Volume 26/number 28 June 10/17, 2013
Economy, creativity allows for category expansion
by Jenna Lippin
When discussing LVT, we have all heard the same phrase uttered: “It is the fastest growing category in the industry.” The alternative product has become a game changer, bringing both promise and innovation to the flooring world even during its darkest times.
But what really made LVT the success it is today is its profile as a multi-use product. Originally, LVT became popular as a water resistant, hard surface product that was ideal for mainly kitchens and sometimes spaces such as a laundry room. In the past, LVT would not be considered for bedrooms or other larger living spaces throughout the home. But in recent years this perception has changed.
A number of top LVT manufacturers attribute the expanded use of LVT to the economic slump that began in 2008. People who were actually buying homes or beginning remodel plans had to find an alternative to the higher-priced wood and ceramic products. Even with the recent rebound of the economy, consumers still want a product that is friendly to their budgets.
“I started seeing a shift …shortly after the economic downturn,” said Michael Raskin, president and CEO of Raskin Industries. Because of the changes in spending, consumers had to allow themselves to become more accepting of affordable options, such as LVT. “Doors opened that were closed before due to designers and architects needing to stay within a budget,” he noted. “Also, consumers became more practical in general after the bubble burst and opened up to LVT, which they may not have previously considered.”
Emil Mellow, vice president of marketing at Karndean Designflooring, witnessed the same consumer behavior, specifically a rise in LVT when the economic decline was in full force. “Homeowners started to look at affordable alternatives to hardwood and ceramic, and this included flooring for kitchens, family rooms and even bedrooms. Because LVT looks so realistic and has other great attributes such as softness underfoot and a strong wear layer, it is a great alternative to higher-priced items—and with lower installation costs.”
As LVT began to offer more across the board, from design to performance, it also became more widely recognized by consumers. “We saw [the shift] happening several years ago as the consumer started looking for certain types of looks depending on the room— wood or tile and personal preference are factors,” explained Ed Duncan, Man-nington’s senior vice president of marketing.
“LVT became broadened, which drew the product into other spaces around the house,” he continued. “Consumers and retailers quickly understood that the product was a natural fit for wet areas because of its inherent water-resistant properties, but also started looking at LVT as a product that was easily moved into a lot of other spaces because of its various performance attributes. The ability to create a product that mimics virtually every hard surface type—versatility from a style prospective—is what really drove LVT into more spaces.”
Bruce Ziegler, director of product management, residential, for Tarkett, agrees the various looks and designs, along with strong performance, have played major roles in the expansion of LVT.
“LVT was initially just for ‘wet rooms,’ but it expanded because of durability and various visual options,” he noted. “The looks and designs have become key drivers. The product goes beyond tile looks in kitchens, bathrooms and laundry rooms, and is now used in hallways, offices, living rooms, dining rooms and even bedrooms. It’s a great alternative to ceramic tile or wood because it is much softer underfoot and warmer.”
Some companies credit their own LVT innovations for the category’s expansion. For example, Allen Cubell, vice president, residential resilient product management for Armstrong, saw a boost in the LVT market with the introduction of premium tiles that were both larger and more visually appealing than those that were market standards.
“With [Armstrong’s] Alterna you started to see the design element of LVT take over. Before, LVT was confused with sticky back tile, with more of a plastic, very smooth look that was thought of as a commercial floor. With better visuals and groutable products, LVT crossed a design threshold. We are able to provide a much better visual than we could five or 10 years ago, and now grout allows for more installation options, too.”
Patrick Buckley, vice president, product management at Congoleum, also observed a positive shift in LVT after the company released several product innovations, including its popular DuraStone and Dura-Ceramic lines, introduced in 2003.
“We launched DuraCeramic to respond to larger design layouts in homes,” he said. “We noticed a trend of downsizing traditional living rooms. Taking their place are larger living areas, such as kitchen/great room/family room combinations. We came out with a 16 x 16 tile that was larger than standard LVT (12 x 12). We changed the whole format with DuraCeramic in 16 x 16, which can be either grouted or ungrouted, providing an alternative to ceramic tile. We are seeing more consumer acceptance of larger-sized products.”
Similar to Congoleum, many companies designing and manufacturing LVT realized they had to develop expanded product lines to answer the consumer’s call. With that, various tile and plank sizes and designs have experienced a wave of success.
Larger-format LVT is becoming increasingly popular, partly because consumers are abandoning the old design adage of “small room, small scale designs.” According to Buckley, “people are understanding today you can put a larger tile, like a 16 x 16, in a small bathroom. Larger-scale design in smaller areas is becoming more of an accepted practice.”
With that, big tiles are a big trend. Armstrong now offers three times the amount of SKUs in Alterna than it did just a few years ago thanks to an increased offering of sizes, including a
12 x 24 option. Karndean recently released its largest tile yet, an 18 x 36 that is part of its Opus line expansion. Following suit, this year Mannington unveiled a 12 x 24 rectangular format in its Adura line.
In wood designs, wide lengths are seeing a surge, while random lengths and widths are also experiencing widespread use. Because manufacturers strive for realism, the more arbitrary the plank design, the better. “A random pattern product was important for us to introduce because it furthers realism, mimicking a natural hardwood, which features planks in various widths and lengths when installed,” Mellow said.
With varying sizes, customization in LVT has become a major element of appeal in the category. Tarkett’s iSelect will become available for all of its resilient products, including LVT, which will see a major re-launch in the fall. Various sizes, shapes and accessories within the Finishing Accents program will allow for a unique, personal design project.
Mannington will also help consumers’ creativity with the introduction of its matching moldings program. While coordinating selections have been offered in the past, the manufacturer will soon offer a full range of matching moldings, “meaning the molding will look exactly like the print on the floor, whether a wood grain or tile. It will be a way to professionally finish a project, giving a tailored look,” Duncan explained. The moldings will be on the market in July.
Also to be released this summer are Congoleum’s Structure and DuraCeramic Dimensions, extensions of the existing lines that will include different sizes. The company anticipates further exploration of larger sizes, going beyond 18 x 36.