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News: FCA Network celebrates 20th anniversary

April 30/May 7, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 23

By Ken Ryan

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico—Against the scenic backdrop of the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra de Vallejo mountains, FCA Network celebrated its 20th anniversary in grand style here last month, complete with a 12-piece Mariachi band, celebratory toasts and, of course, a successful business gathering.

The conference included a vendor showcase featuring a round-robin format in which pairs of retailers spent 20 minutes at each exhibitor station before rotating. The format was well received by suppliers and dealers alike.

“The round robin was awesome,” said Welton Davison, vice president, strategic accounts for Shaw Industries. “There’s no better way to connect. You can talk specifically to important dealers.”

Bob Noe, president of Pacific Solutions, added, “I loved it. We have a captive audience; it couldn’t be better.”

FCA dealers had similar reactions. Sheri Delp, manager, Legacy Flooring, Olathe, Kan., said accessibility to vendors was a big benefit to her business as she looks to leverage the buying power of the group.

FCA Network comprises 51-member retailers encompassing 67 storefronts; many of which readily admit they would not be in business today without Olga Robertson, president of FCA Network, and her management team.

Buddy Mitchell, co-owner of Simply Floors in Denver, is one of those dealers who was thrown a lifeline. When he was in the market for a buying group, he Googled “carpet buying group,” and Olga Robertson’s name appeared. He called the main number and was startled when she picked up the phone. At the time, Mitchell said he was being “blocked” by a significantly larger retailer in his market who tried to “stifle” his business. He was unable to get product from the major mills.

“FCA quickly stopped that,” he said after joining the group. “Without FCA, I wouldn’t have a business today. And now I have a 3,000-square-foot showroom. I think there are a lot of stores out there that don’t know about buying groups. They say they don’t want to be controlled, but FCA isn’t like other buying groups. They gave me the start I needed but I can buy anything I want. Olga is a great leader, and she is picky. She doesn’t just select anyone who applies to the group.”

It is true that Robertson employs a strict screening process. In candidates she looks for people who are willing to be flexible, who can adapt to change, who are embedded in their communities and hard workers. But unlike other groups, they don’t have to change their store names to comply because Robertson believes “their store is their brand” with many of them already established in their respective markets.

Carpet Source, for example, has been a trusted name in the Albuquerque, N.M., market for 25 years, and its place in the market has only been enhanced by its affiliation with FCA Network, according to Don Lovato, owner. “It’s like having a brotherhood here. We share best practices because we are not in competition with one another; it’s symbiotic. At these meetings, everyone walks away with something valuable for their business.”

Being able to help hard-working people succeed in business is what drives Robertson. “What keeps me going is the ability to help someone who really just needs a chance,” she said. “Of course, we cherish our vendor partners as well. We wouldn’t be here without them.”

Discussing disruption

John Godwin, retired executive from Shaw Industries and longtime friend of the group, was the keynote speaker. One topic he touched on was disruptive technologies. He cited Uber, Airbnb, solar power and smartphones as examples. In flooring, rigid core is of that ilk. “Rigid core boards will take share from every other hard surface category—that’s disruptive technology,” Godwin told FCA retailers. “It’s an exceptional product.”

Godwin encouraged dealers to make themselves uncomfortable; in other words, step out of their comfort zones. “You have to change the way you think. It is the only way to grow.”

That change in approach also applies to sizing up the competition, specifically big box stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s. Godwin suggested flooring dealers should walk into a Lowe’s or Home Depot every other week and be inquisitive. “See what they are doing; ask basic questions such as ‘What is your best-selling hardwood?’ Every consumer who is buying floor covering is going to go to Home Depot and Lowe’s as part of the shopping process.”

Godwin went so far as to suggest retailers have Lowe’s or Home Depot install flooring in their offices to see how the big box associates/installers handle that part of the process.

“A differentiator to the consumer is to guarantee that ‘we will provide you the right product for your application and stand behind it because Lowe’s and Home Depot don’t have the sales team to do that,’” Godwin said.

Dennis Thiets, senior vice president of residential sales, Mohawk, spoke to FCA members about Air.o, the company’s new category of united soft floor covering known for its healthier choice benefits and ease of installation. “Indoor air quality is absolutely critical,” Thiets said. “Paint used to contain 100% VOC, now it is down to 20% as consumers complained about its harmful effects. We believe they will vote the same way for carpet.”

With the average age of today’s installers at 54.5 (Mohawk’s figure), the ease of installing Air.o is another benefit for dealers. “We have lightning in a bottle here,” Thiets said. “Few people are entering the [installation] trade and Air.o is so much easier to install, but this is not a do-it-yourself product. It is exacting.” Overall, it should take about 30% less time to install Air.o vs. regular carpet, he said.

Empire Today, the shop-at-home giant, is private labeling Air.o and making a big push in its TV commercials. As Thiets explained, “Empire is promoting this in a big way and has first-mover advantage.”

FCA’s Robertson called Air.o “disruptive technology” and urged members “to think hard about this product. You have to say this is the direction we want and take the lead here. Open up your mind to this new disruptive technology. It truly is a healthier choice.”

In addition to Air.o, the members were briefed on RevWood and TecWood as the company makes a strong push in hard surfaces this year.

Members were also briefed on new offerings from Congoleum (CLEO Home Studio); Engineered Floors’ PureBac by DreamWeaver; and Signature Classique, a private branded Phenix display with their top polyester styles.

To round out the event, members and vendors alike came together Saturday evening for the group’s annual awards banquet. The event turned out to be a spectacular setting of camaraderie, good food and great fun.

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Carpet: Playing at the high end pays big-time dividends

April 16/23, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 22

By Ken Ryan

Carpet mills are taking advantage of the new reality in flooring—with carpet relegated primarily to the bedroom, consumers are willing to spend more to make that soft surface area really stand out.

Indeed, carpet mills are finding that even in a shrinking market for soft surface, there is money to be made by playing at the high end. Some examples:

Anderson Tuftex

Anderson Tuftex had a strong showing at Surfaces. Since then, dealer reception to its new carpet products (Tavares, Tanzania and Heirloom) has been exceptional, according to Katie Ford, director of brand strategy. “The dealer base has been so supportive. If you are a dealer, and you want to make money, you have to have Tavares and Tanzania—and you probably need to have Heirloom, too. You need the whole line, really, because those three styles are distinctly different.”

Ford said there is nothing quite like Tavares in the market—a natural stone visual akin to a Venetian plaster. “It’s just beautiful. We have a rug version of it, too, and we had it installed at Surfaces; it’s everyone’s favorite.”

Tanzania, in denim blue, is offered in a broken Chevron pattern. Like fine wine, it is a product that gets better with age, Ford said. “Chevrons are showing up these days. These patterns are timeless and don’t go out of style.”

Another favorite is Heirloom, with a raised medallion within a small scale textural pattern. “It’s another timeless classic look,” Ford explained. “With AT, you know our products have that little extra craftsmanship to stand out.”

Dixie Group

By virtue of the fact that it is not a low-cost manufacturer, The Dixie Group must create differentiated products to be successful. That’s according to T.M. Nuckols, president, residential division, who cited two new PetProtect products for 2018—Signature and Trademark, which will be launched by Masland in the second quarter. “Also, Bombay Vibration is a remake of a classic Masland product and now made with PetProtect solution dyed nylon 6,6 fiber; it delivers great durability and stain resistance in a softer and more comfortable product.”

The Masland Energy line, coming in May, is a commercial segment offering with 20 well-styled products made with nylon 6,6 for durability and performance. Wholesale price points range from the low teens to mid 20s, “so we are not targeting the typical Main Street price points,” Nuckols said.

Foss Floors

Foss introduced its DuraKnit collection this year featuring a new construction technique for higher-end broadloom that enables the consumer to install an upscale look in tough traffic conditions. According to Brian Warren, executive vice president, sales and marketing, these products will never fray, zipper or unravel, nor will they fade. And while they are stain resistant and will never wrinkle, they still feature a soft hand and luxurious styling, he added.

In 2018, the company introduced its “Carpet Reinvented” DuraKnit display, which includes an interactive storyboard to highlight the line’s unique characteristics. “These innovations are helping the retailer achieve higher margins by providing a unique selling proposition,” Warren said.

Gulistan Floors

John Sheffield, vice president of sales and marketing, Gulistan, said the company is incorporating a very limited distribution strategy to allow dealer partners to maximize their sales and profits. “We have created a unique collection of patterns using our solution-dyed PET. With our Stainmaster offering, we are using the solution-dyed yarns and trying to fill product voids in the with new textures and yarn applications.”

Mohawk

When you talk high end, Karastan is arguably the first brand that comes to mind. Karastan has three premium yarn systems with which to work in developing products. “Having access to wool, SmartStrand Silk and Kashmere Nylon gives us the ability to develop unique looks and textures utilizing the attributes of these yarns,” said Bill Storey, senior vice president, Mohawk and Karastan. “In addition, we also have developed styles using a combination of two yarns. For example, Hampshire Bay has wool as the base yarn and SmartStrand Silk as the accent. The result is an elegant look that cannot be achieved with a single yarn system.”

Karastan’s new soft stone looks—Mackenzie and Berkeley —are standouts. “These styles create the look of natural stone in a luxurious, soft hand,” Storey explained. “This is achieved through our vintage weave process which utilizes SmartStrand Silk, space-dyed yarn.”

Phenix

The Cleaner Home collection is Phenix’s latest in innovative, trend-forward carpet designs. Refuge, Flourish and Well Being are a collection of three new multi-color patterned carpets that utilize innovative cut and loop technology which allows for varying amounts of cut vs. loop.

These products feature a unique combination of colors that become visible at varying points in the construction to create a unique sculpted look with their own dimensional pattern.

Phenix’s Stainmaster PetProtect Design Solutions collection helps sell higher-end products in multiple surfaces by removing one of the biggest pain points for consumers—coordinating their flooring without the help of an interior designer. “It also helps facilitate overall larger tickets and enhanced profit opportunities for the retailer,” said Mark Clayton, president of Phenix Flooring. “We’re bringing hard surface and carpet together in one display and making it easier than ever for a consumer to walk in, visualize her entire home and purchase on the spot.”

Shaw

Shaw Floors continues to burnish its reputation as a leader in innovation with Bellera, a high-performance carpet line. Bellera’s high-design, on-trend offerings include tonals, accents, loops and bold-colored patterns.

“We’ve put Bellera to the test and can say this carpet will look as good in five years as it does on day one,” said Teresa Tran, director of soft surface portfolio management.

Bellera features Shaw’s spill-proof LifeGuard backing, Endurance high-performance fiber and R2X soil and stain resistance. “We’ve listened to the consumer and are proud to offer them the softness of a residential carpet that is durable enough to withstand their active lifestyle.”

Stanton

Stanton’s premise is differentiation. Three brands of note are Antrim, Rosecore and Crescent, which feature unique styling and are merchandised in high-end display systems. Stanton’s Atelier collection offers cut/loop woven nylon patterns provide greater design and color flexibility than the traditional LCL.

“These introductions coupled with our unparalleled use of color, design and multiple yarn types in woven patterns has set new standards,” said Jonathan Cohen, CEO.

Stanton is introducing Stanton Street, Decorative Commercial this summer. This new collection encompasses a mix of carpet tile, planks and decorative commercial broadloom for Stanton’s first dedicated commercial offering.

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Resilient: Rigid core continues to set new standards

April 2/9, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 21

By Ken Ryan

 

Even seasoned flooring executives are stunned at the growth of the rigid core subsegment that burst onto the scene less than two years ago and has morphed into a super cell of flooring.

Jimmy Tuley, vice president, residential resilient business, Mannington, just returned from Domotex Asia where he saw scores of new entries. “We saw combinations of wood on rigid core; some with mineral core to give it different properties... there is a lot of innovation happening. The pace of change right now is just amazing, unbelievable really.”

Jeff Francis, resilient category manager, Shaw Industries, and a 14-year industry veteran, added, “The rate of change in resilient rigid core is so significant it is challenging just to stay ahead of the pace. Based on the velocity of growth, I don’t see it receding at all.”

Francis said he sees rigid core continuing to take market share from soft surface as well as hard surface—laminate, wood and even glue-down LVT. “We see growth accelerating, and in the next 12-24 months, even as fast as the innovation is coming, we see more of it.”

David Sheehan, senior vice president, product management, Mohawk resilient, said he has been “astounded” by the growth of rigid vinyl. “It is definitely a product that has become the darling of the industry. Just as LVT in general was the go-to product for RSAs and dealers, rigid has become that go-to product.”

Rigid core, or SPC (solid polymer core), is made of a 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. The result is a thinner, harder and stiffer plank. Rigid core products are primarily suitable where higher indentation resistance is required and extensive exposure to sunlight/heat can occur.

This broad definition does not stop flooring companies from putting their own marketing spin on their iterations.

Following is a look at some of the newest offerings in rigid core flooring.


Armstrong
Rigid Core Vantage from Armstrong Flooring includes such features as registered embossing in elongated 9 x 60 and 7 x 60 planks and accentuated painted bevels. The line comes with a commercial-specified 20-mil wear layer and urethane coating, and is noted for its dent resistance thanks to a solid polymer core. Vantage is supported by a premium natural cork underlayment for reduced sound transmission. Armstrong said installing Rigid Core Vantage has been made easier with a new drop-lock system. It has been tested for use in fully enclosed three-season rooms where the expected post-installation temperature range falls between 32°F and 100°F. Rigid Core Vantage will be available to retailers in June.

CFL/FirmFit
FirmFit XXL boasts long and wide planks featuring synchronized embossed-in-register technology. “FirmFit was one of the first to launch long and wide rigid core planks that feature an extremely realistic embossed and register synchronized texture in a large way,” said Thomas Baert, CFL president. “The rigid core category is moving forward extremely fast and improving style and designs, which is bringing the category closer to real wood looks and textures. FirmFit XXL is the next step.”

FirmFit XXL, which will be in stores early summer, is backed by warranties on performance on massive installation surfaces without use of transition moldings. It is dent resistant and sun proof.

Congoleum
Triversa’s triple-layer construction delivers exceptional durability with a 20-mil wear layer, stability through a waterproof rigid core and versatility with cork backing for sound mitigation. A SmartLock clic system allows for easy floating installations. Triversa ID offers extensive design options, including mixed-width woods, longer planks, enhanced edge treatments and tile visuals.

Dixie Group
Dixie is one of the newest entrants into the rigid core space but is determined to make a lasting impression, according to Dan Phelan, vice president of marketing and hard surfaces. For 2018, the Dixie Home and Masland brands are coming out with 16 new offerings, all Stainmaster PetProtect with action traction. “We are filling in some gaps in colorations,” Phelan said. “We have fashion-forward colors in gray and taupe, and we are now adding heavier distressed looks.” New size options in Dixie Home (7 x 60) and Masland (5 x 60) are in addition to a 9 x 60 offered by both. Masland’s Big Sky line offers a 28-mil wear layer.

What’s different here is the company’s path to market is through limited retail distribution. As Phelan explained, “Do you want to enter the market for the sake of entering, or do you want to enter with something special? Stainmaster adds to our position in the marketplace. It’s working for us, and our limited distribution model is very powerful. We’re off to a really good start.”

EarthWerks
Noble Classic Plus SPC from EarthWerks boasts an array of high-dimension oak patterns with EIR. The assortment comes in 8 x 48 planks as well as a 9.5 x 60 tile for an even more dramatic appearance—each with cushion backing.

For customers looking for a glue-down application, these same designs and sizes are also available in a 3mm x 20 mil dry back version called Wood Classic II.

Inhaus
Sono is Inhaus’ latest innovation in waterproof dimensionally stable flooring. The German-made product comes with proprietary technology and features high-definition digital printing. The printing process enables vastly improved color variations and a 5% plank repeat, the company said, resulting in a uniquely appealing installation. The core is highly resistant to heat and cold, is waterproof and has an angle fold locking system for ease of installation. The patented ceramic composite core is free of PVCs, formaldehyde and all other additives.

IVC
Urbane, which will be launched in the second quarter through distribution, will be part of IVC’s rebranded Waterproof Solutions display, which replaces Moduleo. Sheehan explained the company is trying to communicate the inherent waterproof nature of the offerings with the three-product display that also includes Horizon and Embellish. Described as a classic flexible offering, Horizon is a 20 mil, 4.5mm construction available in click and glue down. The trade up is Embellish, a flexible LVT that Sheehan called a very significant offering. “We’re not labeling the products, we’re creating a good/better/best trade-up story,” he said.

Urbane is a rigid offering that IVC expects will drive a lot of traffic and enthusiasm. Glass is used to make the product more dimensionally stable. All three products are suitable for three-season rooms capable of handling extreme temperatures.

Mannington
Tuley said he sees the WPC and SPC segments “splitting” as new technologies emerge to create separation. AduraMax Prime is an SPC targeted at the builder/multifamily segment. AduraMax Apex offers a long and wide plank and is embossed with a painted bevel. Mannington also plans to launch Adura Rigid, an SPC with pad attached. “For the most part, these products are variations or improvements on LVT to solve very particular problems,” Tuley said.

Marquis
Marquis’ newest rigid core product offering, Geneva, provides a print with great color movement and depth. Featuring multi-width look patterns representing a new urban twist to a rustic look, Geneva comes in a 7 x 48 board with a 4mm SPC core and 20 mil ceramic bead wear layer finished with a 1.5mm closed-cell IXPE attached cushion.

Metroflor
Engage Inception, Metroflor’s new SPC product, expands the company’s portfolio of LVT flooring solutions that address all relevant categories—glue down and a variety of floating platforms such as Grip-Strip (Konecto), Solid Vinyl Clic (Engage), WPC (Engage Genesis) and now SPC (Engage Inception).

The new Engage Inception line is intended to serve as an entry-level, SPC product suitable for multifamily, residential and commercial environments dependent on the wear layer chosen. It is stiffer and denser than WPC, offering favorable dimensional stability characteristics, thereby enabling greater resistance to temperature changes and indentations. Beyond improved dent resistance, the premium attached high-density polyethylene foam underlayment provides sound absorption, reduces transmitted sound and foot fatigue and helps to conceal subfloor imperfections.

Mohawk
2018 promises to be a big year for Mohawk in the area of rigid core. Starting with SolidTech, its flagship line with less than one full year in the market, Mohawk is readying a slew of new rigid offerings from its U.S. production facility that will be a fully integrated rigid core plant. “Customers are getting in line for this,” Sheehan said. “Mohawk has invested a huge amount of capital toward this category. We feel we have the right products and are positioned well in each of our channels.”

Due out soon is True Design, a collection of neat visuals with features such as EIR, painted bevels and longer planks. Within the collection, Blended Tones boasts a 22-mil wear layer with a painted bevel. “The reason we do embossed in register is not to prove to the market that we can do it, but to make the product look real,” Sheehan explained. “We feel we have done that with the True Design collection.”

Both the second and third quarters will be active for Mohawk as it aggressively expands its rigid portfolio. As Sheehan explained, “If rigid is the fastest growing segment, the only way to keep pace and grow your market share is to aggressively invest in your category. We are going to aggressively expand our offering and grab market share with the right product along with the right visuals and price points.”

Karndean
Korlok Select, the company’s rigid core line, took two years to develop but was worth the wait, according to Emil Mellow, director of public relations. “Everything we put in there is top end.”

Korlok’s rigid core line comes fully equipped with K-Core technology, a pre-attached acoustic underlayment, K-Guard+ surface protection, HoldFast 5G locking mechanism and warranty. Its 9 x 56 plank matches that of other suppliers. “We found that anything longer than that logistically doesn’t work for a couple of reasons,” Mellow stated. “The box size becomes too heavy and unwieldy to handle, the retail shelf bins are not big enough to accommodate the planks, and the installation becomes very difficult. You need two people and that defeats the whole purpose of easy assembly.”

While most companies, including Karndean, attach numerous bells and whistles to their rigid core products, occasionally they dial back the features to hit a desired price point. That was the case with the Reserve line, which comes out in May. It launches with a stacker option or waterfall display for dealers.

Novalis
Its newest rigid core product, Serenbe, is part of the NovaFloor line with high density core (HDC) technology. It has 24 styles in planks and tiles—including a new 12 x 36 tile. Serenbe also features Novalis’ newest advancement in protection, patent-pending NovaShield.

NovaFloor HDC is an extruded solid vinyl that provides all the popular attributes of rigid core: waterproof, dent resistance and ease of installation over common subfloor imperfections. “We equipped it with an attached foam underlayment as a sound barrier and added comfort underfoot,” said Steve Erlich, vice president of sales and marketing. “So, if you’re a dealer, you will want this product line on your retail floor. It’s the whole package.”

Phenix
Bold Statement from Phenix is a Stainmaster PetProtect SPC in seven colors, five planks and two tile options. Velocity is a 9 x 60 SPC rigid core that combines Corex technology with an EVA foam backing to eliminate additional underlayment. “Both products have some unique features and benefits,” said Chris Johnson, senior vice president of sales. “Our Bold Statement is [among] the only PetProtect SPCs on the market. It also has the Stainmaster PetProtect finish, so it provides superior scratch resistance and pet action traction.”

Velocity is a 22-mil product that is extra wide and long but is also available in a 12 x 24 tile. “We have worked hard to develop a rich and diverse color palette for both products, so just about any home can find something within Velocity that fits their space,” Johnson said.

Quick-Step
EnduraTek and EnduraTek Ultra, the company’s newest rigid core offerings, will be sold through distribution. These unique tile visuals are constructed of an internally routed grout line that renders the product incredibly real, according to the company. “It gives the visual appearance of a 12 x 24, when in fact it is a 12 x 48 plank.” EnduraTek Ultra is slated for the second quarter. “We have rigid flowing everywhere,” Sheehan said.

Raskin
Raskin Industries is promoting its eight-layer rigid construction in which each layer is engineered to provide more stability. “It’s the best of both worlds—waterproof rigid with no air or foam, and no adhesives since we fuse the layers as we use heat and pressure,” said Michael Raskin, president. “It’s critical to have multiple layers.”

A new product, Solid Gencore, is made from Raskin’s proprietary acrylic composite structure used as its core layer to provide maximum stability and impact resistance. “Acrylx has no foam or air, making it denser than a WPC-type multilayer product. We use advanced technology-grade resins that are used specifically to provide stability against heat and cold temperatures.”

New to the market is Acrylx Select, available in five colors. The line is meant to be price competitive with the added benefits of soundproof backing and anti-mildew. It is 100% waterproof as well. Lumination Velocity, another new offering, will have 10 colors in a 4mm with a 1mm Gcore backing. This collection will include registered embossing and will be showcased in a new display with large boards. The line consists of stone, multi-plank looks and 60-inch planks. “It’s hard to differentiate, so it’s important to sell the latest and best technology that will stand up to the hype,” Raskin said. “We feel our product construction and ability to design the colors and styles that sell will offer customers the right products.”

Shaw
Shaw Industries is another major mill that has invested heavily in the rigid core business primarily with Floorte.

Floorte Pro, a new tile rigid core product, launched with 20 SKUs. The waterproof, click product features a lacquer bevel. “There is a trend toward smaller grout lines, which we can do with this product,” Francis said. “The response has been great. This opens it up to mud rooms and bathrooms.”

Overall, Floorte Pro offers a diverse portfolio of visuals ranging from hardwood to tile looks. Mineral Mix, for example, strikes a balance between contemporary concrete and linear metal looks for a chic aesthetic. Each tile has visual grout applied for a quick installation that does not require traditional grout. Blue Ridge Pine is a rich heart pine visual that captures the contrast, character and uniqueness found in natural hardwood.

Tarkett
Tarkett’s new ProGen collection is the next generation of rigid core luxury vinyl flooring that provides superior impact and indentation resistance. The product also demonstrates superior durability over traditional WPC, according to the company.

ProGen’s unique compact core design makes installation easy by providing the flexibility to adjust to tight spaces, while maintaining enough rigidity to allow for installation over imperfect subfloors. This new collection has a 20-mil, commercial-grade wear layer and enhanced polyurethane layer that allow ProGen to resist scratches and the rigors of modern life. In addition, its high-density foam backing reduces unwanted noise.

USFloors
Piet Dossche, founder and CEO, said there were 65 Chinese manufacturers exhibiting rigid core products at Domotex Hannover in January, a testament to the incredible momentum of the subcategory. “This is not a fad, this is just the beginning,” he said at a recent symposium. “Composite waterproof flooring will be the high double-digit growth engine in hard surfaces for the next five years.”

To that end, USFloors is striving to keep its market-share-leading position among suppliers. The company launched COREtec Pro Plus in Q4 2017 and COREtec Pro Plus Enhanced in January. Both are of SPC construction. USFloors will introduce COREtec Stone in the summer with upwards of 40 SKUs. “Attention to detail and design is what makes Pro Plus and Pro Plus Enhanced stand out from the crowd,” said Jamann Stepp, director of marketing and product management. COREtec Pro collections include a double extrusion process with a 1mm cork attached pad. Pro Plus Enhanced also incorporates a four-sided enhanced beveled edge for added realism. As for the forthcoming COREtec Stone, attention to detail will again be key. “The decors, including the tech and spec data that is employed in the Pro Plus collections, along with a proprietary protective coating to prevent scratching and abrasion, will set COREtec Stone apart from the rest,” Stepp said. “We see COREtec Stone as tile reinvented.”

Wellmade
Wellmade continues to expand its Nouveax en vogue HDPC vinyl plank collection. The rigid core features Wellmade’s co-extrusion technology and includes standard and wide/long plank options. Wear layers are available in 8-, 12-, and 20-mil options. Wellmade has added new design options for 2018, including character-driven muted gray and brown tones with enhanced texturing on the hardwood side, and contemporary travertine looks in stone. “Dealers have pleased with our competitive pricing, ease of installation and superior overall performance,” said Steve Wagner, director of marketing.

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Rigid core continues to set new standards

April 2/9, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 21

By Ken Ryan

 

Even seasoned flooring executives are stunned at the growth of the rigid core subsegment that burst onto the scene less than two years ago and has morphed into a super cell of flooring.

Jimmy Tuley, vice president, residential resilient business, Mannington, just returned from Domotex Asia where he saw scores of new entries. “We saw combinations of wood on rigid core; some with mineral core to give it different properties… there is a lot of innovation happening. The pace of change right now is just amazing, unbelievable really.”

Jeff Francis, resilient category manager, Shaw Industries, and a 14-year industry veteran, added, “The rate of change in resilient rigid core is so significant it is challenging just to stay ahead of the pace. Based on the velocity of growth, I don’t see it receding at all.”

Francis said he sees rigid core continuing to take market share from soft surface as well as hard surface—laminate, wood and even glue-down LVT. “We see growth accelerating, and in the next 12-24 months, even as fast as the innovation is coming, we see more of it.”

David Sheehan, senior vice president, product management, Mohawk resilient, said he has been “astounded” by the growth of rigid vinyl. “It is definitely a product that has become the darling of the industry. Just as LVT in general was the go-to product for RSAs and dealers, rigid has become that go-to product.”

Rigid core, or SPC (solid polymer core), is made of a 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. The result is a thinner, harder and stiffer plank. Rigid core products are primarily suitable where higher indentation resistance is required and extensive exposure to sunlight/heat can occur.

This broad definition does not stop flooring companies from putting their own marketing spin on their iterations.

Following is a look at some of the newest offerings in rigid core flooring.

Armstrong

Rigid Core Vantage from Armstrong Flooring includes such features as registered embossing in elongated 9 x 60 and 7 x 60 planks and accentuated painted bevels. The line comes with a commercial-specified 20-mil wear layer and urethane coating, and is noted for its dent resistance thanks to a solid polymer core. Vantage is supported by a premium natural cork underlayment for reduced sound transmission. Armstrong said installing Rigid Core Vantage has been made easier with a new drop-lock system. It has been tested for use in fully enclosed three-season rooms where the expected post-installation temperature range falls between 32°F and 100°F. Rigid Core Vantage will be available to retailers in June.

CFL/FirmFit

FirmFit XXL boasts long and wide planks featuring synchronized embossed-in-register technology. “FirmFit was one of the first to launch long and wide rigid core planks that feature an extremely realistic embossed and register synchronized texture in a large way,” said Thomas Baert, CFL president. “The rigid core category is moving forward extremely fast and improving style and designs, which is bringing the category closer to real wood looks and textures. FirmFit XXL is the next step.”

FirmFit XXL, which will be in stores early summer, is backed by warranties on performance on massive installation surfaces without use of transition moldings. It is dent resistant and sun proof.

Congoleum

Triversa’s triple-layer construction delivers exceptional durability with a 20-mil wear layer, stability through a waterproof rigid core and versatility with cork backing for sound mitigation. A SmartLock clic system allows for easy floating installations. Triversa ID offers extensive design options, including mixed-width woods, longer planks, enhanced edge treatments and tile visuals.

Dixie Group

Dixie is one of the newest entrants into the rigid core space but is determined to make a lasting impression, according to Dan Phelan, vice president of marketing and hard surfaces. For 2018, the Dixie Home and Masland brands are coming out with 16 new offerings, all Stainmaster PetProtect with action traction. “We are filling in some gaps in colorations,” Phelan said. “We have fashion-forward colors in gray and taupe, and we are now adding heavier distressed looks.” New size options in Dixie Home (7 x 60) and Masland (5 x 60) are in addition to a 9 x 60 offered by both. Masland’s Big Sky line offers a 28-mil wear layer.

What’s different here is the company’s path to market is through limited retail distribution. As Phelan explained, “Do you want to enter the market for the sake of entering, or do you want to enter with something special? Stainmaster adds to our position in the marketplace. It’s working for us, and our limited distribution model is very powerful. We’re off to a really good start.”

EarthWerks

Noble Classic Plus SPC from EarthWerks boasts an array of high-dimension oak patterns with EIR. The assortment comes in 8 x 48 planks as well as a 9.5 x 60 tile for an even more dramatic appearance—each with cushion backing.

For customers looking for a glue-down application, these same designs and sizes are also available in a 3mm x 20 mil dry back version called Wood Classic II.

Inhaus

Sono is Inhaus’ latest innovation in waterproof dimensionally stable flooring. The German-made product comes with proprietary technology and features high-definition digital printing. The printing process enables vastly improved color variations and a 5% plank repeat, the company said, resulting in a uniquely appealing installation. The core is highly resistant to heat and cold, is waterproof and has an angle fold locking system for ease of installation. The patented ceramic composite core is free of PVCs, formaldehyde and all other additives.

IVC

Urbane, which will be launched in the second quarter through distribution, will be part of IVC’s rebranded Waterproof Solutions display, which replaces Moduleo. Sheehan explained the company is trying to communicate the inherent waterproof nature of the offerings with the three-product display that also includes Horizon and Embellish. Described as a classic flexible offering, Horizon is a 20 mil, 4.5mm construction available in click and glue down. The trade up is Embellish, a flexible LVT that Sheehan called a very significant offering. “We’re not labeling the products, we’re creating a good/better/best trade-up story,” he said.

Urbane is a rigid offering that IVC expects will drive a lot of traffic and enthusiasm. Glass is used to make the product more dimensionally stable. All three products are suitable for three-season rooms capable of handling extreme temperatures.

Mannington

Tuley said he sees the WPC and SPC segments “splitting” as new technologies emerge to create separation. AduraMax Prime is an SPC targeted at the builder/multifamily segment. AduraMax Apex offers a long and wide plank and is embossed with a painted bevel. Mannington also plans to launch Adura Rigid, an SPC with pad attached. “For the most part, these products are variations or improvements on LVT to solve very particular problems,” Tuley said.

Marquis

Marquis’ newest rigid core product offering, Geneva, provides a print with great color movement and depth. Featuring multi-width look patterns representing a new urban twist to a rustic look, Geneva comes in a 7 x 48 board with a 4mm SPC core and 20 mil ceramic bead wear layer finished with a 1.5mm closed-cell IXPE attached cushion.

Metroflor

Engage Inception, Metroflor’s new SPC product, expands the company’s portfolio of LVT flooring solutions that address all relevant categories—glue down and a variety of floating platforms such as Grip-Strip (Konecto), Solid Vinyl Clic (Engage), WPC (Engage Genesis) and now SPC (Engage Inception).

The new Engage Inception line is intended to serve as an entry-level, SPC product suitable for multifamily, residential and commercial environments dependent on the wear layer chosen. It is stiffer and denser than WPC, offering favorable dimensional stability characteristics, thereby enabling greater resistance to temperature changes and indentations. Beyond improved dent resistance, the premium attached high-density polyethylene foam underlayment provides sound absorption, reduces transmitted sound and foot fatigue and helps to conceal subfloor imperfections.

Mohawk

2018 promises to be a big year for Mohawk in the area of rigid core. Starting with SolidTech, its flagship line with less than one full year in the market, Mohawk is readying a slew of new rigid offerings from its U.S. production facility that will be a fully integrated rigid core plant. “Customers are getting in line for this,” Sheehan said. “Mohawk has invested a huge amount of capital toward this category. We feel we have the right products and are positioned well in each of our channels.”

Due out soon is True Design, a collection of neat visuals with features such as EIR, painted bevels and longer planks. Within the collection, Blended Tones boasts a 22-mil wear layer with a painted bevel. “The reason we do embossed in register is not to prove to the market that we can do it, but to make the product look real,” Sheehan explained. “We feel we have done that with the True Design collection.”

Both the second and third quarters will be active for Mohawk as it aggressively expands its rigid portfolio. As Sheehan explained, “If rigid is the fastest growing segment, the only way to keep pace and grow your market share is to aggressively invest in your category. We are going to aggressively expand our offering and grab market share with the right product along with the right visuals and price points.”

Karndean

Korlok Select, the company’s rigid core line, took two years to develop but was worth the wait, according to Emil Mellow, director of public relations. “Everything we put in there is top end.”

Korlok’s rigid core line comes fully equipped with K-Core technology, a pre-attached acoustic underlayment, K-Guard+ surface protection, HoldFast 5G locking mechanism and warranty. Its 9 x 56 plank matches that of other suppliers. “We found that anything longer than that logistically doesn’t work for a couple of reasons,” Mellow stated. “The box size becomes too heavy and unwieldy to handle, the retail shelf bins are not big enough to accommodate the planks, and the installation becomes very difficult. You need two people and that defeats the whole purpose of easy assembly.”

While most companies, including Karndean, attach numerous bells and whistles to their rigid core products, occasionally they dial back the features to hit a desired price point. That was the case with the Reserve line, which comes out in May. It launches with a stacker option or waterfall display for dealers.

Novalis

Its newest rigid core product, Serenbe, is part of the NovaFloor line with high density core (HDC) technology. It has 24 styles in planks and tiles—including a new 12 x 36 tile. Serenbe also features Novalis’ newest advancement in protection, patent-pending NovaShield.

NovaFloor HDC is an extruded solid vinyl that provides all the popular attributes of rigid core: waterproof, dent resistance and ease of installation over common subfloor imperfections. “We equipped it with an attached foam underlayment as a sound barrier and added comfort underfoot,” said Steve Erlich, vice president of sales and marketing. “So, if you’re a dealer, you will want this product line on your retail floor. It’s the whole package.”

Phenix

Bold Statement from Phenix is a Stainmaster PetProtect SPC in seven colors, five planks and two tile options. Velocity is a 9 x 60 SPC rigid core that combines Corex technology with an EVA foam backing to eliminate additional underlayment. “Both products have some unique features and benefits,” said Chris Johnson, senior vice president of sales. “Our Bold Statement is [among] the only PetProtect SPCs on the market. It also has the Stainmaster PetProtect finish, so it provides superior scratch resistance and pet action traction.”

Velocity is a 22-mil product that is extra wide and long but is also available in a 12 x 24 tile. “We have worked hard to develop a rich and diverse color palette for both products, so just about any home can find something within Velocity that fits their space,” Johnson said.

Quick-Step

EnduraTek and EnduraTek Ultra, the company’s newest rigid core offerings, will be sold through distribution. These unique tile visuals are constructed of an internally routed grout line that renders the product incredibly real, according to the company. “It gives the visual appearance of a 12 x 24, when in fact it is a 12 x 48 plank.” EnduraTek Ultra is slated for the second quarter. “We have rigid flowing everywhere,” Sheehan said.

Raskin

Raskin Industries is promoting its eight-layer rigid construction in which each layer is engineered to provide more stability. “It’s the best of both worlds—waterproof rigid with no air or foam, and no adhesives since we fuse the layers as we use heat and pressure,” said Michael Raskin, president. “It’s critical to have multiple layers.”

A new product, Solid Gencore, is made from Raskin’s proprietary acrylic composite structure used as its core layer to provide maximum stability and impact resistance. “Acrylx has no foam or air, making it denser than a WPC-type multilayer product. We use advanced technology-grade resins that are used specifically to provide stability against heat and cold temperatures.”

New to the market is Acrylx Select, available in five colors. The line is meant to be price competitive with the added benefits of soundproof backing and anti-mildew. It is 100% waterproof as well. Lumination Velocity, another new offering, will have 10 colors in a 4mm with a 1mm Gcore backing. This collection will include registered embossing and will be showcased in a new display with large boards. The line consists of stone, multi-plank looks and 60-inch planks. “It’s hard to differentiate, so it’s important to sell the latest and best technology that will stand up to the hype,” Raskin said. “We feel our product construction and ability to design the colors and styles that sell will offer customers the right products.”

Shaw

Shaw Industries is another major mill that has invested heavily in the rigid core business primarily with Floorte.

Floorte Pro, a new tile rigid core product, launched with 20 SKUs. The waterproof, click product features a lacquer bevel. “There is a trend toward smaller grout lines, which we can do with this product,” Francis said. “The response has been great. This opens it up to mud rooms and bathrooms.”

Overall, Floorte Pro offers a diverse portfolio of visuals ranging from hardwood to tile looks. Mineral Mix, for example, strikes a balance between contemporary concrete and linear metal looks for a chic aesthetic. Each tile has visual grout applied for a quick installation that does not require traditional grout. Blue Ridge Pine is a rich heart pine visual that captures the contrast, character and uniqueness found in natural hardwood.

Tarkett

Tarkett’s new ProGen collection is the next generation of rigid core luxury vinyl flooring that provides superior impact and indentation resistance. The product also demonstrates superior durability over traditional WPC, according to the company.

ProGen’s unique compact core design makes installation easy by providing the flexibility to adjust to tight spaces, while maintaining enough rigidity to allow for installation over imperfect subfloors. This new collection has a 20-mil, commercial-grade wear layer and enhanced polyurethane layer that allow ProGen to resist scratches and the rigors of modern life. In addition, its high-density foam backing reduces unwanted noise.

USFloors

Piet Dossche, founder and CEO, said there were 65 Chinese manufacturers exhibiting rigid core products at Domotex Hannover in January, a testament to the incredible momentum of the subcategory. “This is not a fad, this is just the beginning,” he said at a recent symposium. “Composite waterproof flooring will be the high double-digit growth engine in hard surfaces for the next five years.”

To that end, USFloors is striving to keep its market-share-leading position among suppliers. The company launched COREtec Pro Plus in Q4 2017 and COREtec Pro Plus Enhanced in January. Both are of SPC construction. USFloors will introduce COREtec Stone in the summer with upwards of 40 SKUs. “Attention to detail and design is what makes Pro Plus and Pro Plus Enhanced stand out from the crowd,” said Jamann Stepp, director of marketing and product management. COREtec Pro collections include a double extrusion process with a 1mm cork attached pad. Pro Plus Enhanced also incorporates a four-sided enhanced beveled edge for added realism. As for the forthcoming COREtec Stone, attention to detail will again be key. “The decors, including the tech and spec data that is employed in the Pro Plus collections, along with a proprietary protective coating to prevent scratching and abrasion, will set COREtec Stone apart from the rest,” Stepp said. “We see COREtec Stone as tile reinvented.”

Wellmade

Wellmade continues to expand its Nouveax en vogue HDPC vinyl plank collection. The rigid core features Wellmade’s co-extrusion technology and includes standard and wide/long plank options. Wear layers are available in 8-, 12-, and 20-mil options. Wellmade has added new design options for 2018, including character-driven muted gray and brown tones with enhanced texturing on the hardwood side, and contemporary travertine looks in stone. “Dealers have pleased with our competitive pricing, ease of installation and superior overall performance,” said Steve Wagner, director of marketing.

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My take: The ins and outs of innovation

March 19/26, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 20

By Steven Feldman

 

Innovation. It’s more than a buzzword; it’s basically a blueprint for survival in the face of competition. Talk to any manufacturer, and most will tell you their ability to innovate is what sets it apart from the pack. Whether it’s a product like Air.o from Mohawk; a new locking system from Unilin, Välinge or Innovations 4 Flooring; a novel dyeing process; or some new wrinkle in the waterproof flooring category, innovation is truly the name of the game.

It’s a phenomenon not unique to flooring. Every company in virtually every industry must innovate, the success of which is predicated on a company’s ability to convey the benefits to end users and why this innovation truly matters.

I was reminded of this the other day as I was reading an article on innovation in the adult beverage industry. Back in 2013, the vodka category was beginning to go through a real identity crisis. For a while, the major innovation was flavored vodkas. Believe it or not, the first flavored vodka to hit the market was Absolut Peppar in 1986, seven years after the birth of the Absolut brand. But nearly 30 years later, the flavored vodka boom was ending, and vodka companies were scrambling to figure out ways to hold on to their growth and still remain relevant in a marketplace that was increasingly shifting toward whiskey. This sort of parallels carpet’s position as the marketplace had been shifting in the direction of hard surface since the turn of the 21st century.

Grey Goose was one of those brands that was really trying to navigate these changing vodka waters. In 2013, Bacardi, which owns the Grey Goose brand, saw a 5% decline in sales. Part of this falloff was attributed to Grey Goose’s decision to not chase the flavor trend too hard, but a more significant factor was unexpected competition from non-premium brands like Tito’s Vodka, which took significant share away from premium players like Grey Goose. For our industry, the parallel could be Royalty Carpet Mills, which saw its market share erode in the face of competition from new mills like Engineered Floors, Phenix and Lexmark Residential, to name a few. Royalty did not chase the hard surface business, either.

The problem with the vodka category, and its players, was it had enjoyed such effortless success for decades with very little need for innovation. Sort of like carpet not facing any appreciable hard surface competition until the mid-1990s, when laminate hit the scene and hardwood and ceramic became more readily available to the masses. While carpet was not going to lose its dominance to any one hard surface category, the landscape was clearly changing, and mills really had no maps to navigate the road ahead.

What Grey Goose did with VX was akin to what Mohawk has successfully done with Air.o, which looks and smells like carpet but is billed as Unified Soft Flooring. Grey Goose VX isn’t technically a vodka: the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau slapped a “spirit drink” classification on the brand and bottle. Grey Goose VX is essentially Grey Goose vodka finished with a hint of cognac. The bottle does disclose that it’s a blend of 95% vodka and 5% cognac, the same ratio that’s common with spirit whiskey.

Grey Goose VX infuses some of the flavors that cognac offers without fundamentally disrupting the vodka experience. Sort of like Mohawk improving some of the attributes of carpet (health, installation, etc.) without disrupting the carpet experience.

The important thing to keep in mind with any innovation is pricing. The end user must see the value. The big problem with Grey Goose VX when it launched was the price. Given that Grey Goose vodka typically sells for around $30, the leap to $75 a bottle for Grey Goose VX was pretty dramatic. It begged the question, “Why not spend the money on a good cognac instead?” Once ultra-premium vodka leaves the $40-$50 price point, there’s a real question over what you’re really paying for. We saw that with laminate not too long ago. As manufacturers innovated to improve style and performance, the price could reach a point where the consumer could purchase real hardwood.

Innovation is a requisite for success. But it must be well thought out and provide a solution—at the right price.

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Phenix becomes approved vendor for Abbey Carpet & Floor

Dalton, Ga.—Phenix Flooring has joined Abbey Carpet & Floor and Floors To Go as an approved vendor. Phenix Flooring products, including carpet and hard surface offerings, will now be available through Abbey Carpet & Floor and Floors To Go’s network of retailers in the United States and Canada.

“This is an exciting opportunity for our company to join Abbey and Floors To Go and open additional channels to get our products in showrooms across the country,” said Chris Johnson, SVP of sales for Phenix Flooring. “They are leaders in the retail flooring space and have a history of providing their retail partners and ultimately, the end customer, with the highest quality service and the industry’s best product selection.”

Consumers can expect to see Phenix Flooring products in participating retail stores this spring.

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Carpet: State of the industry—Higher-end goods boost residential end of the market

August 28/September 4: Volume 32, Issue 6

By Ken Ryan

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 11.43.04 AMAfter a slow start to 2017, the residential carpet category gained some traction in the second quarter, resulting in a 2% rise in sales over the year-ago period, with units up 0.5% overall in the first half. Executives cited sales of better goods, an uptick in consumer confidence and price increases that have firmed up the marketplace.

The U.S. carpet category continues its ever-so-slight recovery from the Great Recession, its growth held in check by hard surfaces. “We have seen patterns, loops and differentiated product at the upper end doing disproportionately well and outperforming the medium end of the market,” said Tom Lape, president of Mohawk Residential.

T.M. Nuckols, executive vice president of residential business for the Dixie Group, which oversees the Dixie Home, Masland and Fabrica brands, agreed that better goods at the higher end of the spectrum and well-styled products are seeing the greatest activity in the residential market these days. If the products offer soil and pet stain protection—as many of them do—it’s a plus.

The 2% growth in residential carpet is a welcome sign for a category that has shown little to no growth in the last three years. In 2016, for example, FCNews’ research showed carpet sales down 1% to $8.7813 billion while total volume—which includes carpet and area rugs—gained 1.2% to 11.22 billion square feet.

There are some positive signs in housing that should favor a boost in carpet sales going forward. Between July 2016 and July 2017, U.S. home values increased 6.8%, according to Zillow, the online real estate database interest. That number is expected to rise another 2.7% within the next year, the company said. This uptick in home prices has helped boost consumer confidence among homeowners, which has increased two months in a row. As a consequence, the residential replacement market has experienced growth as spending on remodeling projects has moved higher. While most of that spending has been for hard surfaces, soft goods have not been shut out entirely.

However, rising home prices are a double-edge sword because it prevents many would-be buyers, especially older millennials, from entering the market. The flip side is that has resulted in a more robust multi-family segment. The multi-family production index (MPI), which provides a composite measure of three key elements of that market—construction of low-rent units, market-rate rental units and “for-sale” units, or condominiums—jumped 8 points to 56 in the second quarter as all three components increased.

“Improved units can be attributed to a fairly good builder market in both multi-family and single family as well as the return of home equities in the retail remodel sector,” said Brad Christensen, vice president, soft surface portfolio management, Shaw Floors.

Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 11.43.21 AMThe Main Street segment of the business continues to perform reasonably well, with carpet tile continuing to grow in both small, local businesses and specified commercial. Broadloom, however, continues to lose share in both sectors.

Market research has shown consumers desire the warmth and comfort of carpet in their homes. To meet that need manufacturers are focusing on the look and feel of carpet more so than fiber type. As Christensen explains: “Consumers want a stylish, high-performing carpet that complements their uniquely curated living spaces and demand both design and function in a variety of price points.”

Rodney Mauter, executive vice president of residential marketing for Lexmark, sees value and fashion, especially, as the primary inspiration for consumers. “She wants her bedrooms and family rooms to be just as much of a statement as the rest of her home. As carpet manufacturers we must continue to exceed performance standards while offering more color and fashion choices.”

The dwindling middle
Carpet continues to play well in certain regions, in particular the upper Midwest and Northeast, observers say. Meanwhile, both the low and upper ends of the market are showing fairly brisk activity. Engineered Floors, the No. 3 carpet company, is flourishing in the lower-end polyester market, which continues to be strong. The upper end, which counts Dixie, Shaw (Tuftex) and Mohawk (Karastan), continues to shine. However, the mid-range market—$8 to $13—is struggling. “Rather than building products that fit your assets, build products that fit your customers’ needs,” Lape explained. “We have to figure out a way to create compelling products for our retailers even if it is hard.”

Innovative offerings
Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 11.43.26 AMMohawk’s SmartStrand is an example of a compelling product that has enjoyed tremendous reception at the retail level, with new iterations like SmartStrand Reserve giving dealers more profit potential. “SmartStrand Reserve has hit the market with very solid acceptance across our dealer base,” Lape said. “Our prior research told us consumers loved luxurious soft performance carpet, and since our launch earlier in 2017 our research has now been proven true with the introduction of SmartStrand Reserve.”

Several advancements in technology have driven today’s exceptional quality, performance and styling looks. Improved yarn systems offer softer hand along with a range of visual aesthetics coupled with enhanced performance and durability. According to Susan Curtis, senior vice president, product development for Phenix, developments in tufting technology continue to open new ways to design creative carpets. She said additional attributes are being engineered into carpet products that enhance the consumer’s use and experience with the product.

Mark Clayton, president of Phenix, said innovations in tufting technology have provided opportunities for manufacturers to create more compelling textures and color palettes for the consumer.

Technology’s contribution to carpet has kept it as a viable flooring solution especially in the areas of improved stain, soil, wear and fade resistance—in addition to affordable pricing. That’s according to James Lesslie, executive vice president at Engineered Floors, whose company introduced an advanced polyester extrusion process fiber system called Apex SD.

Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 11.43.32 AMAt Shaw Floors, its LifeGuard waterproof backing system is now offered as a trade-up option for dealers. In 2017 Shaw added LifeGuard to its Anso Color Wall in a Titanium collection with 150 new SKUs. “We’re listening to consumers more than we ever have before and adapting our strategies to meet their needs,” Christensen said. “Making LifeGuard an optional upgrade on more styles is just one example of this new approach.”

Products that offer stain and soil protection continue to resonate with consumers, the majority of whom own pets, studies show. To that end, the Dixie Group introduced a significant number of new products under the Stainmaster PetProtect brand, including many new carpet styles under its Dixie Home and Masland lines.

Phenix’s Cleaner Home carpet, meanwhile, features built-in Microban antimicrobial technology to protect against the growth of stain- and odor-causing bacteria and mold. Recognizing consumers’ growing desire for a cleaner home without cleaning more, Phenix combined these three unique components—a new fiber with two proactive technologies—to create this new carpet collection.

In terms of innovation and initiatives perhaps no one has been as busy as Engineered Floors. “Our top innovations are hard to pinpoint because 2017 has been so busy for us,” Lesslie explained. “So far this year, we’ve launched a totally new website, expanded our social media, broken ground and are in the process of completing a new modular carpet manufacturing facility, added several new Main Street commercial products through our Pentz brand and introduced Apex SD. And we’ve got four more months to go.”

 

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Carpet pushes back against hard surface

July 3/10: Volume 32, Issue 2

By Ken Ryan

 

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 2.29.45 PMCarpet’s share of the overall flooring market has dropped from 50.9% of dollars in 2006 to 41.5% in 2016, according to FCNews estimates. While the downward trend has not been dramatic, it has been steady and consistent.

Carpet mill executives don’t need to look at statistics to know what is happening in the marketplace. The big ones (i.e., Mohawk and Shaw) have already transformed into total flooring solutions companies, well positioned to take advantage of any flooring trend. As Seth Arnold, vice president of residential marketing for Mohawk Industries, explained, “We are not working to stem the tide on anything. Our business is about meeting consumer demand wherever that may be.”

The smaller mills have options, too. Some have entered the hard surface category; others are contemplating such a move. And there are some who have stuck to their soft surface knitting, redoubling their efforts to deliver differentiated product.

So what are carpet mills to do about combating the inexorable gains of hard surface? Some advocate promoting the benefits of carpet. “It’s softer, warmer, more comfortable, quieter and safer than hard surfaces,” said T.M. Nuckols, executive vice president of the residential business for Dixie Home. “We also make beautiful styles and designs that can complement the many looks available in hard surfaces.”

Rodney Mauter, executive vice president, Lexmark Residential, has his own ideas. “We must keep driving the positives of carpet; after all, no one takes a nap on a hardwood floor, no one plays with the baby or puppy on a tile floor.”

Others say it is the carpet industry’s duty to continue to explore innovation and technology. “Whether it’s through style, design or performance, soft floor covering will continue to evolve and develop and ultimately remain a viable flooring option to consumers long into the future,” said Mike Sanderson, vice president of product marketing, Engineered Floors.

Soft, durable carpet provides a healthy profit margin for flooring dealers, especially when sold with pad. Some observers say the industry needs to drill down on that. “First and foremost, we need to put an end to the continuation of the race to the bottom in terms of PET pricing and overall devaluation of the category,” said Brad Christensen, vice president, soft surface category management, Shaw Floors. “The industry collectively needs to do more to promote the many benefits of soft surfaces, none more tried and true than its value compared to other surfaces. We don’t need to give it away.”

Other mills find focusing on a particular niche is beneficial. Stanton, for example, has grown its business by being selective about its patterns and offerings. “It’s about being thoughtful about the design part of it,” said Jonathan Cohen, CEO. “You can use existing technology that is out there to create something fresh. We can step it up a couple notches and produce something that is really good looking.”

Indeed, executives say there is no substitute for continually innovating to create new and compelling products. “Homeowners are no longer interested in 50 shades of beige,” Mauter said. “They demand every room of the home to denote personal style while providing comfort and performance. Easy care and maintenance is also important; products must clean easily and last.”

Ongoing initiatives
Research indicates that consumers shop by look and feel rather than fiber type. To that end, carpet mills are developing products that look great and can withstand high-traffic areas. That is no easy feat, but driving innovation is the only way to keep carpet relevant, executives say. “Carpet can be on the cutting edge of home décor,” Dixie’s Nuckols said.

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 2.30.06 PMTo address the hard surface opportunity for soft surfaces, Phenix has introduced a line of products that speaks to specific needs and that provide unique solutions for the consumer. In 2017 it introduced more patterns and textures to address the fact that carpet is often being used within individual rooms—as opposed to the entire home. “It allows the consumer to use carpet as a focal point of the room’s design,” said Mark Clayton, president and CEO of Phenix Flooring. “We also recognize the fact that broadloom carpets are often being used to create one-of-a-kind area rugs that can be used in conjunction with hard surfaces, so this provides additional opportunities to expand pattern and textural designs.”

Other companies are combining hard surface and soft surface in the same display systems to create a coordinated look for the home. Shaw’s TruAccents carpet collection pairs bold styles and patterns with hard surface visuals on a single merchandiser. “We understand that consumers want both hard and soft surface products in their homes, and this gives them a convenient, one-stop destination for ease of shopping and comparison,” Christensen said.

Mohawk is a total flooring company, and within that scope carpet remains a very significant piece of business. “How do we keep carpet part of the conversation?” Arnold asked. “The relentless focus we have on innovation, which is true of all our categories, is really true of carpet. We invest to stay competitive. The success we have with SmartStrand and all the innovations we brought to market has allowed us to keep carpet a profitable category.”

For companies that don’t have the depth and breadth of a Mohawk or Shaw, there are still niches to fill. Foss, for example, has focused on promoting non-woven, needle-punch broadloom and carpet tile products as an appealing and affordable accessory—or outright alternative—to traditional flooring. “Many consumers who prefer hard surfaces are attracted to our products because of their beauty and warmth combined with the attractive look and durability of a low-pile floor,” said Brian Warren, senior vice president of sales and marketing. “Not to mention, our products provide the consumer with a higher level of affordability and versatility because they work in virtually any application or market.”

Advice for dealers
While carpet manufacturers continue to explore ways to recoup market share, executives also believe flooring dealers can do their part to help combat the growth of hard surfaces. Strategies range from offering custom rugs made of broadloom to creating vignettes showing stairs with carpet inserts to upselling customers to better goods.

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 2.30.16 PMLexmark’s Mauter, for example, said his company coaches its retailers to think outside the norm by using different patterns with the same colorway to create subtle differences throughout the home without the need to change paint color or furniture. He also suggested making custom rugs out of broadloom to facilitate room size and dimensions and to create additional revenue.

Mohawk, for its part, emphasizes “X-plusing,” which is educating and selling the consumer on why trading up makes sense. As Arnold explains: “A consumer walks in and is planning to spend ‘X’ and instead of being traded down to lower priced goods—which are often lower-quality goods and reinforces the notion that carpet isn’t made well—offering a smaller selection of better quality product rather than a sea of sameness would be a better option. It’s about great marketing and storytelling. If you provide that customer with a compelling reason to trade up to a premium product like SmartStrand Silk you can X plus them 10%, 20%.”

Arnold said the successful retailers understand that less is more and having the right product at the right price point is key. “You have to set up your showroom for trade-up possibilities and allow consumers to feel the difference. Telling compelling stories and presenting extraordinary product is the formula for retailers.”

Clayton advised retailers to remind the consumer of the true benefits of carpet and hard surfaces and be sure they understand the potential challenges of each product. “Some consumers and their lifestyles would actually benefit from the utilitarian benefits of soft surfaces, not to mention the design opportunities.”

Shaw’s Christensen suggests retailers can help drive excitement by touting the many styling benefits and performance features. “Carpet today has a compelling performance story while also offering breathtaking visuals in a wide array of styling options. Retailers can continue listening to the needs and concerns of consumers and establish credibility by suggesting the right flooring solution for every space and every consumer appetite. There is no doubt that carpet will continue to play an important role for consumers. People forget that carpet is the largest category and still has a dominant position in peoples’ homes, and carpet remains a very import product to help drive this.”

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Fiber report: Soft, durable and cleanability lead checklist

May 8/15, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 24

By Ken Ryan

Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 2.06.57 PMAdvancements in technology and manufacturing have allowed carpet mills to make significant improvements in fiber construction. The result: carpets that are soft, durable and resistant to stains and soils. Mill executives say today’s demanding consumers are driving these innovative breakthroughs.

“Performance-based fibers seem to be a big trend,” said Ayme Sinclair, marketing director, Stanton. “The biggest influence is an increased need from a more informed consumer base on making sure they are selecting goods that will stand up to the challenges of their active lifestyles.”

Susan Curtis, senior vice president, product development for Phenix, agreed. “We are seeing demand for innovative fibers that provide a high degree of performance tied to active lifestyles and exhibit a diverse array of color and luster options.”

Increasingly these innovative fibers are found in polyester; executives say manufacturing techniques have fueled the PET market, which has overtaken nylon as the preferred carpet fiber. “Consumers are very happy with the quality and performance of PET and request it when choosing their new carpet,” said Brian Warren, senior vice president of sales and marketing, Foss.

Beyond fiber type, the macro trends that have driven the fiber market for years are still dominant today, according to Seth Arnold, vice president of residential marketing for Mohawk Industries. “What that means is consumers want carpet that is easy to clean and will last a long time. With carpet being an infrequent, high-end purchase, for consumers it often boils down to cleanability and durability. We don’t see that trend going away.”

Observers point to another trend that’s holding its own: the desire for luxurious soft carpet. “We thought we had seen the top of the mountain with premium soft,” Arnold said. “We spent a lot of time this past year on soft. We spoke to 300 consumers in 10 different markets and looked at seven different fiber types. Consumers voted for softer, which is what led to SmartStrand Silk Reserve. We are raising the bar again in soft.”

Active segments
The dominance of hard surfaces in the home has opened the door for innovative ways to use carpet. Curtis noted that since the consumer is now using carpet in selected areas of her home, she often chooses multiple styles with specific features and benefits that fit the intended use of a room. “Traditionally, consumers may have chosen a solid or more generic aesthetic but are now seeking unique textures and colors they can mix and match with other flooring materials. A soft touch and comfort are still important attributes, but we have seen the need for products with unique patterns and colorations grow significantly.”

Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 2.07.10 PMThe multifamily segment remains carpet’s greatest salvation within residential. That’s partly due to the fall in homeownership rates (which are at their lowest level since 1965, according to the U.S. Census Bureau), which means more people—especially millennials—are renting. Executives note that builders and property managers are increasingly looking to carpet as a way to combat sound issues associated with hard surfaces. “The shift towards hard surfaces remains a continued trend across all business segments, particularly multifamily,” said Brad Christensen, vice president-soft surface portfolio management, Shaw Floors. “However, we are seeing more consumers looking to incorporate higher quality soft surfaces with bolder patterns and styles in bedrooms and other specialty areas of the home, making residential an opportunity for growth in carpet sales.”

Residential retail remains steady, executives say, and with the influx of higher end, luxurious soft products hitting the market, dealers have more opportunities to trade up consumers. “We encourage our retailers to ‘X plus’ every customer,” Mohawk’s Arnold said. “Our premium soft products give them reasons to upsell.”

Product initiatives
In response to consumers’ insights for stylish, high-performing carpet that complements their living spaces, Shaw created the TruAccents display. This new compact, rotating display houses both nylon and PET carpet styles and pairs them with hard surface products for easier consumer shopping and convenient retail selling options. “For those consumers who prefer to purchase strictly nylon, we’ve also expanded our LifeGuard technology to the Anso Color Wall in our Titanium platinum product collection,” Christensen said.

Phenix recently introduced its Opulence HD solution-dyed PET polyester fiber featuring a finer denier yarn that is low luster with well-defined tips that give off a suede-like finish. “We developed this new fiber from the ground up by working with our extrusion division to create a yarn that provides great bulk with a soft very luxurious hand,” Curtis explained.

Stanton recently launched a line with Scotchgard 3M, pairing high style with high performance, Sinclair said. “This new line gives consumers assurance when they see a name they recognize, so it makes perfect sense for us to partner with them.”

Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 2.07.18 PMAmong Mohawk’s biggest initiatives in 2017 is Airo, made of 100% premium PET fiber. As Arnold explained, “Airo is really our attempt to say, ‘What if we completely started from scratch; what would we come up with?’ This innovation is less about enhancing an existing fiber and more about looking at a fiber to create a construction advantage. Airo was a completely new way to approach product development.”

In the same vein as completely new is Foss’ Cashmere, which the company touts as a new category of affordable wall-to-wall carpet that looks and feels like wool but has the durability of commercial tiles and indoor/outdoor broadloom products. Warren said “the secrets” behind the carpet’s style and performance are its exclusive NaturalTouch fiber that can create a wool-like softness using PET and the company’s DuraKnit technology that prevents fraying, unraveling or zippering.

Engineered Floors has enjoyed big success with its PureColor Fiber system and its family of brands, especially within its residential PureColor Nylon collection—Your Retreat. “It features our PureColor Soft Nylon with Cationic technology,” said Mike Sanderson, vice president of product marketing. “We are essentially offering what is widely recognized as a premium fiber system in a collection of stylish yet affordable products.”

The residential division of Dixie has been an active partner with Invista/Stainmaster. In 2017, Dixie is launching six new styles as part of the Stainmaster LiveWell program. T.M. Nuckols, the new executive vice president of Dixie Residential, noted, “We have a good mix of styles in the solution-dyed nylon PetProtect program as well as many piece-dyed products.”

 

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Executive interview: Phenix rises under Clayton’s leadership

January 16/23, 2017: Volume 31, Number 16

Mark Clayton

Industry veteran Mark Clayton has been at the helm of Phenix Flooring for the past five years. In that time the company has evolved into a significant player by introducing innovative products, turning its attention to a better product mix and merging with its yarn suppler Pharr Yarns. Many retailers who have sought alternatives to the big two have turned to Phenix. FCNews recently spoke to Clayton about the past, present and future.

You have been at Phenix for almost five years now. How has the company evolved?
When I first arrived, we were very focused on attacking the commodity and volume portions of the market whereas we’ve evolved into one of the leading producers of fashion-forward products. We still participate in these markets but our shift has been toward mid to upper-end products that leverage our unique design aesthetics. Our product design team, led by Susan Curtis, has transformed our product offering and focused on building differentiated products that speak directly to what the consumer wants.

Our sales and marketing efforts have also experienced an evolution. We’ve placed a tremendous amount of effort into building our sales force while making initial efforts into expanding our marketing reach; these remain two areas of focus for us.

We also completed our merger with Pharr last year, which has allowed us to evolve to a point where we have greater breadth of resources and talent.

How has the merger with Pharr changed/helped the Phenix business model?
We were once two completely separate organizations that had very similar objectives, capabilities and cultures. Phenix is now able to operate more effectively as a vertically integrated manufacturer, but it has also provided the ability for both companies to expand our product development efforts and bring more stylistic products to the market, quicker. Pharr also has a 77-year heritage of adapting to market demands, and they’ve been very supportive of our growth requirements. Like Phenix, Pharr had been committed to investing in and developing state-of-the-art manufacturing processes, and those combined result in a better product for the consumer.

Talk a little about Pharr Yarns and the strength it provides Phenix.
As I mentioned, Pharr Yarns has a 77-year history of meeting and exceeding the needs of its yarn customers. However, most don’t realize Pharr Yarns is part of a very diverse organization that actually supports five separate business units. Pharr not only participates in the flooring (Phenix Flooring) and yarn (Pharr Yarns) industries, but also has business units that service the high performance yarn industry (Pharr HP) as well as a land development group (Belmont Land) and hotel management group (Strand Hospitality Services).

Regarding the strength that Pharr provides Phenix, they allow us to be more competitive, enhance our product development cycle, provide resources for continued expansion and growth, and provide an additional level of support to help us continue our path forward.

How do you view Phenix’s competitive advantages compared to other carpet mills?
Our competitive advantages are that within the category we participate, which is residential carpet products mostly consisting of solution dyed yarn systems, we bring differentiated, style conscious, innovative styling to the consumer. We are committed to being highly responsive to the needs of our customers, bringing them reliable on-time performance in what can be an otherwise challenging product category to service effectively.

I mentioned Pharr and Phenix had very similar cultures as individual organizations and now as one company we’ve further strengthened our commitment to our core values, which is who we are FIRST: Family, Innovation, Responsiveness, Strong Relationships and Trustworthy.

Is the focus today more on PET or nylon? Why?
Both of these categories play a big role in what we do. I believe within the residential carpet market we participate in two of the hottest sectors: solution-dyed polyester and Stainmaster Pet Protect solution-dyed nylon. You could say we are more focused on PET as this is where the majority of our SKUs reside, but we are just as much committed to the growth and expansion of the nylon category. In fact, many don’t realize Phenix is the largest volume manufacturer of products featuring the Stainmaster Pet Protect badge.

What would you say is the sweet spot in terms of retail price point for Phenix?
Our product offering has evolved over the past five years to the point that our average face weight and subsequently price points are higher today. I would say our “sweet spot” in terms of retail prices would be in the mid to upper $20s per square yard.

With the growth of hard surface dominating headlines, particularly LVT/WPC, and many other mills getting in that game, any plans for Phenix to start marketing the product?
Yes. Phenix actually soft launched into the category in 2016 at Surfaces and has since been building on the success of that initial rollout. We now feel we are ready to support a more comprehensive rollout and will be introducing four new hard surface products at Surfaces we’re really excited about. We’ve also recently announced the hiring of Jason Hair, a hard surface industry veteran, to support and execute our hard surface strategy.

You all have talked about a desire to reach the consumer, maybe create some brand awareness. How do you plan on accomplishing this?
We’ve also recently made a strategic hire in the marketing area, further solidifying our commitment here. Industry veteran Merrie Barnett came on board earlier this year as our new VP of marketing to provide the focus and resources needed to take our marketing and business efforts to the next level. Our marketing group will be executing a strategy focused on leveraging our relation to the overall Pharr organization, we will be expanding our reach in both digital and social platforms, and we will continue to expand our penetration in traditional marketing outlets.

What’s the big story heading into Surfaces?
We are really excited about Surfaces. In fact, this will represent the most dynamic rollout of new programs in Phenix’s history. Phenix will introduce the new Cleaner Home collection, which will target those consumers looking to simplify the cleaning process while protecting their family. This collection will feature 10 new styles manufactured with our new Opulence HD 100% solution-dyed PET fiber, creating a luxuriously soft and refined appearance. The Cleaner Home collection also features exclusive Microban technology, which works continuously to prevent the growth of stain- and odor-causing bacteria and mold, providing a new level of cleanliness and peace of mind. Microban is the most recognized consumer brand in the growing antimicrobial segment, and its products are featured on a wide array of home products.

In addition, products within the collection feature SureFresh Odor Capture Technology, which actively freshens the air in the home by capturing and neutralizing a broad range of household odors. All of these unique technologies have been brought together to meet the needs of the consumer who wants to create a healthy, clean home and expects products to proactively help her achieve this.

Next, Phenix will be introducing the first ever Stainmaster Pet Protect luxury vinyl product. Free Expression will feature both stone tile and wood plank on an oversized, loose lay LVT platform. The most unique feature of this new introduction will be how Phenix has chosen to merchandise it. Phenix’s new display mechanism will feature not only luxury vinyl but also Stainmaster Pet Protect carpet options, offering consumers flooring solutions for their entire home in a single point destination, one-stop-shop display.

We’ve taken it one step further with this display by simplifying the design process for the consumer. Phenix created seven custom lifestyle palettes featuring both our new Stainmaster Pet Protect luxury vinyl with our Stainmaster Pet Protect carpet effortlessly coordinated together, helping take the guesswork out of flooring design for the consumer. Phenix will be the first in the industry to offer a coordinated soft and hard surface display with the added protection of Stainmaster Pet Protect.

Phenix will also be making a statement in hard surface with a new rigid core luxury plank and new water-resistant laminate. These products will each offer unique, industry-leading technologies which address the needs of today’s consumer.