October 10/17, 2016: Volume 31, Number 9
By Ken Ryan
The resilient flooring category has been dominated in recent years by the headline-grabbing success of luxury vinyl tile (LVT) and lately WPC. Meanwhile, sheet vinyl continues to forge ahead despite being one of the most underappreciated products in the market today. However, its worth is not lost on its legion of proponents.
“When you look at resilient sheet on an installed cost basis and add in the performance attributes, it’s the best value on the market,” said Dan Natkin, senior director of residential products, Mannington. “It’s waterproof, highly scratch resistant and has visuals that cannot be achieved in other categories at the same type of value price point.”
Eric Erickson, vice president of marketing for Beauflor, agrees. He also cited other positive attributes of sheet, namely the product’s increasingly realistically looking visuals. “It is sometimes hard to tell the difference from LVT to sheet. Cushion vinyl has a great performance story, superior sound absorption and is truly the best waterproof product out there.”
According to Amie Foster, product director–sheet vinyl, IVC US, sheet represents a strong ticket item that provides retailers with some of the best margins available in flooring. “It is a value for the consumer as well, as she can add design, performance and comfort without sacrificing her budget or compromising her wants for her home.”
Executives cite sheet for its durability, low maintenance and realistic visuals—distinguishing traits that make it an excellent solution throughout the home or in commercial environments. Sheet has a dominant share in the manufactured housing market. Here, builders can get sheet for $0.60 a foot for a good product that is easy to install. At SP Floors in Canonsburg, Pa., for example, sheet vinyl represents “the standard that goes into builder homes,” said Stacey Pape, owner. SP Floors does nearly $4 million a year in builder business—roughly two-thirds of its overall business.
Retail remains a strong segment for sheet vinyl within specific regions in North America because it offers the triumvirate of design, durability and value. “Given that sheet vinyl checks the box on all three of these factors it continues to be a product of choice by consumers,” said Matt Savarino, senior product manager, resilient sheet, Armstrong Floors. “Property management/ multi-family also is a strong segment of the market due to the fact that a property owner can offer their customer an extremely durable product with a leading design.”
If there is one area where sheet trumps LVT it would be hospitals and assisted-living facilities in which monolithic surfaces are required. Emergency rooms, for instance, require flooring that can be heat welded and flash coved to create an aseptic space. Homogeneous sheet products are regarded as the ideal solution in these environments.
Glass-backed sheet gaining share
For several years now, glass-backed sheet has been taking share from felt-backed products. That trend is expected to continue. As Natkin stated: “There are two reasons driving this: One is consumer perception; glass-backed sheet has a heavier hand and higher perceived value. The other is it is more forgiving on the installer. Finding good vinyl installers is becoming increasingly difficult and the lay flat nature of glass makes it easier to expand the installer base.”
IVC’s Foster added that fiberglass sheet continues to grow in the multi-family arena, thus further displacing felt-backed sheet. She said felt’s strongest channel is single-family builder but there is some movement toward glass in this segment as well. “That could be devastating to felt-backed goods.”
However, not everyone is bearish on felt. Kurt Denman, chief marketing officer/executive vice president of sales, Congoleum, acknowledges that fiberglass has managed to take a considerable amount of the market share. However, he said, “I think we are seeing a swing back to felt based on limitations of fiberglass on what the product is really capable of [achieving]. Limestone-based felt, for example, is a very dense, more robust product—the most versatile product in the market. It doesn’t have limitations on seaming. It adds to the value proposition.”
Armstrong, for its part, continues to manufacture both glass-backed and felt products depending on the application. As Savarino explained, “we ultimately want to help the customer choose the best solution for her space. Fiberglass offers distinct benefits versus other structures, including ease of installation, comfort under foot and water resistance. While we do forecast the shift from felt to fiberglass to continue, we continue to bring industry leading designs to our felt structures because we know there are still segments of the market and consumers that want a felt product. When a felt-backed product is installed correctly, it is the most durable vinyl sheet flooring solution out there today.”
Today’s sheet vinyl is manufactured using highly sophisticated techniques, complex methods and precise systems. The rotogravure printing process is the most commonly used method, offering unlimited possibilities in pattern and design to make the visuals as realistic as possible. This includes experimenting with inks, printing techniques and embossed in register technologies.
Armstrong looks at innovations from two standpoints: solutions and shopping experience. Regarding the former there is Stratamax, which is made of 70% limestone. “In addition to structure improvement, manufacturers are always looking at ways to improve the wear layer of the product to keep the product looking newer, longer once installed,” Savarino said.
At Mannington, the newest innovations revolve around creating visuals that are not achievable in other categories. A prime example is Centennial, launched in both felt and glass to celebrate Mannington’s 100 years. “The visuals in this collection are a nod to the past with some modern flare,” Natkin stated. “In particular, our Filigree and Penny Lane products are rocketing off the shelves.”
Congoleum’s ArmorCore, a heterogeneous sheet product ideal for light commercial as well as residential, features a “no-buckle” guarantee that has been a big success among builders. Denman said Congoleum is seeing robust growth with ArmorCore in a segment of the business where everyone is saying it is flat at best. Moreover, he believes it’s a clear sign the company is taking market share. “You would think a company 130 years old would not have any more tricks up its sleeve. However, there are many more tricks lurking up that sleeve.”