by Matthew Spieler
Carpet tiles have been around for over 60 years and, from the start, they were recognized as a great product choice for many commercial applications. It has only been over the last decade that carpet tiles have begun to make a real impact. Today, the product is doing more than shaking up the industry. In some ways, it is controlling the market as modular carpet has been growing to the point where it now represents at least half of all soft surface commercial sales—including those on Main Street.
Tim Baucom, Shaw Industries’ vice president of commercial sales and marketing, believes carpet tile “represents a little more than half of the total revenue in the commercial [carpet] market, and about 17% of the total carpet market.”
For Natalie Jones, Mannington’s vice president of commercial brand development and creative product, “modular carpet [not only] continues to take market share, even in broadloom markets, with Mannington, more than 60% of our commercial carpet is now tile.”
Bill Blackstock, business manager of Milliken’s hospitality business, noted, “Carpet tile is penetrating every major segment we have, including education, hospitality and healthcare applications.”
So, while broadloom is still the overall king, why is carpet tile doing so well in commercial applications? It depends on who you ask, but one thing is certain: there is more than one reason for this growth.
Peter Greene, Interface’s vice president of marketing, said, “It’s a combination of good product and good marketing. The many benefits of tile—including glue-free installations; personalized design capabilities; the ability to selectively replace soiled or damaged tiles; less waste at installation, and the need for less attic stock—have become increasingly obvious to many customers.”
Plus, he added, “It’s also generational, in part. Younger consumers—commercial and residential—have become more sophisticated. Design has become a bigger part of many peoples’ lives.”
According to many executives, a significant reason for carpet tile’s success is its design element as “carpet tile provides the customer with more flexible options and, in today’s environment, that flexibility is key,” explained Mark Oliver, senior director of product management at Mohawk Group. “Carpet tile can provide you with the design attributes of broadloom but can also enable you to be far more creative. As the market has evolved we have focused on designing specifically into each platform and leveraging their individual design attributes.
“As an example,” he added, “we see the corporate market now moving away from cubes and offices toward a true flexible and open environment. As the walls go away designers are more limited in the surfaces they have to work with and therefore the floor is becoming even more important—and more fun. The flexibility of the carpet tile platform enables this freedom and creativity.”
Tom Ellis, vice president of marketing for Tandus Flooring, believes there are basically three reasons why modular carpet is growing: “First, it is becoming more attractive [because of its] ability to coordinate with hybrid resilient flooring in pattern and performance and there is no need for transition strips in between. The second reason is the flexibility of backing systems in modular carpet. Products can now be purchased with a cushion backing that quiets the space, adds comfort and actually saves energy in the building, reducing the environmental footprint. The third reason for modular carpet tile use is the variety of sizes now available. They range from squares to rectangles, with the most common choices being 24 x 24 and 18 x 36.”
Milliken’s Blackstock took Ellis’ threefold evaluation a step further by noting design, durability, functionality and ease of maintenance as the key reasons for the product’s growth record.
He explained, “By specifying carpet tile, designers can achieve elaborate, large-scale designs and enjoy a unique range of design flexibility. Carpet tile easily accommodates extra large pattern repeats; offers unique ways to use modularity to transition between carpet scales, and can create subtle color changes over large spaces.” With durability, he said carpet tiles, like those from Milliken, “are an extremely durable, high-wear product that enhance performance features in high traffic areas—and boasts added strength and comfort, because it’s composed of a solution dyed nylon type 6,6 and a polyurethane cushion backing.”
Backing is part of Blackstock’s case for functionality, explaining that with some companies, the “cushion provides resilience, acoustical/thermal insulation properties and comfort underfoot.” Additional technologies have helped simplify the installation with “an environmentally superior alternative backing system for laying modular carpet tile.”
When it comes to maintenance, he noted, “Carpet tile offers the ability for small sections to be replaced. For example, wear patterns can be minimized by selective tile replacement and rotation.”
David Vita, executive vice president for Beaulieu Group, explained tile’s ability to be rotated, or quarter turned, is a huge advantage when it comes to replacing worn tiles and facilitating design flexibility. “Modular carpet offers so many more options—and it has nothing to do with mills having more styles in tile than broadloom. You can take the same carpet tile and quarter turn it or ashlar (offset) the squares or even plank them.”
The quarter turn method, Vita added, makes replacement much easier becausethe tiles are already arranged in an offsetting pattern, meaning if there is a stain, replacing one or two new tiles (even if in the middle of a room), will not look out of place. “Whereas with broadloom, you have to cut out the section and then you have an almost quilt-like appearance. Plus, it’s much easier to store an extra box or two of tiles than it is a roll of carpet.”
Mannington’s Jones said technology and community are blurring the lines that previously defined corporate workspaces, allowing for various types of work in a number of places, which lends to the flexibility of use of carpet tile. “It’s [still] a definite fit for corporate, but we’re seeing it used more in traditional broadloom markets like K-12 and areas of healthcare.” In corporate spaces, patterns such as those in the company’s Redefined Collection, which will be introduced at NeoCon, “can be used to emphasize the energy of a marketing area or the sophisticated quiet of a boardroom, with appealing transitional and way-finding cues between. But each pattern, or an integrated mix, is well-suited to retail, higher education, hospitality and healthcare.”
Baucom said from its inception, carpet tile made sense for many functional reasons. “It is easier than broadloom to move in a freight elevator. Modular flooring makes sense in modular workspaces. Individual carpet tiles are easy to replace.”
But it is the design element that has spurred carpet tile’s exponential growth, he added. “Carpet tile enables the creation of custom floors with running line products. At the high and low ends, broadloom still makes sense for luxury and value. If carpet tile were clothing, it would be business causal.”
For these reasons, Baucom noted that carpet tile is starting to find its way into residential applications, albeit at a slow pace given some cost and installation challenges, not to mention wall-to-wall being entrenched in homeowners’ minds. For specialty retailers, he said, the best bet is to offer carpet tile for any Main Street jobs that may come in the store.
“We’re certainly seeing consumers who appreciate carpet tile’s design and style for their homes, though cost and installation remain challenges,” Baucom noted. “Given our design leadership and other carpet tile expertise, it is an opportunity that we continue to monitor and evaluate. But we have not pursued residential tile beyond our Main Street offerings.”