May 22/29, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 25
By Ken Ryan
The overarching luxury vinyl flooring category featuring the incumbent LVT/P and newcomers WPC and rigid core continues to flourish and growth rates collectively are expected to exceed that of every other flooring category for at least the near term.
Will there be an eventually category champion? Does there have to be one? Flooring executives differ slightly on which segment will win out, but there is consensus that the three product types (for now) will peacefully coexist as they serve different market segments and applications.
WPC/rigid core: The once and future king?
As a sub-segment of LVT, WPC/rigid core has usurped LVT in many areas of the market, executives contend. “My sales have completely switched from LVT to WPC,” said Eric Mondragon, hard surface buyer for R.C. Willey, Salt Lake City. “WPC definitely has had the biggest growth, and WPC/rigid core has an advantage in click and floating installations due to the ability to hide subfloor imperfections.”
Jeremy Kleinberg, senior product manager, Armstrong Flooring, said rigid core products are viewed by some as an evolution of LVT. “As with any innovation, rigid core products have helped to solve challenges that regular LVT could not—for example, telegraphing of minor subfloor texture.”
Some observers say that while WPC has already cut into the share of LVT, rigid core offerings will take share from both WPC and LVT. “While rigid will take share from WPC as well as LVT, I don’t think it necessarily translates into a decline of WPC’s overall business because WPC should more than make up for it in what it continues to take from LVT and other product categories,” said Jeff Jaeckle, vice president of Jaeckle Distributors.
Steve Kuhel, product manager, Tarkett North America, noted that next-generation rigid core products are beginning to show even greater flexibility and are a threat to both WPC and LVT (glue-down and floating). “I see more of the same over the next few years—growth for WPC and rigid core products. There will be a grasping at straws that will result in over-engineered products beyond the consumer’s needs.”
LVT is not going anywhere
As long as LVT/P products (glue-down or floating) have the advantage of cost, process and true sustainability over rigid core and WPC, there will be a place for these offerings. Indeed, no one disputes that LVT will remain a relevant product segment that works best in multi-family housing and commercial applications due primarily to the cost-effectiveness and installation advantages.
“LVT will be very successful in DIY as it is easy to install and does not require a saw,” said David Holt, senior vice president of builder and multi-family retail and hard surface for Mohawk Industries. “LVT will continue to dominate the multi-family market due to pricing requirements.”
Casey Dillabaugh, owner of Dillabaugh’s Flooring America, Boise, Idaho, picked up on the theme of pricing (given the fact WPC/rigid core is viewed as a higher-end product). “I don’t believe we’ll ever see WPC enter the sub $1 range like LVT, so LVT sets itself up for success based on price point primarily. I do believe WPC/rigid core will attempt to enter the commercial/multi-family space but will struggle for a while due to price constraints.”
Future looks bright for WPC/rigid core
The consensus among flooring professionals is the luxury vinyl product category will continue to grow exponentially over the next several years and outpace the other hard surfaces, in particular laminate, low-end wood and sheet. Jaeckle sees the category shaking out this way. “While rigid will take share from WPC as well as LVT, I don’t think it necessarily translates into a decline of WPC’s overall business, because WPC should more than make up for it in what it continues to take from LVT and other product categories. If you consider all of these as being under the LVT umbrella, then the LVT category will continue its strong growth as it takes more share from other product categories. The innovations of WPC and rigid are the engines that will drive that.”
Wellmade Floors, a relative newcomer to the category, is marketing its rigid core lines as a step up from WPC. Its high-density plastic composite (HDPC) products are positioned as the first fully closed cell offering, with different constructions. “While vinyl products across the board can all boast exceptional HD print visuals and EIR textures, WPC and rigid core products eliminated telegraphing from subfloor imperfections, a major improvement over traditional LVT,” said Steve Wagner, director of marketing, who, like many others, sees WPC and now rigid core as merely natural evolutions of the luxury vinyl category.
The case for coexistence
Few executives are as adamant in their belief that these products will cohabitate than Russ Rogg, president and CEO of Metroflor, who argues that traditional LVT and WPC/rigid core/multilayer products “will absolutely” co-exist going forward. “While there is no question that the multilayer category—with all its variants—is arguably growing faster than any product on the market, there are still many areas where traditional, glue-down products will serve the customer or end user better than a floating floor. While the best multilayer products require very little expansion/contraction allowances, I don’t know of a manufacturer that isn’t recommending at least some degree of perimeter expansion as well as referencing size/area limits that will require the use of a T-molding eventually. This is a great example of where a glue-down LVT has an advantage. Think large, open spaces that could not accept a T-molding, for example.”
Scott Rozmus, CEO of FlorStar Sales, a top 20 distributor, said he doesn’t see the market as an either/or proposition for these waterproof resilient products. “Some folks might look at this as VHS vs. Betamax where only one technology survives, but I think it’s more like gasoline vs. diesel. There are pros and cons that may come into play with either variant, and the technology continues to evolve. The massive marketing behind WPC/rigid core certainly has—and will—continue to provide lift for these products. However, most of the options I’ve seen utilize a floating, locking system for installation. That’s not always the preferred methodology and in some applications actually is frowned upon. Thus other LVT variants will continue to have traction.”
While WPC/rigid core may not cannibalize LVT, it has eaten into traditional LVT’s share. Kleinberg’s take is that even as next-generation rigid core products win favor in the market there will still be demand for traditional LVT products. “Segment and channel considerations like the usage of the space, design aesthetics, installation techniques and price will be just some of the factors that will continue to fuel both rigid core and traditional LVT flooring.”
Piet Dossche dissects LVT, WPC
Who better than Piet Dossche, CEO of USFloors, marketer of the award-winning COREtec brand, to weigh in on the evolution of the LVT waterproof category. Here Dossche drills down into the different constructions that he said complement one another and help expand the overall category.
Solid LVT dryback. Mainly used in multi-family, commercial applications and where consumer price point is critical. Installed directly glued to the subfloor and requires extensive subfloor prep.
Solid LVT floating. Used in residential and commercial applications where subfloor conditions is addressed; exposure to sunlight/heat is not critical, but pricing economics is a factor. Requires substantial subfloor prep.
Rigid core. Composite core construction, a step up from solid LVT, with a higher filler content and higher density without any foaming agent creating air bubbles in the core. This results in a thinner, harder plank.
Primarily suitable where higher indentation resistance is required and extensive exposure to sunlight/heat can occur. Ideal for commercial applications. Relatively forgiving over imperfect subfloors.
WPC. Composite core construction with foaming agent, creating air pockets in the core that function as a heat and sound insulator for ultimate comfort underfoot. Indentation resistance is ideal for residential and light commercial applications and dimensionally stable under moderate exposure to sunlight/heat. The ultimate product for residential environments and suitable for active households with built-in sound abatement benefits.