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Resilient: Suppliers pull curtain back on their variations of WPC/rigid core

November 20/27, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 12

By Ken Ryan

There are many conflicting representations of what constitutes WPC (waterproof core, as we call it) and rigid core (solid polymer core) in this explosive resilient subcategory. The nascent Multilayer Flooring Association, which is tasked with setting the standard, recently met and agreed the multilayer flooring category is separated into two primary categories—WPC and SPC. But within those acronyms lie many variations, perhaps subtle differences in constructions or underlayment, and most certainly in marketing terminology.

Several manufacturers illustrated their latest WPC/SPC offerings with diagrams depicting how they are constructed.

Screen Shot 2017-11-27 at 10.24.08 AMScreen Shot 2017-11-27 at 10.24.23 AMScreen Shot 2017-11-27 at 10.24.40 AM

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Distribution: Wholesalers reap rewards of the red-hot LVT/WPC categories

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

By Ken Ryan

 

Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 9.56.37 AMMost would agree that year-over-year growth among flooring distributors isn’t what it once was, especially in relation to pre-2006 recession rates. Today distributors are eking out much smaller gains, around 3%-5%, with those that choose the right product mix enjoying the most success.

“You could be doing all the right things, but if you don’t have the right product it doesn’t matter—you won’t be successful,” said Jeff Striegel, president of Elias Wilf, Owings Mills, Md. “If you have been successful in recent years it means you caught that LVT wave. Products are driving growth these days; categories are driving growth. If you are a distributor that does a lot of sheet vinyl and laminate, he will tell you the world is coming to an end.”

But the flooring distribution world is not coming to an end. In fact, it is growing and the LVT/WPC/rigid core segment has much to do with that movement. Distributors have been retooling their portfolios to make ample room for this still-expanding category.

LVT/WPC/rigid core has infiltrated all segments of the business and taken share from resilient sheet goods, VCT, laminate and other hard surface products. “What has been surprising is how LVT/WPC is taking share even from hardwood flooring,” said Scott Rozmus, CEO of FlorStar Sales, Romeoville, Ill.

Others attest to the shift in demand. Striegel believes you will never make a wood customer a laminate customer, but you can make a wood customer an LVT customer. “It is impacting a wider breadth of products,” he said.

What’s fascinating about the broader LVT category, observers say, is there have been several iterations, from click LVT to WPC to rigid core. LVT was the hot product for a few years, and WPC, while it is still growing—led by USFloors’ COREtec—was the breakout star in 2016. In 2017, rigid core is making significant inroads. “The rigid core product is just getting started,” Striegel said. “The potential for it is staggering.”

It is estimated that Lumber Liquidators, long a bastion for hardwood and laminate, now does approximately 20% of its business in vinyl planks—something that was unheard of five years ago. Denver Hardwood, which at one time was nearly exclusively hardwood flooring, said WPC and rigid core experienced double-digit growth in every facility it manages in 2016. In fact, rigid core is now its strongest segment, led by the company’s Neptune brand.

Many observers like to compare laminate’s growth in the early Pergo days to LVT/WPC’s current rally. However, laminate wasn’t used commercially back then, and until a 12mm version came out it wasn’t used in builder applications, making it almost exclusively a retail residential product.

LVT/WPC/rigid core, meanwhile, crosses all barriers. “It’s huge in commercial, there are no boundaries by channel,” Striegel explained. “WPC is nothing more than LVT with a different core if you really look at it. LVT is still coming out of its embryonic state; maybe now it’s a teenager. There is more change to come.

“If you look at the landscape … LVT gluedown and LVT click, today rigid core is quickly becoming the locking mechanism. We will see a lot of the locking LVT go over to WPC. LVT will become mostly gluedown—it fills a need for durable waterproof flooring. For installations and durability, LVT solved a problem. We will see several generations of this product develop. We will see different cores, gauges, thicknesses. LVT is the most versatile, diverse flooring I have seen in decades, and I am seeing plenty of upside growth in this category.”

Others agree that healthy growth is likely to continue, just not at the astronomical levels seen in the last three years. Some say they are starting to see pricing pressure on the category, which, if it continues, could certainly put a damper on this runaway success story.

In Wilf’s Mid-Atlantic territory there are 41 LVT lines available. In its heydey laminate peaked at 36 suppliers. “We have hit saturation,” Striegel observed. “Every commercial carpet guy has a line now. You can’t even get distribution for some of the lines. I believe in the next 12-18 months we will see a clear separation from those committed to the category vs. those who are just participating it.”

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Distributors applaud Raskin’s eye for design

Founder’s knack for styling, hot trends raises the bar

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

By Ken Ryan

 

Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 9.48.46 AMSome flooring distributors openly worry that LVT and its subsegments WPC and rigid core—popular and successful though they may be—are becoming another commodity category with low barriers to entry. Others are concerned about what they view as a “sea of sameness” that permeates the landscape.

There are some companies that will never be confused with the status quo. One in particular is Raskin Industries, an innovator praised by its distributor partners for bringing freshness to the category with true style and design.

Eric Parrish, president of Midwest Floor Coverings, with four locations in three Midwestern states, explained the process to make designs for LVT/WPC/rigid core is not expensive for suppliers because it is a digital process. However, he noted, to actually make products requires steel plates to press the texture into the product, which can be very expensive.

In many respects, Raskin is willing to go that extra step. “There are digital film libraries for anyone to make a selection from,” Parrish said. “If you go to any of the flooring trade shows you are likely to see the same designs used by 80% of LVT manufacturers. Michael Raskin is unique by controlling the design process and putting his own stamp on color tones and trends for North America by investing in the plates.”

An example of that innovation would be Acrylx, a solid surface waterproof LVT product that Parrish began carrying earlier this year. “There is a flood of names confusing the market and consumers on what they are buying. People hear LVT, LVP, WPC and rigid core and wonder which is best. Acrylx is genius; it is what is best from each of those products. Instead of taking quality out like so many others do, Raskin puts integrity in by giving the products stability and a great hand.”

This month, Raskin Industries introduced a new branding effort to focus attention on the founder’s design expertise. “Design By Raskin” celebrates a series of Raskin hits. Among them are: Elevations, a fiberglass-reinforced, loose lay LVT; Acrylx; Ceramix, which will be introduced in late 2017/early 2018; and Acoustx—a soundproof loose lay LVT product slated for introduction in 2018.

Gilford-Johnson Flooring, a top 20 distributor, jumped on board with Raskin early on and has not looked back. “Our goal is to introduce our customers to the most state-of-the-art products, but they have to look the part and the consumer has to desire those looks,” said Jodie Doyle, vice president, product management. “Michael has always had the knack to move one step ahead of the market and really understand what consumers want from their floor. Having the visuals consumers want makes our job so much easier.”

Raskin has earned high praise from other distributor partners as well, including T&L Distributing of Houston, which carries Acrylx as well as FloorNation, Raskin’s first domestically produced LVT line. “Michael has dedicated his career to trying to make the perfect product—his sense of style and his dedication to making his products unique are difference makers,” said Scott Carson, director of products and marketing. “In my six years of having the pleasure of getting to work with Michael, he takes great pride in providing his distributors product visuals that we’ve never seen from anyone else. Raskin is in touch with tomorrow’s colors and understands the wants of today’s consumer. He does an incredible job at blending the two together.”

Raskin’s distributor partners also applaud his marketing prowess. J. Michael Welch of E.J. Welch Co. Earth City, Mo., said the industry too often gets caught up on price. But that’s not the case with Raskin. “Of course, certain segments of the market are price driven but overwhelmingly consumers buy based on color and design—which is why Raskin continues to prosper. He knows color and design. His styles are always at the front, in my opinion.”

But this is not the only consideration, Welch notes. “Equally important is performance and service, and we continue to have both after five years with Raskin. We jumped on early as a distributor and we’ll keep delivering as long as LVT is sold.”

 

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Vosburgh joins Tarkett as VP of commercial resilient sales

IMG_00042Solon, Ohio—Tarkett has appointed Steve Vosburgh vice president of commercial resilient sales for Tarkett North America. In his new role, Vosburgh will be responsible for overall leadership of the commercial resilient sales business and strategy.

Vosburgh has focused his professional career in sales of products designed for the built environment, with nearly 30 years of experience in textiles, wallcoverings and commercial flooring. He held leadership positions at Designtex and Mohawk prior to joining Tarkett.

“Steve’s experience in the industry and his vast understanding of business strategy will be an asset to our sales team,” said Jeff Fenwick, president of resilient, Tarkett North America. “His approach to customer relationships meshes well with Tarkett’s values, and we’re pleased to welcome him to Tarkett.”

Vosburgh holds a Master of Science in organizational development and leadership from Saint Joseph’s University, and he earned two bachelor’s degrees from Monmouth College.

To learn more about the company, visit tarkettna.com.

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Spotlight: Southwind provides retailers with the complete package

October 23/30, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 10

By Lindsay Baillie

 

Southwind Carpets, a division of Cherokee Carpet Industries, has been known for providing a range of residential and Main Street commercial carpets to dealers throughout the U.S. and abroad. Since its hard surface division launched in 2015, the company has added LVP, WPC and hardwood collections to its portfolio—providing retailers with the complete flooring package.

Southwind’s leap into hard surfaces occurred when the company saw an opportunity for a smaller business to take stock in the marketplace, said Randy Hatch, president and CEO, Cherokee Carpet Industries. “We felt there was an opportunity for an alternative to a lot of the big guys that are out there—specifically a need for a company that focuses on providing great service to our retailer base as well as focusing on quality and making sure we are perceived that way by our customer.”

Even though the company is innovating in the hard surface arena it has not forgotten about the success of its soft surface offerings. Southwind launched its first soft, polyester fiber into the market in January, which is receiving positive feedback from retailers.

Hardwood Displays - Southwind“We’ll continue to introduce new products on both sides,” said Richard Abramowicz, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, Cherokee Carpet Industries. “We try to coordinate everything we do in hard surfaces with our carpet offerings. We look at making quality products that are dependable and available to the customer.”

As a smaller flooring manufacturer, the company prides itself on offering its retail partners more personalized attention. In fact, Southwind takes the time to listen to consumer needs before developing new products. “We want to stay competitive in the marketplace and make sure we provide whatever flooring products the customers are asking for,” Hatch explained.

Retailers such as Amanda Dagnan, office manager at Factory Carpet Warehouse, Knoxville, Tenn., have noticed the benefits of working with a smaller company. “We have carried Southwind for as long as I have worked at Factory Carpet—at least 15 years. Southwind is a small mill just like our business. It is nice to pick up the phone and get the same people every time or know exactly who to talk to when there is a question or issue. Their carpet line is eco-friendly and outperforms most of the bigger mills. Plus, they are able to keep their prices lower since they are a small business.”

Factory Carpet Warehouse is finding success with selling not only the company’s carpets but also its hard surfaces. “Southwind’s LVP is our best-selling floor,” Dagnan added. “We have never been one to stock hard surface; however, we have been through approximately 50 pallets since its line was introduced. We have not had one installation problem or one complaint about wear and tear. We even tested the waterproof capabilities by breaking a water line in a customer’s house.”

Ernie Cavender, owner of Cavender’s – The Interior Company, Cookeville, Tenn., has carried Southwind carpet for more than 25 years and recently started selling the company’s hard surfaces. “I was a little bit surprised when Southwind announced it was going into hard surface, but my experience with the products has been nothing but positive. We started with a couple of hard surfaces and we’ve been very successful with selling them.”

In addition to a wide range of products, Southwind offers retailers good quality, strong price points and the opportunity to increase margins, Cavender explained. Combine these points with the company’s desire to give retailers personalized attention and, as Cavender said, “It’s about a relationship rather than just a sale.”

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Patcraft launches new resilient flooring

PATCRAFT_9182_RBL_smallDalton—Patcraft has introduced Emery, its latest resilient product. This premium, floating LVT plank flooring is designed to transform the performance of the living environment and is available in 12 neutral color variations.

The product’s water-proof core construction provides protection from top-down moisture, and its cork underlayment provides sound insulation from foot traffic and floor-to-floor sound transfer. Emery’s high-performance finish layer prevents scratching, scuffing, chips and dents for ease of maintenance. The product also features a 20-mil wear layer to enhance product durability and performance in high demand environments.

 

 

 

 

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Resilient: LVT—A five-tool player that’s finding comfort in virtually all segments

October 9/16, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 9

By Ken Ryan

 

In baseball, a five-tool player excels at all the fundamentals. In flooring, that five-tool “player” would be LVT—a rare product rich in features and versatility suitable for virtually all commercial and residential segments—from Courtyard Marriott hotel rooms to residential basements.

LVT (including WPC and rigid core products) has been growing at a double-digit rate for the past several years, during which time it has expanded its reach across all segments.

Property Management
Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 9.51.30 AMSimply put, LVT has succeeded in the property management channel because it provides longer life than carpet. That’s according to Jerry Hosko, president and COO of Redi Carpet, which bills itself as America’s largest multi-family flooring provider. LVT has been widely accepted on first floor units of apartment communities because there are no acoustical issues to be concerned with. “It is not being used as widely on upper floors for the acoustic reasons although the underlayments on the market have helped somewhat,” he said. “WPC is not used as much due to additional cost above and beyond standard LVT products, but it is gaining acceptance in certain applications and is expected to gain more interest for its waterproof qualities, especially in the wake of recent flooding.”

John Kelleher, president of the property management division of Rite Rug, a large retailer, said LVP has really taken over the new construction of apartments and renovation, supplanting carpet and VCT. “Eight years ago LVP started to come around, and the last five years we have seen tremendous growth in that product. It has gotten better as far as development, and I think it is going to continue. It is a big product for us in property management and continues to grow thanks to the innovation of the plank.”

Gary Russo, owner of United Flooring and Paint, a flooring contractor, said ease of maintenance was a huge factor in United’s ability to get quick product placement for customers in its St. Louis and Chicago markets. As he explained, “Typically a plank can be pulled up and replaced, although many times with direct glue-down plank, the substrate can be damaged when the flooring is removed.”

Russo noted that easy cleanup is another reason for the success of vinyl plank.

Residential replacement
Among hard surfaces, hardwood flooring is the aspirational product of choice for most consumers. In fact, it’s not at all uncommon for a consumer to walk into a flooring store, ask for hardwood flooring and leave with LVT/WPC. “People are buying it because of the way it looks,” said Larry Noel, president of sales for retail for Rite Rug, citing the incredible realism.

Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 9.51.38 AMOf course, LVT goes well beyond aesthetics. LVT is a much more family-friendly product than wood or laminate, proponents say. “LVT provides style with much more realism than laminate,” Noel said. “You don’t hear the tapping sound you get with laminate when you walk over it, and LVT is more forgiving than laminate.”

LVT is finding usefulness in virtually every room of the house these days, and some of these homes are large and expensive. Noel shared that Rite Rug just secured a project on a $2.2 million home in Columbus, Ohio, in which the homeowner requested LVT be installed in his basement.

Specified commercial
LVT/P wasn’t always the product de jour for the commercial segment, and in some LEED buildings, designers are hesitant to specify LVT because it contains PVCs, and therefore is not a truly sustainable product. However, concern over constant maintenance, scratches and moisture have steered some commercial establishments away from real wood and put LVT in play.

LVT is also gaining ground in hospitality. For years, designers would only specify carpet for guestrooms in hotels. Today, LVT is being paired with area rugs in many hotels, especially boutique properties and limited service brands like Courtyard Marriott. 

Marriott is even using LVT in the bathrooms of new properties.

Cost and time spent on a project are factors when specifying products. In LVT businesses see a faster, less-expensive turnaround and save money on labor. They also don’t have to shut down as long to accommodate lengthy acclimations or installations.

Angie Clarkson, LEED AP BD+C, a registered interior designer at architecture and interiors firm LWPB, weighed the pros and cons of LVT vs. other hard surface products. “On one hand, LVT is never going to feel the same underfoot as a natural hardwood floor. Any imperfections in the substrate will certainly transfer to the surface, just like any 1⁄8-inch-thick product. On the other hand, it gives designers a world of exotic wood species at their fingertips. You want the look of endangered African rosewood? You’ve got it without the long lead times or the ecological guilt.”

Builder
Many builders would rather install hardwood floors or ceramic tile for entryways, great rooms, kitchens and bath areas because it raises the value of the home. Increasingly, however, LVT is being used in new construction given the product’s relative affordability and realistic looks of stone and wood. What’s more, LVT is easier underfoot than wood or ceramic and individual tiles and planks that get damaged can be more easily repaired.

Eastwood Homes, Charlotte, N.C., offers luxury vinyl planks in several divisions and has received positive feedback. “Our homeowners love LVP because it gives them the look of real wood in a material that is even more durable than wood,” said Clark Stewart, president. “When installed correctly, LVP is impervious to water and holds up incredibly well to the wear and tear of real life.”

Stewart called LVP “a dream come true for dog owners, parents or anyone who appreciates low-maintenance, high-durability flooring.”

Main Street
Small businesses are playing a pivotal role in the growth of the U.S. economy. These Main Street businesses—whether they are small retail shops, professional offices, restaurants or cafes—all have one thing in common: They need a durable, beautiful floor that’s low maintenance. LVT, engineered with more durability than what would normally be considered adequate for residential, has found a home in Main Street, and flooring dealers are seizing this channel opportunity.

“In Main Street LVT/WPC—with its durability—is quickly replacing VCT as a mainstay floor,” said Mike Foulk, president of Foulk’s Flooring America, Meadville, Pa. “The wood looks and tile visuals give the designers added decorating possibilities. The ease of maintenance is a welcome feature for the end user.”

Casey Dillabaugh, president of Dillabaugh’s Flooring America, in Boise, Idaho, said many Main Street jobs have imperfections in some of the spaces; as such, a product with flexibility like LVT can fill that need. “It’s simply the most practical given the different installation options and should the space have stringent guidelines on what is and is not allowable. Add in how easy LVT is to replace and/or repair and clients see even more benefit.”

 

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Distributors give thumbs up to Raskin’s Acrylx

July 31/Aug. 7: Volume 31, Issue 4
By Ken Ryan

Screen Shot 2017-08-07 at 11.37.23 AMAs the WPC/rigid core subsegment of LVT continues to rise in popularity, flooring distributors are looking to get in on the action by partnering with suppliers who can deliver best-in-class looks.

Raskin Industries’ Acrylx, a solid surface waterproof floor, fits that bill, they say.

“We are amazed by the rapid industry shift to the rigid category and were lucky enough to partner with Raskin early on the Acrylx offering,” said Jodie Doyle, vice president of product management, Gilford-Johnson Flooring, a top 20 flooring wholesaler. “It’s one thing for customers to hear about rigid but never see the product. We hit the ground running with Acrylx, and our customers and sales reps are excited to be on the leading edge of a booming category. There are very few suppliers actively selling the product in the market with inventory in the barn, but we have it here in the states and the early returns have been tremendous.”

Acrylx is the first Raskin line for distributor Abraham Linc, which carries Premier Home, Premier XL and Premier G-Core XL. Abraham Linc, which services the Mid-Atlantic region, discussed carrying the lines with Raskin at Surfaces in January; it started shipping Acrylx in June.

AJ Warne, director of resilient sales for Abraham Linc, said the feedback has been great. “Premier Home is their entry level collection but features a high-end look, and it has a style and design that is superior to many products at similar price points, especially for that construction style.”

Gilford-Johnson’s Doyle noted that in a market with so many competing rigid core products, cutting-edge looks could be a key separator. “That’s one of the main reasons we have partnered with Michael Raskin and his team—because everyone knows that when Michael’s name is behind the product, you are going to get tremendous visuals and the fashion-forward looks that today’s consumer demands.”

Available in three collections—Premier Home, Premier XL and Premier G-Core XL—Acrylx’s high-density core is made of pure materials and minerals that are tightly bonded with polymers to create a solid core that is more impact resistant and denser than most other flooring.

Premier Home is available in eight oak and distressed wood grain designs and is available in 6 x 37 formats with a 12-mil wear layer. Premier XL is showcased in four wood grain traditional visuals in a 9 x 60 plank with a 20-mil wear layer. Premier G-Core XL collection features a G-Core sound barrier backing for added acoustical absorption; it is also available in a 9 x 60 plank and 20-mil wear layer. It comes in four handscraped wood grain designs.

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Resilient: State of the industry—LVT, WPC remain primary drivers of category growth

July 31/Aug. 7: Volume 31, Issue 4
By Lindsay Baillie

The resilient category continues to follow its blazing path from 2016 with aggressive growth just six months into 2017. Industry observers attribute this activity once again to the industry’s “darlings”—LVT, WPC and rigid core.

Screen Shot 2017-08-07 at 11.14.42 AMBased on FCNews research, LVT and its subcategories accounted for 42.3% of residential volume and 67.6% of residential dollars in 2016. Observers expect numbers in 2017 to reflect similar—if not more—control of the category. In 2016 the resilient category as a whole saw a 19.7% increase ($3.499 billion) over 2015’s $2.924 billion. This percentage is almost four times the growth of the overall industry. In addition, resilient captured 16.5% of the total flooring industry in dollars—the highest among all hard surfaces. Industry experts predict resilient numbers for 2017 will continue to rise, especially as waterproof products capture consumer interest.

In fact, many of the fiscal trends seen in 2016 have continued into the first half of 2017. For example, most experts have noticed residential sheet is still relatively flat, and felt is continuing to lose market share to fiberglass. Meanwhile, LVT continues to gain market share at the expense of sheet and other flooring types such as laminate and hardwood. Furthermore, LVT and its subcategories continue to gain market share as more manufacturers ramp up U.S. production for faster lead times and greater product control. Lastly, with the soaring popularity of WPC-type floors, more companies are adding rigid core to their portfolios.

Overall, success in this category is often attributed to the various innovations in printing and design, allowing manufacturers to create visuals that are almost indistinguishable from the natural materials they mimic. In addition, these designs can be achieved at a fraction of the cost. “Style is the point of entry to any design decision, but then cost quickly becomes a factor,” said Gary Keeble, director of marketing, Metroflor. “The ease of installation, the durability of LVT and associated easy care and maintenance have all assembled in a bit of a perfect storm.”

Looking at the trends, it’s easy to see why the industry is bullish about the category’s growth in 2017. “As a luxury vinyl specialist, 2017 has fared very well for us, both in terms of our glue-down products and with the introduction of our rigid core product line,” said Larry Browder, CEO, Karndean Designflooring. “The tremendous growth LVT has experienced confirms what we’ve known all along: Luxury vinyl provides the beauty and realism of natural wood and stone in a more practical format.”

All types of manufacturers, even those that produce multiple types of flooring, have seen impressive increases so far. “Resilient continues to be a very strong category for Shaw and is showing no signs of slowing down in 2017 or the foreseeable future,” said Clark Hodgkins, resilient director.

Sheet, felt feel the squeeze
FCNews research shows residential sheet vinyl had a less-than-stellar year in 2016—coming up relatively flat with a 0.2% decrease compared to 2015. Most industry observers attribute this subpar performance to the rise in demand for LVT, WPC and rigid core products.

“Sheet vinyl has lost share to LVT for several reasons,” explained John Wu, CEO, Novalis Innovative Flooring. “More manufacturers are adding LVT to their product offerings, so LVT is promoted more than sheet vinyl. Secondly, handling and installation [of LVT] is easier, especially for DIY applications.”

Screen Shot 2017-08-07 at 11.15.10 AMEasier installation is one major factor sheet vinyl manufacturers need to consider when developing new products, according to executives such as Jeff Fenwick, president and COO, Tarkett North America. As it stands today, “[installing] sheet product requires a level of expertise that tile does not.”

Fenwick also believes improvements in design are needed to help capture the consumer’s eye and break the stereotype that sheet vinyl is “what’s laid down in grandma’s kitchen.”

While some experts see the slight decline of sheet continuing in 2017, many manufacturers believe the category is still viable.

“There’s some softness on the sheet vinyl side but we firmly believe in the category,” said David Sheehan, senior vice president of product management, IVC—a division of Mohawk Industries. “Sheet in general is going to have to innovate. As manufacturers of sheet we need to do a better job of stepping up by innovating not only from a product standpoint but also in terms of how we talk about these products.”

For some manufacturers sheet still holds a certain value proposition. “Sheet is still the best value per square foot in flooring,” said Kurt Denman, chief marketing officer and executive vice president of sales, Congoleum. “This is the original waterproof flooring and it delivers an exceptional value.”

Instead of simply dismissing the segment most sheet vinyl manufacturers are working on ways to innovate their product offerings to compete with LVT, WPC and rigid core. Investments in manufacturing, processes and technology are ways suppliers are seeking to re-invigorate the segment.

“Regardless of what the market is doing, we’re focused on growing our business by bringing innovative products to market,” said Matthew Savarino, senior product manager, resilient sheet, Armstrong Flooring. “We have already introduced new innovations in 2017, specifically Diamond 10 technology across select residential and commercial sheet.”

Sheet innovation at Mannington Mills involves finding answers to the question: How can the company push style and design? “You can make really innovative looks with sheet vinyl,” said Jimmy Tuley, vice president of residential resilient. “I know that has not been the popular perception in the past, but if you look at a couple of our new collections they really do a fantastic job of mimicking incredibly high-end looks with embossed in register, very realistic visuals at a very reasonable price point.”

Despite the overall segment’s slight decline, some manufacturers reported seeing an uptick among their sheet offerings. “We continue to see good strong performance and actually growth out of our sheet category,” Denman noted. “We’ve spent a fair amount of time really targeting the builder/multi-family market. A couple of years ago we introduced the ArmorCore line, which was designed specifically for them. We’ve invested [heavily in] the category and we continue to see growth.”

Just as sheet continues to fight against LVT and its subcategories for market share, felt continues to battle fiberglass. In 2016 fiberglass saw a 4.8% increase in dollars while felt was down 6%, according to FCNews research. Most manufacturers see this flip from felt to fiberglass continuing through 2017, but do not see felt completely disappearing.

“Growth in felt market share is going to come from specific market segments,” Armstrong’s Savarino explained. “Felt-based products still provide, generally speaking, greater durability over fiberglass-based vinyl sheet. The comfort tradeoff has won out with homeowners—which is why we have seen such a large shift in the market [to fiberglass], but segments such as property management and builders still put a high value on rip, tear and gouge performance. The installation benefits of fiberglass over felt have also been swaying some buyers in that segment, but picking between durability and ease of install is still a tough decision for many customers.”

LVT output rises
LVT is still singing 2016’s hit song as it continues to drive category growth and take market share from other categories. Based on FCNews data, LVT had a strong year in 2016, capturing 48.1% of residential market share in dollars. With only six months left of 2017 most manufacturers are reporting strong growth in LVT. This is most commonly attributed to the aggressive nature of it subcategories—WPC and rigid core.

As LVT remains a category favorite more manufacturers are expanding into domestic production. Experts have taken notice of the increase; however, most do not expect import production to disappear.

Screen Shot 2017-08-07 at 11.14.53 AM“With the significant growth in the category, both domestic and import production will continue to expand,” said Lindsey Nisbet, head of product marketing and development, EarthWerks. “With the increased demand on the market today, many are finding it possible to produce in the United States. However, the technology for this category continues to be derived from Asia, as well as many of the components that make up the products. I foresee a nice balance of the category across the globe.”

Mannington is a company dedicated to U.S. production and has seen success from its acquisition of Amtico. “It’s important for several key suppliers to be able to produce here in the U.S.” Tuley explained. However, he also sees a need in the industry for balance between domestic and import production, specifically in regards to keeping up with consumer demands. Tuley cited the rapid expansion of the market and the need for technical innovations as some of the reasons for a balance strategy.

Manufacturers invested in domestic production see a number of benefits that are not always available when importing. A few examples include greater product control, faster lead time and a Made-in-the-USA story.

“In today’s market end users and consumers want product faster,” said Michael Raskin, president and CEO of Raskin Industries. “Domestic production provides shorter lead times. Another point to consider is younger consumers with children are asking where the product is made and the perception is ‘made in the USA’ is better quality and safer. It’s also very hard to guess right with inventory management since we are in a fashion business and as trends develop, distributors and retailers can react much faster with supply/demand when product is made in the U.S.”

For some, the issue is not so cut and dry. For instance, Jamann Stepp, director of marketing and product management for USFloors, there are both positives and negatives to domestic and import production. In addition to the benefits listed previously, Stepp cited greater quality control with domestic production. When importing, he explained, a manufacturer is able to eliminate the capital required to set up, run and maintain a manufacturing operation.

Others see more benefits in importing products. “Importation can actually be more flexible and responsive to the needs and trends in the marketplace,” Novalis’ Wu explained.

Even though importing products may result in longer lead times and less control over manufacturing, the vast majority of LVT products are still coming from overseas, observers say. “If you’re importing it allows for quicker response for changes in construction processing,” Congoleum’s Denman said. “There’s no capital expense investment. You can also get fairly competitive bidding between [businesses]. The number that exists allows a brand to have a lot of choices and opportunities to building the product that it wants.”

In addition to the increase of LVT domestic production, some manufacturers are also bringing rigid construction to the U.S. One in particular is IVC, which announced last year that it is building a rigid plant in Dalton.

“We expect to be up and running the first part of 2018 and getting product out through the latter part of 2018,” IVC’s Sheehan reports. “We’re going to be at the lead of that movement which makes sense from a lead-time standpoint and not having to tie up a lot of inventory, work, capital and being able to serve the needs of our customers in a better fashion.”

Even though a growing number of manufacturers are investing in U.S. production, some say the effects of their shift away from importing has yet to be felt. “Most of these factories are still coming on line,” Metroflor’s Keeble said. “With that said, the overwhelming majority of LVT sold in the USA remains imported, and with the category growing as it has, imports will likely remain a very large part of the overall market.”

WPC’s performance edge
Experts predict the aggressive growth of WPC and rigid core products will continue as long as waterproof products continue to capture the hearts and eyes of consumers. As these subcategories achieve meteoric growth other flooring categories will continue to lose overall market share.

“The growth in LVT has come at the expense of many categories including sheet vinyl, hardwood and especially laminate,” Karndean’s Browder said. “With the advent of WPC/rigid core, laminate is taking an even bigger hit. The fall of laminate flooring due to water and noise issues created a market for WPC and rigid core products.”

The success of WPC and rigid core can be attributed to multiple factors including the categories’ abilities to solve certain performance problems. “Rigid core products have helped to solve for additional challenges that regular LVT could not,” said Jeremy Kleinberg, senior product manager, Armstrong Flooring. “For example, telegraphing of minor subfloor texture.”

Ongoing developments
In 2016 WPC and rigid core products saw what many industry experts have called phenomenal activity. In fact the subcategories, combined, have more than tripled in volume from 2015. Most industry experts expect this growth to continue well into 2018.

Screen Shot 2017-08-07 at 11.15.01 AM“I wouldn’t be surprised if WPC/rigid core becomes the larger sub-segment of LVT,” IVC’s Sheehan said. While he sees these subcategories still gaining market share, he does expect the WPC/rigid core craze will eventually level off and allow for an increase in sheet market share.

As fairly new subcategories, WPC and rigid core are expected to see at least two more years of aggressive innovation. In fact, Mannington’s Tuley sees these subcategories still in the early, steep part of the growth curve.

“There’s also a significant amount of innovation that’s going to be coming,” he added. “I wouldn’t think that even in the next two years that will stop. You will see a significant number of entrants moving away from WPC and going toward rigid core.”

Tuley has a good point. As WPC and rigid core continue to grow, more manufacturers are adding the products to their resilient offerings. New rigid core and WPC introductions—as well as additions to existing collections—are already being brought to market only six months into 2017. For example, Novalis has introduced its High Performance Core (HPC Technology) line for WPC/rigid LVT. Wu sees these newer introductions taking market share from other categories as well as developing a greater presence in the commercial sector.

Manufacturers such as Karndean have developed new rigid products to meet dealer demands. “Our dealers had been asking for a rigid core product with Karndean designs,” Browder said. “With Korlok we have the perfect combination of industry-leading technology and our renowned design quality.”

Shaw Floors has also taken advantage of the success of WPC and rigid core with a mid-year launch of the company’s new Floorté PRO collection.

WPC and rigid core have managed to attract almost every manufacturer. One concern regarding these products is the possibility they might cannibalize traditional LVT. According to the experts, higher-end traditional LVT may take a hit; however, low-end LVT should be able to withstand the “perfect storm,” as one executive described it.

“While multi-layer flooring is definitely taking share over the click options of LVT, the traditional glue-down LVT is also growing,” EarthWerks’ Nisbet explained. “The multi-layer flooring options are taking place of the original click LVT, as well as alternate flooring categories. With the enhanced technologies and realistic attributes of these designs, the affordability and performance of multi-layer flooring, the vinyl option has become a clear competitor in the overall choice for flooring.”

USFloors’ Stepp doesn’t see the subcategories cannibalizing LVT; rather, they are providing the consumer or end user with various choices. “[WPC/rigid core] merely offers the end-user and consumer a choice based on functionality, application and budget. The consumer will make the choice as to what best suits her needs in terms of performance, fashion and cost.”

 

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MFA seeks to set the pace for WPC

New association created to establish standards for nascent composite core category

FCNews Ultimate Guide to WPC: July 17/24, 2017

 

Screen Shot 2017-07-31 at 9.55.36 AMThe laminate flooring industry has NALFA, while NWFA sets standards in wood manufacturing and installation. RFCI covers the resilient sector; carpet has CRI. So when it came time to launching an association that would begin setting standards for the WPC/composite core segment, several industry leaders took the lead in creating MFA—the Multilayer Flooring Association.

Officially launched in February by seven founding companies—Armstrong Flooring, CFL, Mannington, Metroflor, Novalis, Torly’s and USFloors—MFA has grown to include Karndean, Mohawk and Shaw, as well as three associate members: MP Global, Pak-Lite and SELIT, N.A. Peter Barretto, president and CEO of Torlys, serves as marketing chairperson of MFA. Joining Baretto on the board is MFA president Harlan Stone, CEO of Halstead International/Metroflor Corp.; Barron Frith (CFL) as vice president; Mark Hansen (Novalis Innovative Flooring) as treasurer; Jamey Block (Armstrong Flooring), secretary; Philippe Erramuzpe (USFloors), membership chairperson; and Jimmy Tuley (Mannington), serving as member at large.

Barretto cited the impetus for the founding of the association, noting the rapid rise in popularity of polymer composite rigid core floor products, first introduced in 2012, and the lack of existing standards. This situation, he said, presented an opportunity for a new association to rise and fill a void in the market by creating a stronger and better controlled flooring segment for the benefit of retailers and consumers. This is particularly critical with relatively new categories such as WPC—a segment in which products are not always constructed the same way or use the same materials.

MFA held a meeting during Surfaces 2017 to discuss the organization’s initial goals and objectives. Among the key topics discussed were category standards, membership and third-party certification. “This meeting was about getting new members, talking about the ASTM standards we are trying to create and the speed at which we want to do it,” Barretto told FCNews. “We already have a first draft of the standards to get that ball rolling.”

The initial standards Barretto referred to were created within the ASTM framework to first better define the multilayer flooring category for the benefit of retailers and customers. “It’s a new category; we don’t have the standards here that we have in other categories such as LVT, laminate and wood—all of which are established,” he explained. “It’s a hybrid category so we need to make sure we have a hybrid standard.”

Why the sense of urgency in developing a standard? Primarily to avoid confusion in the marketplace—a consequence of a new category that’s growing rapidly. For instance, WPC is viewed by many as a segment of luxury vinyl tile (LVT), the fastest growing product in the industry. However, there are differences in the construction of WPC vs. LVT. For instance, WPC is a composite material made of thermoplastics, calcium carbonate and wood flour. Extruded as a core material it is marketed as being waterproof, rigid and extremely dimensionally stable. (In the case of COREtec Plus, USFloors’ product, a veneer of luxury vinyl is layered on top of the coreboard and core underlayment is attached at the base for sound abatement and enhanced comfort underfoot.)

Second, the creation of uniform standards ensures products that fall under the WPC umbrella (including subsequent iterations of “WPC-type” floors) establishes a threshold in terms of product quality, construction, performance, etc. Novalis’ Hansen, for instance, said many WPC products in the market today would not pass the basic ASTM F 1700 test, which is the specification used for solid vinyl flooring. ASTM F 1700 classifies solid vinyl tile in three categories: Class I Monolithic, which means through color tile with no backing; Class II Surface Decorated, which usually means an “inlaid” type tile with a backing; and Class III, Printed Film Vinyl Tile, which is a photographic print film with a clear vinyl wear layer and a backing system.

“WPC is really a new product and concept, and we need to have proper specifications for this product so the retailer and ultimately the consumer can better understand the product,” Hansen explained. “We need to put the proper information in consumers’ hands so they can make an informed decision about what they are purchasing.”

MFA is quickly—albeit carefully and methodically—making progress in those areas. The association, based in Calhoun, Ga., recently wrapped up its first official “general meeting,” where members provided an update on the group’s initiatives over the past six months. (FCNews will share details of that meeting in the weeks to come.)

After the initial standards have been finalized and published, MFA will explore different types of certifications for association members. “We are looking at creating performance and safety standards for the product with third-party certification,” Barretto explained, adding these standards will be categorized according to residential and commercial specifications.

As the composite core flooring category evolves, MFA seeks to keep in lockstep with its development. “The association is moving at the same speed as the subcategory itself,” Barretto stated. “It has come from nothing to over half a billion dollars in four years.”

 

MFA membership has its privileges
The newly formed Multilayer Flooring Association (MFA) is seeking to build on its membership ranks. To encourage participation, the group has established two membership tiers: “regular” and “associate.”

According to Philippe Erramuzpe, membership chair, regular membership shall consist of any non-consumer facing manufacturer or manufacturer with an OEM that sells or distributes multilayer modular flooring. All members shall maintain a significant operational presence in North America. Note: Regular members have voting privileges, and its appointees may hold office.

Associate membership shall consist of members who are affiliates of or provide ancillary services or products to multi-layer flooring with polymer composite core. Associate members shall not have voting privileges.

For membership inquiries, contact Philippe Erramuzpe at philippe@usfloorsllc.com. Additional information is also available online at multilayer flooringassociation.com.