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I4F seeks to change the innovation game

March 5/12, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 19

By Ken Ryan

 

Las Vegas—When he started Innovations 4 Flooring (I4F) in 2009, John Rietveldt could envision the day when his company would be known as an intellectual property player on a global scale in the field of locking systems.

“I am not surprised by our success, but you have to be lucky,” the CEO told FCNews at Surfaces. “For 20 years, two companies dominated the landscape [in locking systems], but people need to be free to use whatever system they want. The market was ready for innovation and for change. Our locking system is now the standard for SPC.”

I4F is noted for its 3L and TripleLock locking profiles as well as Click4U, a one-piece, drop-lock solution that eliminates the need for an additional insert on the short side. The technology works with all materials including LVT, rigid core flooring, multilayer flooring, laminate and wood. He said his main focus is to make Click4U a market standard.

Rietveldt called 2017 “a breakthrough year” for the company and added, “this strategy continues in 2018 and has already gained significant momentum.”

Indeed, the company has been extremely busy forging partnerships with global companies, with three such moves occurring in January. First, it announced an extension of a strategic partnership with the Classen Group in which I4F obtained exclusive sub-licensing rights for one of Classen’s IP portfolios encompassing more than 500 patents specific to flooring materials, locking patents and important inventions for digital printing and liquid laminate technology. This extended partnership follows the agreement between I4F and the Classen Group announced in January 2017.

Two weeks later, I4F signed with Ulrich Windmöller Consulting, which owns all the patent rights for Windmöller Plastic Core Patents in Europe; it is also co-owner of the Windmöller Patents Rights in the U.S. along with Kowon R&C Corp. These patent rights cover products containing a plastic core, including LVT and WPC. Lastly, I4F inked a global strategic partnership pact with Kronospan. As part of this agreement, I4F receives rights for Kronospan’s patent portfolio covering flooring locking, wall panels, board compositions and production, as well as digital printing and furniture. “We have all the important manufacturers on board,” Rietveldt said. “We are getting to a very strong position.”

The evolution of this IP company also included a name change, to the brand-friendly I4F. As Rietveldt noted, “We are a new modern company that is expanding and trying to do things differently.”

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Tile: Innovation provides inspiration behind stone designs

November 6/13, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 11

By K.J. Quinn

 

Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 10.20.40 AMStone flooring flourished as a premium upgrade over ceramic tile, high-end faux stones and even certain hardwoods the past several years, industry experts say. And while the green movement continues to influence consumer preferences toward materials made of or replicating natural materials, the category is experiencing some bumps in the road that threaten to slow down sales growth into 2018.

“We haven’t seen major growth this year in this segment,” said Marc Bergeron, natural stone manager, Cosentino. “We detected a decrease in natural stone demand for flooring.”

The U.S. natural quartz and manufactured stone products market is a $10 billion-plus industry, according to the Catalina Research Natural and Manufactured Stone Product Industry Report released in December 2015 from Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants (CTaSC) and Catalina Research. While U.S. stone product sales increased an estimated 7.4% during 2016 to $10.2 billion in manufacturers’ dollars, the market is expected to grow more moderately this year. “Volume in 2016 was estimated to be 120 million square feet and is also expected to continue to grow more moderately in 2018,” stated Donato Pompo, CTaSC founder.

Market conditions have softened in the past year due to a variety of reasons. The low end has been impacted by an oversaturation of commodity stones and improved aesthetics in competitive floors such as LVT and ceramic tile. The housing market hasn’t helped, as private owned housing starts were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.12 million in September, which is 4.7% below the revised August estimate, the Commerce Department reports.

Top issues
The stone business faces a host of competitive issues.  For example, the nature-inspired styles and appearances of stone are among the most knocked off in the flooring industry. “You can go to Home Depot or Lowe’s and buy porcelain tiles that look like natural stone for a lot less than you would pay for the natural stone,” Pompo said.

New inkjet technologies are creating porcelain and ceramic tiles to replicate the natural variations typical of stone, making it increasingly difficult for the naked eye to discern the differences between products. Where stone is being hit hardest by these Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 10.20.44 AMinnovations is in the low end as competitors aim to capture more share from customers who are shopping for stone but may be more attracted to the performance benefits of ceramic tile.  “The technological advancements in porcelain tile technology have impacted stones sales, both commercially and residentially,” said Bart Bettiga, executive director, National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA).

A bugaboo hampering stone sales is the perception it is a high-end product with limited clientele. For years, industry stakeholders and trade associations have touted the benefits of natural stone and dispelled false perceptions to consumers and the A&D community. And while stone remains among the most expensive flooring options, prices have come down so it’s more affordable.

Life cycle costing can provide consumers with insight into the value of stone compared to other flooring. Natural stone can be refinished to look like new after years of wear, unlike porcelain tiles which can get damaged and need to be replaced. And when installed prices are amortized over the life of the floor, experts say the costs look even more reasonable.

“No matter what, the search for low-cost, high-performing products is there and, at the same time, making sure the quality is right for customer expectations,” said Roy Viana, director of natural stone at Dal-Tile. “There is always a demand for that entry-level, low-cost price point.”

An increasing number of retail channels sell stone, making it more available to consumers, architects and designers. At the same time, it is also contributing to more competitive pricing. “Home Depot, Lowe’s, the Tile Shop—what we consider retail distributors—are bringing in more affordable stones that are more accessible to the retail customer,” Viana observed.

Like ceramic tile, the stone industry is plagued by a shortage of qualified installers, making it difficult for retailers to keep up with demand. “If stone tile is not installed properly, it can be quite expensive to fix,” Bettiga said. “Suppliers who sell stone tile and refer or subcontract the installation should make sure the installers have a proven track record of success in stone tile installation.”

What’s trending
Stone tiles are timeless, having been used inside residential spaces for thousands of years.

Among the most popular options for use in the home are granite, limestone, sandstone, slate and flagstone. Each piece maintains its own veining, coloring and natural imperfections, depending on the type of stone and location of the quarry.

“I continue to see limestone and honed materials used regularly,” Bettiga said. “Slate is also popular in many geographic regions, both indoors and in exterior applications.”

What’s trending are dark gray, soft red and medium green colors available in geometric and irregular sizes. Hard, sense stones that are non-porous are being used more frequently in high-traffic areas. Classic styles, such as white marbles, are also growing in popularity and available in many variations.

“Natural stone slabs seem like an innovation,” Bergeron said. “Certain factories are now using [them] to provide more options in large format tiles that previously were only available in a 2-cm thickness.”

In the past year, Nemo Tile introduced Think Thin 1.2, which offers large format, natural stone tiles in a 1.2-cm thickness. “This product is the result of innovation in block processing, slab finishing, material handling and special crates,” said Dan Gorecki, director, stone division. “Designers, contractors and clients are able to have large, slab-sized panels at a fraction of the cost for a custom slab fabrication project.” The lighter weighing materials translate into savings on local shipping, waste and jobsite handling.

Bigger is better when it comes to size, experts say. Variations from tile to tile are more evident, plus it meets pent-up demand for larger formats in residential and commercial spaces. “Recent trends seem to be toward larger format tiles,” Bergeron noted.

Specialized natural stone formats are also gaining traction. For example, “We’ve been seeing a lot of varied, hexagon-like shapes, which is due to design flexibility,” Viana said. “You can create a lot of different, unique installations, even vertical vs. horizontal.”

A newer process enabling highly styled and intricate patterns is water-jet mosaics. “You can program in designs and there is no limit to what it can look like,” Viana explained. “You can program in a flower and get petals cut.”

The latest styles and colors in stone provide end users with more flooring choices than ever before, fueling the trend toward mixing and matching different materials. As Gorecki explained, “Design trends are constantly in flux with colors, tile sizes and details changing by market and application.”

 

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Contract: State of the industry—Innovation sparks broader usage of hard, soft surfaces

June 5/12, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 26

By K.J. Quinn

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-09 at 10.36.25 AMThe dynamics in the top commercial sectors are changing as interior design preferences evolve. While luxury vinyl tile (LVT) and modular carpet are the two fastest growing products, experts say, alternative flooring products are meeting designer needs for good looks, sustainability, durability and low maintenance and are expanding usage across the board.

“Categorically, the commercial carpet market is no longer defined by broadloom vs. carpet tile,” said Mike Gallman, senior vice president, commercial product, Mohawk Group. “It’s now hard surfaces vs. soft surfaces.”

Anecdotally speaking, experts say commercial flooring sales are on pace to increase 3% this year, according to industry estimates. While projections are based on a small sample size— approximately four months at press time—the growth rate represents a slight improvement over Q4 last year when market sales were reportedly soft. What is increasing more dramatically are flooring choices, as new products, aesthetics and finishes provide more selections than ever for the A&D community.

“Choices of sizes, colors, patterns, bevel treatments, constructions, wear layers, etc., affords them the ability to do what they do best—create,” said Al Boulogne, Mannington’s vice president of commercial resilient business. “Offering the broadest portfolio of choices gives them the ability to design a space without limitation of options.”

While experts say sales are fairly even between carpet tile and broadloom—the latter of which maintains a slight edge in volume—modular products are expanding significantly faster. “Carpet tile has been steadily taking share from broadloom in the education and corporate/office sectors, preferred for its ease of installation, increased design options and flexibility for moving and replacing tiles once installed,” stated Matt Miller, president, Interface Americas.

Sharing the spotlight is LVT, which is helping hard surfaces sustain growth in retail and healthcare strongholds and expanding at a double-digit rate into non-traditional markets like corporate/offices and hospitality. Expansion is coming at the expense of carpet and low-cost options such as VCT as lifecycle costs and styling further impact purchasing decisions. Workhorse products such as rubber, linoleum and VCT remain fixtures in healthcare and education settings while hardwood and laminates are carving a niche in certain retail and hospitality spaces.

Screen Shot 2017-06-09 at 10.36.37 AM“In all cases, performance and value are the drivers,” said Denis Darragh, Forbo’s vice president, North America, citing linoleum as an example. “Performance encompasses all aspects of the product, from durability through being the best product for a healthy indoor environment.”

Ceramic tile in particular has grown steadily. Estimates show the category represents about 15% to 20% of commercial sales and volume, with specified contract accounting for about 70% of the business. Ceramic is on pace to reach or exceed 2016 growth rates, when volume and sales rose approximately 6% and 5.5%, respectively.

“There still remains a tremendous growth opportunity for the tile category,” said Gianni Mattioli, executive vice president, product marketing, Dal-Tile. “Our company is diligently working to take advantage of this opportunity and the tile industry as a whole also appears to understand this reality.”

Mitigating factors
Despite the fact key economic indicators such as inflation, consumer confidence, lending rates and new construction are pointing in the right direction, growth—or lack thereof—within the five major markets varies. Each segment faces specific issues impacting interior design and flooring selections. For example, the corporate/office sector is witnessing changes in interior design aimed at helping employers retain and recruit top talent and ultimately drive greater results.

“Driven by strong earnings, many corporations are reinvesting in their offices through renovation or relocation,” noted Mark Oliver, vice president, workplace and retail segments, Mohawk. “They recognize the office—and the way its employees engage with it—is changing faster than ever before.”

The workplace remains a bedrock market for carpet tile, where it is coveted for acoustical properties, durability and comfort underfoot. “We’re still seeing carpet tile increase in the corporate part of the commercial market,” observed Ralph Grogan, president and CEO, Bentley Mills. “There are a lot of law offices and accounting firms using carpet tile now as they are going to a more open office concept.”

Screen Shot 2017-06-09 at 10.36.50 AMMeanwhile, hard surfaces such as resilient, hardwood, porcelain tile and even polished concrete are quickly gaining coverage in lobbies, break rooms and bathrooms. “Corporate is one of the last segments to be looking at hard surfaces in a bigger way,” Mannington’s Boulogne pointed out. “We are starting to see a shift in preference to LVT as design has started to focus more on targeting this category.”

Hard surfaces remains dominant in healthcare as resilient, rubber and linoleum meet durability, maintenance, hygienic and slip resistance needs, observers say. Ceramic, porcelain and terrazzo tile are commonly found in public areas such as hallways, making it easier to maneuver rolling equipment and mobile aids. Carpet and LVT are primarily specified for non-patient areas like waiting rooms and medical offices.

“Architects and designers are putting LVT in healthcare applications because of its modularity,” said Jeremy Salomon, director of product management and marketing – retail, Tarkett. “We’ve been designing LVT to look like some of the sheet vinyl products. It gives designers flexibility in solutions they want to put into healthcare applications.”

A fast growing area within healthcare is assisted living, due largely to the shortage of rooms available to care for an aging U.S. population. Facility managers are reportedly sprucing up these spaces to create “homey” environments for residents. “Activity is trending up, with some larger, continuing care retirement communities going up—along with new senior-living projects in urban areas, drawn by Baby Boomers in search of a more active retirement lifestyle,” said Jamey Block, vice president, resilient product management, Armstrong.

A similar makeover is occurring in hospitality, as hotels attempt to incorporate residential design with high-performance products that are also easy to maintain. “Our hospitality business has grown at a 33% compound annual rate over the past three years in the Americas region, and we expect that trend to continue,” Interface’s Miller said. More and more hospitality end users are shifting to a mixture of soft and hard surfaces, providing us the opportunity to sell both our LVT and carpet tile offerings.”

Sector-specific solutions
Other flooring materials, such as broadloom and ceramic, are also reaping the benefits. “For example, a design firm specified wood-look tile for the floors of guest rooms at a boutique hotel in Texas, but also specified carpet to be installed under the beds,” noted Lindsey Waldrep, vice president, marketing, Crossville. “Guests get the comfort of carpet right by the bed, yet the rest of the room is covered in easy-to-clean, rarely-needs-replacing tile that will let hotel staff turn rooms much more quickly and in a cleaner fashion.”

Similar to hospitality, the influx of new construction work and remodeling are impacting the retail segment. The sector is a mixed bag, with end uses ranging from small, mom-and-pop grocery stores to larger restaurants, retail chains and other establishments. “Car dealerships and fitness centers, both considered retail spaces at Dal-Tile, as well as quick-service restaurants, are areas of growth that are positively impacting the tile market,” Dal-Tile’s Mattioli said.

Screen Shot 2017-06-09 at 10.36.45 AMRetail is usually at the forefront of design trends as end users are always on the lookout for trendy, attractive options. “A new and different approach to hard surface designs wins in this highly competitive segment,” Mannington’s Boulogne said. “Abstract visuals are gaining share as are new and different looks.”

At the same time, the high amounts of foot traffic at retail locations require floors that perform well and look good over the long term. Ceramic, wood and carpet are often specified in high end spaces while resilient, VCT and rubber flooring are found in other public areas. “LVT is taking market share from both tile and broadloom sales because of design trends and ease of maintenance,” Mohawk’s Gallman observed.

Meanwhile, in the education segment, LVT is the rising star. Resilient accounts for an estimated half of the flooring specified in this sector, industry research shows. But other products, such as linoleum and rubber, retain a small niche as they provide both visual and functional qualities that appeal to staff, students and parents. “We are constantly improving the visuals as well as the depth and breadth of the product offering, particularly modular options, that enhance the capabilities of the product line,” Forbo’s Darragh said.

Ongoing innovations
Manufacturers of commercial flooring products are continually making investments to meet the varying needs of commercial customers. Designers are creating people-centric spaces for clients which, in part, helps enhance the work-life balance. “That’s why we’re seeing residential and hospitality influences in workplace design,” said Mark Page, senior director creative design and development, Mohawk. “With flooring, designers aim to strike a balance between hard and soft surfaces for work, rest and social activity.”

Soft surface innovation is taking place mostly in design, with new tufting technologies allowing for complex patterns and textures in carpet tile previously only available in broadloom. “It allows the use of more color, patterning capabilities and pinpoint accuracy,” Bentley’s Grogan said. “It has allowed all manufacturers to get lower face weights, which helps with budgets.”

LVT’s good looks have helped propel it to the forefront in many commercial segments. “In addition, the ongoing preference for designing commercial spaces to look more residential in nature has brought popular, proven hard surface products into the commercial arena,” Armstrong’s Block said.

With respect to tile, advances in digital printing technologies have enabled vendors to create realistic 3D visuals that mimic natural materials. “The bar is raised like never before,” Crossville’s Waldrep said. “Convincing wood looks, unique decorative facings, textures, more modular sizes, even porcelain tile panels so versatile they can be installed in ways traditional tile never could.”

Many tile production facilities feature printers that can digitally apply different gloss levels of glaze, metallic and even texture. “When coupled with sophisticated 3D scanners, this means highlights and shadows can actually be printed in line with the physical structure of the tile’s face to enhance the look of even subtly textured surfaces,” noted Ryan Fasan, technical consultant, Tile of Spain. Technology advances are also expanding tile formats, allowing vendors to create everything from beautiful mosaics in hexagon and rectangular shapes to massive porcelain slab sizes.

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FCNews to team with Surfaces for ‘Best of’ awards

HICKSVILLE, N.Y.—Floor Covering News, the industry’s No. 1 publication, and Surfaces, the flooring industry’s premier trade show trade, have announced the launch of the Best of Surfaces awards, a competition that is certain to become a benchmark for product and program excellence for years to come. The program kicks off at Surfaces 2012 in Las Vegas. Continue reading FCNews to team with Surfaces for ‘Best of’ awards