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.
Based 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.”
Easier 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.
“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. 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.”
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.
“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.”