December 18/25, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 14
By Lindsay Baillie
Anecdotal research shows fiberglass sheet vinyl continues to capture market share from felt products. But that’s not deterring manufacturers from supporting the sub-category. Many resilient flooring executives believe the product is still finding favor in various markets. What’s more, executives say felt’s unique characteristics will help it stay afloat in the sea of resilient products.
While felt is part of a mature market, executive say it still provides greater durability over similar fiberglass backed vinyl sheet products. As Bill Furman, product marketing manager, Armstrong, explained: “Segments such as property management and builder still put a high value on rip, tear and gouge performance, and felt products continue to do well with these customers.”
Beyond the product’s use in those key end-use markets, felt also appeals to consumers looking for overall value. “Price, design and performance all come together to make it one of the best values in flooring,” said Kurt Denman, chief marketing officer and executive vice president of sales, Congoleum. “It is incredibly durable and is the original child-proof, pet-proof, waterproof flooring.”
Installation is another key factor driving felt growth, experts say. Unlike other types of flooring, felt can be installed with a perimeter fasten. Suppliers say this type of installation is ideal for consumers looking to do a full kitchen remodel or install flooring before cabinets or an island. “Many other types of flooring—fiberglass-backed sheet included—cannot have a perimeter installation,” said Mary Katherine Dyczko-Riglin, product manager for resilient sheet vinyl, Mannington. “This feature can make an installation job much simpler.”
By utilizing felt’s well-known installation benefits and value proposition, manufacturers are able to provide flooring solutions for any budget.
The fate of felt
FCNews research shows felt fell 6% in 2016. Despite this market-share loss, suppliers say felt will continue to hold its own. This is a result of felt’s continued use in particular flooring markets as well as the product’s construction.
“The move from felt to fiberglass is definitely continuing,” Mannington’s Dyczko-Riglin said. “As a large supporter of the felt-backed products, we have experienced a slower switch. However, we are continuing to see increasing demand for fiberglass. We believe there will continue to be a place for felt-backed products in the market.”
Armstrong has also taken note of the slight shift and is taking steps to provide enticing solutions for both product types. “There is a place for felt, just as there is a place for fiberglass, LVT, VCT, etc., as long as it delivers on true value and innovation,” Furman explained. “Not only do certain segments—such as property management or builders—continue to use felt-backed products, but some regions of the country prefer the price and durability benefits they offer.”
Some executives believe the basic elements of construction for felt and fiberglass are relatively similar. For example, both products contain a base or carrier layer, a gel and print layer and a wear layer. However, the real differences between these two constructions can be found in what goes into each layer. “Congoleum uses natural limestone as the base,” Denman explained. “As the name implies, limestone makes for a very dense foundation that does an incredible job of resisting indentation. When we add our UltraTec backing as in our AirStep products, you now have [more] versatility—fully adhered, perimeter install and loose lay. Unlike fiberglass, the limestone base eliminates any restrictions on seaming.”
Even though fiberglass continues to capture market share, its limitations in construction will allow for felt to recapture a certain percentage of market share. As Denman explained: “We have enjoyed significant growth in manufactured housing and the recreational vehicle markets and modest growth in the builder and multi-family segments. Our retail business has remained flat while others have seen significant declines. All told, that means we’re taking back market share.”
To help felt gain market share in a heavily saturated market, manufacturers are developing new products as well as new designs for existing flooring. “2018 is a year of felt revitalization for Mannington,” Dyczko-Riglin said. “We are overhauling the Mannington felt offering to allow retail salespeople to better focus their selling efforts on what consumers want—the most popular patterns. We started this effort this year by offering the Revive collection in base-grade felt lines to allow these high-fashion looks to be accessible to as many budgets as possible. In 2018, we will continue this commitment to style leadership by introducing new patterns into these lines to keep them fresh.”
Armstrong, for its part, continues to see success with its StrataMax flooring, which is the company’s proprietary, limestone-encapsulated, felt-backed product. “StrataMax offers enhanced durability over traditional felt products, and it can be loose laid like a fiberglass-based product, offering the best of both worlds,” Furman noted.
In developing new products for the category Congoleum is taking into account all of felt’s appealing attributes. “In addition to our relentless pursuit of design leadership, we are careful to control costs to ensure our products are competitively priced and deliver exceptional value without any compromise to our long-standing commitment to quality and performance,” Denman stated.