 31, Number 9

By Reginald Tucker

screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-11-05-51-amAt one point, Top 20 distributor FlorStar was a large Wilsonart laminate flooring distributor. But when the countertop and surface material company’s parent, ITW, decided to exit the laminate business several years ago, FlorStar had to find a suitable replacement.

“We were looking for a new manufacturer to partner with in the same we did with Wilsonart,” said Scott Rozmus, president. The solution actually came through an alliance with several laminate vendors—one of which included Inhaus, a German manufacturer with a solid reputation in the European marketplace. “Inhaus is focused on a specific category and it is among the best in the world in that category as a manufacturer in Germany. Meanwhile, its team here in the U.S. has the design element.”

But perhaps the best part about working with Inhaus, Rozmus said, is the manufacturer’s willingness to work closely with its distribution partners on the details. “Specifically, they will work with their wholesalers to create designs—or provide designs from their vast library—that folks believe will sell well in their individual marketplaces. That really has been an important attribute of their overall success.”

That makes perfect sense, given the fact that one of Inhaus’ best-selling lines was actually developed by another distributor. “The line had real appeal domestically,” Rozmus recalled. “The collaboration Inhaus formed with the other distributor not only benefitted them within that particular wholesaler’s geography but in many other places. The fact that Inhaus is open to that kind of collaboration is to its credit. It shows the company is flexible and open to input.”

FlorStar began stocking the Inhaus brand in 2016, but it has been working with the manufacturer on product and design development for several years. As Rozmus explained: “We’ve had a private-label laminate program for years, but it was the collaboration with Inhaus on that line that made us mutually decide it made sense to launch the current collection as a separate line. If we had different manufacturers’ collections together, we felt that would preclude us from pushing some of their features and benefits.”

Mutually beneficial
In much the same way that FlorStar benefits from Inhaus’ expertise, the laminate manufacturer gains from the distributor’s insight and experience in serving retailers in the markets it serves. “We’re very pleased to be working with FlorStar,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO, Inhaus. “We view all of our distribution partnerships as long-term relationships. It’s important for both companies to be focused on the future given the dynamic nature of the marketplace where things can change very rapidly.”

Daniel Lang, vice president of sales and marketing at Inhaus, agreed. “The launch of Inhaus laminate with FlorStar this summer exceeded our expectations in both the number of retailers taking on the program and the sales that have been generated. It was very rewarding to see the excitement from the retailers when the new FlorStar program from Inhaus was introduced.”

Both Inhaus and FlorStar are looking for that excitement to continue as new collections and existing product line extensions are conceived. Careful not to divulge too much in advance of the next wave of product rollouts, Rozmus would only say this: “Laminate lends itself to different designs and performance capabilities and strengths relative to other categories. There’s an important future for that category that’s going to be based on elements of high design and enhanced performance. As world-class laminate manufacturers combine high design and improved performance, the category is going to become even more relevant than it is.”

Inhaus is looking forward to the next phase. “We are now working on what we can do for continued success in 2017, 2018 and beyond,” Welbourn said.

 

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FCA Network preps for the future

by Emily Cappiello

Chicago—While the road to recovery has been rocky, FCA Network is giving its members a map on how to navigate the path ahead. “We are here to help you prepare,” Olga Robertson, president of FCA Network, told members at its  annual convention held  here from March 25 to 27.

Robertson and her team did just that. The group went with a retro theme, she said, because “sometimes it’s good to remember the past so you don’t make the same mistakes and sometimes it’s good to remember the past because you can remember something that worked and do it again.” Continue reading FCA Network preps for the future

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No stopping resilient's momentum

In a black universe, vinyl is the shining star. That was the assessment of Elias Wilf president Jeff Striegel, who like many of his brethren sees resilient products as the beacon of light amid the darkness. In recent years, many of the leading flooring distributors have increased their percentage of resilient offerings, from the high single digits to low double-digits. Continue reading No stopping resilient's momentum