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Laminate: Do moisture-resistant claims hold water?

Observers debate merits of overplaying the ‘waterproof’ card

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

By Reginald Tucker

 

The excitement surrounding laminate flooring of late is a testament to the strides the segment has made both in terms of visuals and performance. Much attention has been focused on the latter, particularly enhancements and coreboard treatments designed to increase the product’s ability to withstand moisture penetration and/or water damage.

But that begs the question, “Do moisture-resistant coreboard claims hold water?” (Pardon the pun.) Viewpoints among some industry observers are mixed.

“We are very skeptical,” said Ben Case, manager of the Carpet Collection, Lockport, N.Y. “However, we have done no independent testing to prove it.”

When it comes to touting flooring with waterproof properties, Case said he is more confident in WPC and SPC. (He also prefers the visuals currently available in those categories vs. what’s shown in laminate.) However, he said, “We will continue to offer moisture-resistant laminate options to see where trends may take us in the coming years.”

Other dealers embrace the emphasis on laminates’ so-called new and improved water-resistant attributes. Eric Mondragon, hard surface buyer, R.C. Willey, based in Salt Lake City, believes laminate manufacturers have taken the category’s performance to the proverbial next level—specifically with respect to resistance to moisture. “Companies like Mohawk and Quick-Step have really stepped it up.”

To suppliers’ credit, investments are being made in product development as it pertains to moisture resistance. “Most laminate is significantly moisture resistant, with multiple manufacturers developing new technologies to make the product nearly impervious to liquids,” said Dan Natkin, vice president, wood and laminate, Mannington. He cited the company’s SpillShield technology, which is featured on the company’s signature Restoration collection.

At the same time, Natkin cautions against overselling the technology’s attributes; the innovation, he notes, aims to address everyday spills—not catastrophic events such as floods. “What we talk about are the real-life things that happen in the home. Historically speaking, if you have a traumatic flooring event in your house, the flooring is going to get replaced no matter what.”

Other suppliers are also investing in technologies to repel water. CFL, which introduced its AtroGuard water-resistant laminate line several years ago, believes the technology has come a long way. “It’s not 100% waterproof, but it has advantages the resilient category doesn’t have,” said Thomas Baert, president. “It’s also good for bathrooms, kitchens, etc., meaning homeowners can wet-mop it. It has been proven on the market now for more than three years, and it is one of our best sellers.”

Mannington and CFL are not the only manufacturers backing claims that support the category’s improved resistance to moisture and water damage. “We believe it is helpful for the category,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO of Inhaus. “Ever since the change in core construction from particleboard to high-density fiberboard in the 1990s, laminate has stood up well to moisture. But through new innovations, this feature has been enhanced.”

At the same time, Welbourn advises retailers to exercise caution. “Laminate is still a wood-based product and it’s important that we don’t oversell these features and disappoint consumers. If a company tries to sell a laminate as being impervious to water, we need to ask the question, ‘Can you install it in a shower or a steam room?’ If the answer is no, I would question the waterproof claims.

Managing expectations
Reported overstatement of the product’s capabilities—something that negatively impacted the segment’s reputation in its early days in the U.S. 20 years ago—is a growing concern for some industry observers. Back then it was about overselling the product’s resistance to dents and scratching, leading some to suggest it was virtually indestructible. Today, it’s mostly about managing consumer expectations when it comes to claims about moisture resistance.

“I can’t speak for other manufacturers, but Shaw is not going to make claims on a product that could ultimately disappoint the consumer,” said Drew Hash, vice president, hard surface product/category management. “We choose to be more conservative in our approach.”

Roger Farabee, senior vice president, laminate and hardwood, Mohawk Industries, also warns against the dangers of misleading consumers about moisture resistance. It’s critical, he noted, to remind dealers that not all products are created equal. “Based on some of the testing we’ve done, some of the products do not live up to the claims they make. The question becomes, does it create significant consumer dissatisfaction and potential blowback for the category? That remains to be seen.”

As Farabee sees it, many laminate manufacturers and marketers are focusing their efforts on how to minimize visible damage from water incursion at the edge of the products as opposed to the tongue and groove area. Some, he notes, have been introducing coreboards that are less susceptible to swelling. The problem is, he explained, the majority aren’t concentrating on improving water resistance at the joints—those areas where water can seep in and wreak havoc on the panels or, worse, make its way under the planks where it can cause other issues like subfloor damage or mold growth.

For its part, Mohawk said it has developed products that are far more moisture resistant than laminate floors made many years ago. “We have personally developed technologies that enable us to make some moisture-resistant claims far beyond what everybody else could,” Farabee stated. “We’ve had these products out in the market for more than two years now, and it has given us a position where we can go head to head with one of the No. 1 attributes that LVT and rigid core floors have been talking about for the last several years.

Not to be outdone, companies like Uniboard have upped the ante in the area of moisture resistance. As one of the biggest producers of panels in North America, the company also controls the fiber species and the resin recipe of the boards—all of which helps prevent swelling and adds dimensional stability. By focusing on its core competencies in HDF coreboard manufacturing, Uniboard is looking to leverage its strengths in water-resistant board development.

“We are an integrated company, so we manufacture the core to our specifications,” said Don Raymond, vice president, sales and marketing. “Other boards swell and pull apart; our boards have stronger integrity. We’ve designed the core to meet the highest specification in the marketplace in terms of swelling, moisture resistance and performance. Other companies have to buy the technology on the open market.”

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Laminate: State of the industry—Segment thrives despite impact of WPC, LVT

March 5/12, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 19

By Reginald Tucker

 

For all the talk about laminate’s demise in the face of intensifying pressure from competing hard surface categories, the now-mature product segment is proving it has staying power. Ongoing innovations in the form of dramatically improved resistance to moisture, ultra-realistic replications of natural materials like wood and stone, and upgrades in surface texture and product performance are keeping the segment in the spotlight.

While the laminate flooring category has certainly ceded some market share to red-hot products such as WPC, SPC and LVT, the fact remains it is still a viable option since its official entry into the U.S. marketplace more than 20 years ago. “As manufacturers, it’s our job to remind people of the incredible benefits laminate flooring offers,” said Roger Farabee, senior vice president, laminate and hardwood, Mohawk Industries. “We’re asking consumers to take another look at the product category and great visuals and performance it offers. They can now have a premium wood look without any compromise. At Mohawk we are still very bullish about the product.”

Farabee is not alone in his assessment of the product’s capabilities. Dan Natkin, vice president, wood and laminate, Mannington, attests to both the category’s long history and reputation for durability, as well as the newfound focus on waterproof attributes. “In some cases, we’ve lost sight of what makes laminate great—phenomenal realism, all bio-based, superior indentation and scratch resistance, and the fact the vast majority is made in the USA. Most laminate is significantly moisture resistant as well, with multiple manufacturers developing new technologies to make the product nearly impervious to liquids.”

Other proponents are bullish on the category’s current position in the marketplace. “I think the laminate flooring industry is in a good place,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO, Inhaus. “It continues to enhance its core value proposition, which is a great-looking floor at a leading price point that won’t let you down on performance. We see continued evolution in terms of design and features that are creating some amazing looks and furthering the value proposition of laminate.”

Travis Bass, executive vice president, Swiss Krono, also sees the laminate flooring category moving toward better visuals, deeper textures and innovative products. This provides an opportunity, he said, to continue educating the consumer—via retail exposure and industry associations such as NALFA—about the benefits of laminate. “It’s a wood-based product with the look and feel of solid hardwood, but with less maintenance and more durability,” he noted. “It’s easier to install and offers a much healthier, sustainable environmental impact than many competing products.”

Despite all these benefits and attributes, the category is not without its challenges. Reported overstatement of the product’s capabilities—something that negatively impacted the segment’s reputation in its early days in the U.S. 20 years ago—is a growing concern for some industry observers. Back then it was about overselling the product’s resistance to dents and scratching, leading some to suggest it was virtually bulletproof. Today, it’s mostly about managing consumer expectations when it comes to claims about moisture resistance.

“I can’t speak for other manufacturers, but Shaw is not going to make claims on a product that could ultimately disappoint the consumer,” said Drew Hash, vice president, hard surface product/category management. “We choose to be more conservative in our approach.”

For executives like Barron Frith, president, CFL North America, the attributes must square with a particular manufacturer’s marketing claims. “We have been big believers in water-resistant laminate since we launched our Atroguard line in 2013. No doubt the water-resistant feature is the future of the laminate category and will leave less space for regular laminates. Many big players are entering this market, at the same time leading everyone to push further marketing claims about being ‘waterproof’ as opposed to ‘water resistant,’ causing confusion about the performance of the product.”

Mohawk’s Farabee also warns against the dangers of misleading consumers about moisture resistance. It’s critical, he noted, to remind dealers that not all products are created equal. “Based on some of the testing we’ve done, some of the products do not live up to the claims they make. The question becomes, does it create significant consumer dissatisfaction and potential blowback for the category? That remains to be seen.”

What Farabee can say for sure is many companies are focusing on how to minimize any visible damage from water incursion at the edge of the products as opposed to the tongue and groove area. “Most of them have been introducing lower-swell coreboards, which will help that problem overtime, but the one we worry about—which is also an issue with floating vinyl—is the majority aren’t doing anything with their joint systems. And while they may have minimized damage through topical moisture on the edges of the plank, you still have moisture penetrating the joints and creating issues under the floor.”

For its part, Mohawk said it has developed products that are far more moisture resistant than laminate floors made many years ago. So much so that “we have personally developed technologies that enable us to make some moisture-resistant claims far beyond what everybody else could. We’ve had these products out in the market for more than two years now, and it has given us a position in the market where we can go head to head with one of the No. 1 attributes that LVT and rigid core have been talking about for the last several years.”

While some companies remain cautious about specious product claims, other major suppliers welcome all the hoopla surrounding waterproof/water-resistant marketing. “We believe it is helpful for the category,” Inhaus’ Welbourn stated. “Ever since the change in core construction from particleboard to high-density fiberboard in the 1990s, laminate has stood up well to moisture. But through new innovations, this feature has been enhanced. However, laminate is still a wood-based product and it’s important that we don’t oversell these features and disappoint consumers. If a company tries to sell a laminate as being impervious to water, we need to ask the question, ‘Can you install it in a shower or a steam room?’ If the answer is no, I would question the waterproof statement.”

Mannington’s Natkin also sees benefits in touting the category’s water-resistant attributes. “Realistically, laminate is already one of the highest performing product categories given its resistance to indentation and scratching, as well as the ease of installation. Water resistance is the icing on the cake.”

CFL is also embracing the renewed focus on the product’s performance attributes. “Water-resistant laminate is far from new for CFL,” Frith stated. “The bulletproof reputation has proven to be a big positive for us since we launched Atroguard more than four years ago. When consumers started shifting toward more waterproof vinyl categories, they did so without really realizing they were accepting a product that was inferior in terms of scratch resistance. No special coatings on vinyl flooring currently on the market come near the performance of a laminate in terms of scratch resistance.”

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Surfaces Resilient Coverage: Innovations aim to add simplicity to the buying and selling process

February 5/12, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 17

By Lindsay Baillie

 

There’s a common thread among the plethora of new resilient flooring products introduced at Surfaces: They all aim to make it easier for retailers to sell and consumers to understand.

A majority of the manufacturers at the event noted that the resilient market is saturated with products—a phenomenon that can cause confusion for distributors, retailers and consumers alike. To address this issue, manufacturers are providing retailers and distributors with updated styles and newer product constructions in conjunction with greater education, explicit branding and unique product stories.

Education and innovation was a focal point of Karndean Designflooring’s 2018 introductions, which entailed new SKUs across three formats: glue down, loose lay and rigid core. The ultimate goal, the company said, is to encourage retailers to rethink flooring. “We’re trying to get retailers to see flooring differently, design flooring differently and specify flooring differently so that they have a way of making more margin and really beating out the competition,” said Emil Mellow, director of public relations.

Part of rethinking flooring involves a complete understanding of how Karndean’s products work together to create designflooring. “With our new SKUs, we’re trying to push design differently,” Mellow explained. “For example, with Korlok, we tell retailers you can blend SKUs.”

Mohawk’s new sheet vinyl lineup is bringing awareness to a product category that has consistently been losing market share to LVT, WPC and SPC. According to Angela Duke, senior brand manager, Mohawk, the company still sees a market for sheet vinyl and so should retailers. “This is one of the most durable floors. It is one of our highest margin products because of its lower price.”

Mohawk’s new sheet vinyl features a new technology called ClearGuard, which aims to show consumers how easy it is to clean the product. Duke explained dealers should also take advantage of the product’s waterproof qualities. “We’re seeing a lot of push for this product in different areas such as laundry rooms, basements and bathrooms.”

Educating dealers on product features is also a key point for Forbo. The manufacturer’s Marmoleum with click cinch lock is available in a wide array of colors, allowing retailers to offer consumers something out of the ordinary. What’s more, dealers can mix and match the square and plank formats to create unique flooring designs. “What if you could get a click product that is easy to install and with more vibrant colors?” asked Tim Donahue, residential national sales manager. “You’re not going to get these colors in an LVT.”

Forbo has also added FlowTex to its product portfolio. To create the texture of FlowTex the product is “flocked,” a manufacturing process that combines a PVC backing, a layer in between and an adhesive on top, followed by a magnetic charge that activates the product. Once the product is dried, it becomes  impenetrable to water, Donahue said. “FlowTex is a textile version of a resilient and is actually closer to a hard surface than a carpet.”

Fusion, the distribution division of USFloors, is focused on educating its customers on the positives of doing business with the company. “We offer completely different colors and SKUs than USFloors,” said Jim Nielsen, vice president of sales. “We cover all of the bases with this category, and we’ll stay at the very forefront of technology and give our distributors service and compassion.”

The company’s two investments for 2018 are its enhance bevel WPC and SPC. “These are higher end, design-focused products,” Nielsen explained. “They’re very realistic looking compared to what we’ve had in the past. We’ve also attached a pad, which provides more comfort and is sound deadening. Distributors will be able to get more premium price on these products than what is out there.”

Happy Feet also emphasized the importance of educating the retailer on the benefits of partnering with the right manufacturer, going beyond product specs. In addition to the company’s new products such as Blockbuster and Gladiator, Happy Feet boasts competitive pricing, shipping within 24 hours and unmatchable inventory. “We want to help retailers make money,” said CJ Johnson, sales.

What’s in a brand?

Some manufacturers introduced new products at Surfaces that aim to help strengthen brand recognition in consumers and make it easier for dealers to better identify products in a saturated market. Case in point is Armstrong, which is looking to leverage its Diamond 10 technology to create brand awareness with consumers. “We’re pushing our Diamond 10 technology, which is a differentiating factor,  to bring consumers into retailers’ stores,” said Morgan Hafer, product manager for Alterna. “It’s being used in shows on HGTV and throughout social media to [drive] brand awareness.”

EarthWerks is also using its branding to make it easier for retailers to distinguish between different sizes of products. The company showed Noble Classic Plus and Plus XL as well as Parkhill and Plus XXL. Plus XL and Plus XXL represent thicker, longer versions of their respective lines.

“At EarthWerks we say style, availability and service you can trust,” said Lindsey Nisbet, strategic marketing and product development. “Our style is getting better every year; with respect to service, we have some of the best distribution.”

Quick-Step and IVC are also making it easier to identify their resilient products. Quick-Step has updated the products it sells to focus less on the product lines and more on its attributes. The company is now using the term “EnduraTEK” for its resilient products. “We consider resilient as the entry into hard surface,” said Jason Sims, senior brand manager, Mohawk Industries. “All of our flexible product is called EnduraTEK. As you trade up, the rigid offerings are called EnduraTEK Ultra.”

Quick-Step is doing its best to provide distributors with better and best offerings within the resilient category. “What we’re featuring this year is the ability for them to trade up within the category from flexible to rigid,” Sims said. “We are also offering for the first time flexible LVT tile that has a hidden grout line. You can mix them and it quickly installs. These are all available on one display as well.”

IVC is updating its brand to reflect the resilient category. The company showed its new Artera and Millright lines, both sheet vinyl, as well as Urbanne, its new flexible tiles. Sims explained that the word “resilient” not only describes the category, but also highlights what the segment can ultimately provide consumers. “We have positioned our brand as uncompromised design for life. We bring a different design element to everything we do.”

While some companies are promoting various product names to drive brand recognition, others are looking to better leverage their own corporate identities. DuChâteau, primarily known for its innovations in hardwood for flooring and wall applications, has expanded its reach to include luxury vinyl plank products. “We conducted extensive research with designers, architects, contractors and homeowners to see where they wanted to go with more luxurious and distinctive flooring designs,” said Misael Tagle, CEO and co-founder of DuChâteau. “The craftsmanship and fashion-forward designs of our new collections meet their needs.”

The manufacturer’s new Atelier Series’ Sovereign edition features the sought-after signature aesthetic of European-style exclusive designs in a glue-down vinyl plank. Then there’s the Vinyl Deluxe Grand collection with LuxCor technology, followed by the Vinyl Deluxe Classic collection. Rounding out the offering is the American Guild collection, which features classic colors and a contemporary American design aesthetic with the realistic look and feel of wood and stone.

Congoleum is looking to take branding a step further with the creation of CLEO Home—a separate, standalone brand that features healthy and environmentally conscious flooring. According to Kurt Denman, chief marketing officer and executive vice president of sales, CLEO Home is intended to help consumers who might be struggling with design confidence.

“We wanted to create something from a designer standpoint that really appealed to the consumer. We have great brand recognition with Congoleum, with our legacy products. This new foray into the marketplace is a great way to connect with the next generation.”

CLEO breaks down into three different layers. The base is 85% limestone and the other 15% is a binder that is not made with PVC. The top layer is digital imaging with a high-performance coating. “When you get rid of PVC you get rid of plasticizers, phthalates and all the things that are perceived as negative words in the industry,” Denman explained. (Incidentally, Congoleum was honored for a Best of Surfaces award in sustainability for CLEO Home.) “This product is 100% manufactured in the U.S., so we’re not relying on print films shipped from China.”

A compelling story
Manufacturers are not only developing unique product stories to help differentiate offerings, they are ultimately providing retailers with product education and strong brands. Mohawk, for example, has updated its campaign for SolidTech to play up the product’s resistance to hurricanes. As Duke explained: “We have a good story from a builder in Dallas who put SolidTech in one of his model homes; after the hurricane hit the dealer was able to salvage the floor in the model home, clean it up and reinstall it without any problems.”

Armstrong has developed its own story for its Alterna plank product—an engineered tile now available in a 6 x 36 plank format. “We call it Alterna because it is an alternative to ceramic and tile,” Hafer explained. “The story behind engineered tile is its more durable and comfortable to live on and easier to install than real tile. Alterna plank also features our Diamond 10 technology.”

Product story is also key to Beauflor’s new introductions, Blacktex and Boardwalk. The former is a roll product that can also be merchandised with boards and marketed as either a sheet vinyl or LVT product. The textile backing provides users with some of the benefits and features of LVT. Meanwhile, Boardwalk is a rigid click, loose-lay product with an attached pad.

“Our Blacktex sheet product is really the original waterproof product,” said Johnny Barnes, general manager. “If you look at the top layer, you can achieve some of the visuals with this line that you can’t necessarily achieve with the WPC products.”

Boardwalk, initially available in 14 SKUs, is equally rich in terms of aesthetics. “We have several dimensions and three SKUs that are random width,” said Nick Brown, vice president of sales North America. “There are all these different products within the collection, but they’re all at the same price point.”

Raskin Industries’ Ceramix, the company’s built-in-grout, loose-lay LVT, has its own story—one built on ease of installation. According to the manufacturer, the offering allows retailers to sell a grouted tile look without the headache of a typical tile installation. What’s more, Ceramix, which made its official debut at Surfaces 2017, earned a Best of Surfaces award for innovation at this year’s event.

Michael Raskin, founder and president, said the realistic look of the grout is a difference maker. “You can’t tell it is not ceramic, and with labor as a big issue in the market—the labor is sometimes two to three times more than the product—this can be put in with a perimeter install. It’s also warmer, slip resistant and doesn’t shatter.”

Novalis continues to push its environmentally friendly products with the development of Serenbe, a SPC product boasting high-density core technology, NovaShield coating and an attached pad. “Serenbe is ultra-realistic,” said Steven Erlich, vice president of sales and marketing. “There are ceramic planks and herringbone patterns to name a few. In addition, all of our products are pressed with a rolled edge, or groutable edge.”

Nox U.S. highlighted its new Genesis technology at Surfaces. The new line, the company said, creates a bridge between WPC and SPC products. ““WPC is growing for everyone but there are challenges with indentation and brittleness,” said Eric Erickson, senior vice president sales and marketing North America. “Also, everyone is chasing SPC but it’s really heavy and stiff. What we’ve been able to do is develop new technology in our core so that it is a little less dense and as you move up layers it becomes denser like a rigid product. This is an 8mm product and it feels the same weight of WPC but has the performance of rigid.”

Mills flood the arena
Engineered Floors, previously a carpet-only company, officially debuted Revotec, a high-density, rigid-core floating floor featuring tile visuals with a realistic grout line embedded; and Triumph, a click floating floor that employs high-density core technology for improved dimensional stability and better indentation resistance. “Our plan is to be a player in this segment,” said Brandon Kersey, brand manager for Main Street commercial and hard surface. “We are transitioning to the new version of rigid core, and we think Revotec can take us to another level.”

The acquisition of Beaulieu’s assets helped EF enter hard surfaces since the former company was already in the WPC space. Ana Torrence, product manager, hard surfaces for EF, said Revotec looks like real grouted tile. She cited other advantages: “It’s a really fast install. It is a better alternative than stone or ceramic in terms of installation time.”

A year after entering the LVT category, Phenix Flooring is doubling its assortment of PetProtect LVT, rigid core, click and loose lay offerings. In 2018, Phenix will market two display fixtures that blend hard and soft surfaces. The fixtures were consolidated into smaller footprints to provide design flexibility and allow every SKU to be merchandised differently. “We’re a year into hard surfaces, and I can tell you we are committed to it,” said Mark Clayton, president and CEO.

Marquis Industries made its mark 10 years ago as a mid-sized mill that ventured into LVT.  The company did not enter the category for the sake of it; its executives traveled the globe extensively to source the right raw materials and ensure quality control was followed along the way. “When you spend half a million bucks on an opening order you better be right,” said Larry Heckman, CEO. “If you don’t anticipate it correctly, you can be out of stock three to four months and you never get caught up. We took it seriously.”

Marquis’ 2018 offerings include two 5-foot-long x 9-inch wide rigid core lines—Whispering Pines and Biltmore Classic—with a 20-mil wear layer. The Dalton-based company opened a new building in Georgia devoted entirely to hard surfaces. It also has an existing West Coast distribution center to service customers. The mill still maintains a two-thirds to one-thirds split in favor of carpet.

The Dixie Group began as a yarn company that transitioned into a carpet manufacturer that is transforming into an all-surface supplier—all the while doing it in a way that best represents the Dixie, Masland and Fabrica brands. In 2017, Dixie was one of two companies (Phenix was the other) licensed to sell Stainmaster PetProtect LVT products. The launch exceeded expectations and now Dixie and Masland are coming out with eight new styles each for high performance core, including wood planks with a painted beveled edge.

“A lot of our good customers were moving with the market into hard surface categories like luxury vinyl and we felt like we had an opportunity to enter that market and could be relevant,” said T.M. Nuckols, president of the residential division, the Dixie Group. “We tried to take the right approach from a distribution standpoint to create a profit opportunity for our partners.”

Southwind is another traditional carpet company that made the leap when LVT got hot. The company unveiled Authentic Tile, an SPC core product that has the feel of ceramic tile along with the heft (each 8-piece carton weighs 40 lbs). “It has been very well received at the show,” said Tim Gilmore, Southeast regional vice president. “Several big dealers are taking it on.”

Wellmade Flooring is pushing its Opti-Wood Flooring line with Hydri-HDPC technology and the PowerShield moisture protection system, which company officials say is the difference maker. Wellmade showed 16 SKUs in poplar, eucalyptus, hickory, oak and bamboo. Steve Wagner, director of sales and marketing, does not believe the LVT/WPC/ SPC market is saturated just yet. “I think there is a home for everybody who can come to market with different formulas.”

 

COREtec Stone: The next big thing?

By Ken Ryan

Piet Dossche knows a winner when he creates one. Five years ago, despite serious doubts from some well-respected retail executives, the USFloors’ founder and president launched COREtec and predicted success. He got it—in spades, helping to launch a category that has surpassed $1 billion in sales.

“People said it wasn’t going to work,” he recalled of COREtec. “I was saying, ‘Good, keep thinking like that.’” COREtec was a runaway hit and helped launch the breakout success of the LVT sub-segment.

Dossche has similar expectations for COREtec Stone, which the company showed at Surfaces 2018 as an alternative to ceramic and porcelain tile. The product—a composite/SPC engineered tile—is expected to be ready for market in the second half of 2018. “This is going to be huge,” Dossche said. “It is going to bring solutions to the ceramic tile category.”

Ceramic tile is a growing business, but it has issues. For starters, ceramic tile is heavy and may not be appropriate for certain installations; it is cold and can crack or break easily; it is a time-consuming installation process, and it is also an expensive installation with special tools needed, critics say. Sometimes the cost of the installation is more than the materials. It is also messy and expensive to remove ceramic or porcelain tile.

Enter COREtec Stone, which is lighter, warmer, cheaper and easier to install with no grout needed, easier to remove and more comfortable to walk on because of its attached cork backing. Plus, it doesn’t break.

Dossche, who believes this segment could grow to be a $500 million business in a few years, is optimistic. “If you bring to market a good-looking product that solves issues you have a winner. Composite weatherproof flooring will be the high double-digit growth engine in hard surfaces for the next five years.”

 

 

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MFA finalizes category names

Calhoun, Ga.—Rigid core vinyl products have gained massive market reception over the past few years. Rapid growth, technological advancements and many new products in the market have contributed to significant retailer and consumer confusion. The Multilayer Flooring Association (MFA) was organized in 2016 to set performance and safety standards for this emerging category as well as clear up the confusion for the flooring industry.

After multiple meetings and considerable industry consultation, the MFA board of directors, with unanimous agreement, has aligned on two category names to describe rigid products in the multilayer vinyl flooring category. The categories are defined by the type of core in the product:

  • “WPC” products represent the class of rigid vinyl flooring products with an expanded or foamed polymer core.
  • “SPC” products refer to the class of rigid vinyl flooring products with a solid polymer core.

WPC and SPC products may still have significant differences within each category. For example, the type of surface, the formulation of the core, production methods and type of backing. The MFA is continuing to work on further definition and the establishment of ASTM standards for performance. Its goal is to enable continued trust for consumers, retailers and specifiers in this growing product category.

For more information, visit multilayerflooringassociation.com.

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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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Marquis: The best is yet to come in hard surfaces

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

By Ken Ryan

 

Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 10.11.22 AMIt is not uncommon these days for a mid-sized carpet mill to get involved in hard surfaces and try to catch the wave that is the LVT/WPC/rigid core movement. What is uncommon is for that mill to have genuine success to the tune of double-digit growth year over year.

Marquis Industries made the leap into the luxury vinyl world nine years ago. Rather than dabbling in it, the company went full-court press, expanding its product portfolio every year as it continued to grow. In fact, 2016 was a record year for Marquis Industries in hard surface products, fueled by its LVT collections—LVP, WPC and SPC (rigid core products). This year, Marquis has introduced new constructions, specifications and visuals to position the company as a premier source of waterproof vinyl flooring in residential and commercial.

“We’ve been extremely fortunate and have had phenomenal growth over the past year and expect it to continue into 2018 and beyond,” said Kevin Howell, vice president, hard surface division. “Our intention is to win, to deliver unparalleled support to our partners in the industry and continue to develop and deliver products of value to our loyal customer base.”

Marquis is winning with products like Williamsburg, one of the hot new looks introduced at Surfaces 2017. This multi-width pattern WPC is designed with the latest in grays and tan/browns, and measures 7 x 48 with a 20 mil, ceramic bead finish and an IXPE attached cushion. Customers have been impressed with the company’s transformation from carpet mill to full-line hard surface source. One flooring dealer who had carried Marquis carpet but no hard surfaces bought a container.

Roy Rueb, general manager at Vrooman Carpet, a Golden Valley, Minn., wholesaler, said he has worked with Marquis for 25 years, primarily on the carpet side; he added hard surfaces roughly five years ago, starting with a Marquis luxury vinyl line called Country Home. “They’ve always been a stand-up company, always good to work with, so I had no concerns taking on their hard surface products. And when they did come to us it was obvious they had done their homework. They had gone to China and did their research, so I felt comfortable taking it on. In fact, we have actually done quite well with it, starting with Country Home; we now have four collections.”

Rueb said the company is doing quite well with Marquis WPC and will add rigid core when the product comes online soon. “We should have everything covered in that category by then. In hard surface, [Marquis] luxury vinyl hands-down has been phenomenal.”

Vrooman doubled its business with Marquis last year, mostly on the LVT side. “The carpet side stayed consistent but hard surface was significantly more. It is up again this year although not double, maybe 20% up. It’s been a good partnership.”

Likewise, Rob Quinn, owner of Quinn Distributors in Milwaukee, has been doing business with Marquis for 20-plus years, and until recently was a soft surface wholesaler only. “We both saw the writing on the wall that hard surface was coming. We got into it together.”

Although initially hesitant to go to market in hard surfaces with a carpet mill, Quinn said he was duly impressed with Marquis’ offerings, which he said are well engineered and thicker than most; the results bear that out. In 2017, Quinn estimates he will do between $1 million and $1.5 million in business with Marquis, and two-thirds of that will come in hard surface. Quinn represents three LVT suppliers; however, 80% of that business comes from Marquis. He particularly likes the visuals found in the Montana and Granite Falls SKUs. “Marquis does a fantastic job with styling, color and pricing; they have expertise in how to price things,” he said. “What I like is that they don’t have too many SKUs in any one category. We’re not the kind of distributor that’s going to stock 25 shades of green, so this works out well for us.”

According to Marquis’ Howell, the manufacturer will be introducing style and performance with the new designs in 2018 as the company expands the breadth of its product offerings.

 

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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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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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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.”