Resilient flooring’s broad spectrum
The resilient flooring category is an expansive one, covering everything from decades-old sheet vinyl to the new multilayer flooring (MLF). Each subcategory of resilient flooring has its own unique performance and visual story, and the category as a whole is always evolving and growing with new advancements and products making their way onto the scene each year.
The oldest player of the three, sheet vinyl was inspired by early resilient products like linoleum and vinyl composition tile (VCT). It started to gain steam in the years following World War II, when the suburban housing market began booming, said Jay Jacobs, national sales manager for builder/multifamily with Congoleum.
“Before World War II, every new house had hardwood floors – that was the norm. You covered it up with area rugs – there wasn’t a lot of broadloom, either. But then after World War II, when the technology changed and improved and the Boomers were born, the housing market flourished,” he explained. Broadloom carpet became more affordable and popular, and, Jacobs explained, so did sheet vinyl. “Linoleum blossomed to felt-backed sheet vinyl in the 20-year period after that, and the resilient flooring industry evolved.”
Around for decades, sheet vinyl is something of a mature category when compared to relative newcomers luxury vinyl tile (LVT) and multilayer flooring (MLF), and as such, hasn’t seen the same surge in growth in recent years. But the durable, budget-friendly product is the original waterproof flooring, and is a great entry-level option, said Clark Hodgkins, resilient category director for Shaw Floors.
Jimmy Tuley, vice president of residential resilient business at Mannington, said that while the sheet vinyl market is relatively flat, he believes the patterning and visual options, as well as the price point, are going to allow it to keep holding on.
David Sheehan, senior vice president of product management for Mohawk resilient, said residential sheet vinyl is still a viable category. “It’s viewed in many places within the U.S., especially the Northeast, Midwest and Pacific Northwest, as a very attractive, practical flooring solution that handles the elements in a favorable way,” he said. Plus, he added, it’s very affordable. “It’s the most affordable product you can buy from an installation standpoint as well as product cost. It’s a great value for consumers.”
Sheet products also an ideal choice for mobile homes, said Steve Kuhel, LVT product manager with Tarkett. “Sheet vinyl still has significant share there because having sheet goods in the production line is easier than using something with a glue down format, which requires significant manual labor,” he said.
But as LVT products have become easier to install and grown in popularity, sheet vinyl’s share has decreased.
From LVT to MLF
Last year, the resilient flooring category led industry growth, and much of that growth was spearheaded by LVT – a trend that’s been the case since the U.S. started coming out of the Great Recession, said Perry Coker, CEO, CFL’s North American division. “No doubt, that was the growth category. The industry was crawling back at 2 to 3 percent growth per year, where LVT was seeing 20 to 30 percent growth spurts,” he explained. The reason, he speculated, was because it was at that time that LVT started to expand from a strictly glue down product into the floating floor segment. “Now, LVT lent itself not just to the DIY market, but the residential market as a whole. Installation was easier for everyone. Customers embraced floating floors,” he said.
Russ Rogg, president of Metroflor Corp., agreed. “When the LVT category began to explode was when the floating install method became popular. It’s what helped wood, and it’s what helped laminate,” he said. “It allowed the product to be installed in a wider range of applications, especially residential replacement.”
Having a click system in place led to the development of MLF products, the first of which in the U.S. being USFloors’ Coretec in 2012. Since then, the subcategory has taken off, with suppliers bringing new iterations of the product to market each year.
“The MLF segment was where we saw the performance taken to another level,” said Hodgkins. “Some of the telegraphing involved with LVT was solved, expansion and contraction parameters were tighter, the product worked better in areas with temperature swings. It was dependable, long-lasting and solved some issues.”
Larry Browder, chief sales and marketing officer with Karndean Designflooring, said while there continues to be good growth in glue-down and loose-lay products, rigid products will continue to drive the larger category growth in residential and will begin to make in-roads commercially. “The growth of LVT is being driven by the value proposition that LVT provides. We can provide the consumer or end-user with the beauty of real wood or stone in a more durably LVT without the natural drawbacks – most times at a fraction of the cost. Rigid core adds the convenience factor of not having to tear out most hard surface floors, making the installation experience less invasive and faster,” he said.
Glue down products are still the predominant choice for vinyl in commercial, said Steve Ehrlich, vice president of sales and marketing with Novalis. “That market is still 70 to 80 percent glue down,” he said, but added that more loose-lay products are making their way into that market as well. “Loose lay products can be installed a lot faster,” he explained. “In multi-family especially, we’re seeing a shift with more loose-lay or click installations versus gluedown. With the shortage of qualified installers, I think you’ll see more loose-lay and click installations even on the commercial side.”
As each resilient offering has its own unique features and benefits, it’s important to offer a breadth of options for the customer’s varying needs.
“It would be great if there was a one-size-fits-all answer, if there was one product you could point to and say, this is the best product, but that’s never true,” said Mannington’s Tuley. “We manufacture across a spectrum of products, and we want to provide what’s going to perform best.”
Tuley speculated that about 80 percent of the residential resilient installations comes down to personal preference. “From a technical perspective, they all work. Glue down works just as well as solid rigid core, which works just as well as WPC.” But in the remaining 20 percent, a specific solution is required. “If you want to install a product under cabinets, or a really long run down a hallway that you want to install without transitions, glue down products are a perfect solution. If sound or softness underfoot is important to you in a multi-level installation, WPC products are perfect for that space. Or if you have a three-season porch, or you’re looking to put flooring down in a cabin where the heat will be turned off in the winter, SPC products are perfect,” he explained. “In a lot of spaces, personal preference works, but there are outlying technical situations where one individual product will perform better than another.”
One obvious reason to have a breadth of options is price, said Metroflor’s Rogg. “There are going to be different budget expectations from one project to the next,” he said. Because Metroflor in particular is solely committed to the LVT market, Rogg added it’s especially important for the company to offer as broad a range of products as possible – from entry-level multifamily products all the way up to high-end MLF. “If you’re only going to participate in one category, you need to have a broad offering,” he said.
Fortunately, since the technology behind the flooring has become so advanced, it’s easy to provide solutions to fit a variety of needs. “With both the traditional LVT and MLF segments, technology is so advanced that you can find the visuals and textures you would want in a real hardwood (or tile, stone, etc), with a performance story that matches your needs,” said Lindsey Nisbet, marketing director for EarthWerks.
Novalis’ Ehrlich called LVT and MLF a product that transcends all categories, as it’s an ideal option for a variety of different installation options. “Ceramic tile, for example, might be good for one or two categories of sales, but not all. LVT is good for commercial, it’s good for residential, it’s good for A&D,” he said. “You could install a ceramic-looking LVT in the kitchen, then transition into the hallway with a wood-look style, then transition into the dining room with a different style. It’s really the only product that transcends all channels, all installations, all segments.”
Looking to the future, it seems like anything is possible in the resilient category. “Five years ago, you didn’t see the products we have today, and I would have a difficult time telling you what the category will look like five years from now,” Shaw’s Hodgkins said. But, if he had to speculate, “I think what we’ll see in future are additional changes in the material chemistry that will help improve products in various ways – making it lighter, stronger, more durable, more dent resistant or more heat resistant, to name a few,” he said.
Mohawk’s Sheehan said he expects to see continued growth in the resilient category. “I think if you were to fast forward to 2020, if you grouped vinyl all together, it would be the second largest category, next to carpet,” he said, adding that a lot of that growth is driven by the rapid rise of WPC and SPC products. “Those products are growing rapidly on the residential side, and in some segments within the commercial market. We are very bullish on the vinyl category, and where it’s going to be over the next three to five years. It’s going to continue to grow and continue to take share from all categories.”
LVT, MLF at home in multifamily
With the innovation of adding click and locking systems to luxury vinyl tile (LVT) products and the subsequent growth of multilayer flooring (MLF), resilient has found a home in the builder and residential replacement markets. But more specifically, the multifamily market has driven LVT’s business, according to Jay Jacobs, national sales manager for builder/multifamily with Congoleum.
“When the housing market crashed and millions of people lost their homes, where did they go? They didn’t go live in a tent – they rented apartments,” he said.
In the early 2010s, when LVT was starting to pick up steam, the rental market flourished, with a national occupancy rate of about 95 percent. “If you own a rental complex of 5,000 apartments, and you’re trying to maintain your 95 to 97 percent occupancy, how do you do that?” Jacobs asked. One way to boost occupancy, he explained, was to make improvements to apartments. And at the same time, more new apartments were built to feed the demand for rental units, where carpet was relegated to the bedrooms – if anywhere at all. “Wood look vinyl planks fueled the business,” Jacobs said, adding it displaced other resilient products like sheet vinyl as well. “It’s easier for a maintenance worker to replace a plank or two when the unit needs to be updated, rather than calling the contractor in to replace the whole floor,” which would generally be the case with sheet vinyl or broadloom.