Retailers embrace enhancements in durability and design
February 5/12, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 17
By FCNews team
Las Vegas—Another year, another Surfaces in the books. But it’s anything but old hat. Suppliers across a broad range of categories showcased head-turning innovations in terms of both surface visuals and product performance.
“I was more impressed with what technology can do than any single product at the show,” said John Toliver, owner, Toliver’s Carpet One, Tempe, Ariz. “The new technology that is coming out is creating [excitement] for all these new products.”
Much of that buzz was focused on manufacturing processes designed to help products better withstand water incursion—clearly a nod to the damage inflicted by hurricanes and major storms over the past few years. “The hot topic this year was waterproof everything—LVP, WPC, even wood and carpet had some tie in to water resistance,” said Nick Freadreacea, president, The Flooring Gallery, Louisville, Ky.
Another new product technology that had everyone buzzing was the Magnetic Building Solutions (MBS) system unveiled by the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA). “I thought it was the most revolutionary product at the show,” said Brian Witkin, executive vice president of sales, Avalon Flooring, Cherry Hill, N.J. “Long term, I believe that product will do very well in the market.”
Dave Snedeker, divisional merchandise manager-flooring, Nebraska Furniture Mart, Omaha, Neb., is in agreement, adding, “I welcome the innovation for our industry.”
Freadreacea also sees the potential of MBS, predicting rapid acceptance of the system. “I am sure by next year it will be the thing to see and virtually every category will be available with that installation system.”
For dealers like Craig Phillips, president, Barrington Carpet & Flooring Design, Akron, Ohio, MBS simply “stole the show.” He believes the new magnetic system will work for the installation of all flooring types and make it very easy to change from one flooring or wall covering type to another with no new prep. “It will probably impact the commercial market the greatest as it can greatly reduce down time for a business that is undergoing flooring/wall renovation,” he added.
Following is an overview of the major trends across the most popular categories (See each respective product section for more specific details on new introductions.)
The issue of a shrinking carpet category may be of concern for some mills, but at Mohawk the segment shines brightly with new innovations including Air.o and perennially stalwarts like SmartStrand providing flooring dealers with profit opportunities in soft flooring.
Air.o, which is positioned as an alternative to traditional carpet (Unified Soft Flooring), debuted in the second half of 2017 as a product line that delivers multiple benefits for retailers (ease of installation, demonstrable selling points) and consumers (hypo-allergenic properties that allow a home to “breathe”).
For Mohawk, 2017 was about educating its retailers on Air.o; in 2018 it will be driving that message to consumers.
“There are people who want soft flooring but feel they can’t have it—but they can,” Seth Arnold, vice president of residential, told FCNews at Surfaces.
In its research, Mohawk found that nearly 70% of consumers say they suffer from allergies—or some type of respiratory condition. “Twenty-five percent considered a carpet purchase before hypoallergenic was introduced and that number doubled after hypoallergenic was introduced [in the conversation],” Arnold noted, citing the study.
The upshot: hypoallergenic flooring draws consumers to the soft flooring category.
Air.o features a simple, two-part design unified by a single polymer. The 100% PET fiber is constructed on a premium cushioned backing using an innovative, tension-free process. Air.o is important to retailers because it offers a simpler-to-install, easier-to-maintain, better performing and more sustainable soft surface.
Mohawk spent over four years developing and refining the Air.o production process to prepare for this launch.
Twelve years ago, Mohawk introduced another significant innovation in SmartStrand, which offered durability, stain resistance and luxurious softness.
“SmartStrand—a strong product, strong brand and consistent story telling creates a winner,” Arnold stated. “We had a fantastic year in 2017. We’re grown, we’ve taken share; it’s been a success story for us.”
Mohawk is adding ActiveFresh technology to its SmartStrand Silk line in 2018. The technology is notable for being able to neutralize and eliminate odor-causing bacteria.
In the resilient category, a recurring theme emerged at Surfaces: With all the variations of WPC, LVT, etc., products available on the market, suppliers are focusing their attention on making it easier for retailers to sell and for consumers to understand. Many resilient suppliers agree the market is saturated with products, which can cause confusion for everyone across the supply chain. To address this issue, manufacturers are arming retailers with the knowledge to help them differentiate between technologies and brands.
“The explosion of that category is incredible, and it seems like everyone we spoke to had an LVP/WPC line,” said Dan Mandel, president, Sterling Carpet & Flooring, Anaheim, Calif.
Other dealers attest to the rapid proliferation. “It’s very apparent to me that the industry is doubling-down on WPC/rigid core,” said Eric Langan, president of Carpetland USA, Davenport, Iowa. “Everybody has it, or will have it, and most are investing in how they can produce or import more of it. This will be a very competitive product category going forward.”
Already, some dealers have chosen a few favorites. “I’ve enjoyed Armstrong’s portfolio of products,” said Richard Higgins, Dalton Wholesale Floors, Adairsville, Ga. “The whole market is moving toward the waterproof LVTs; everything is now waterproof.”
Barrington Carpet & Flooring Design’s Phillips has his picks as well. “We were very impressed with Mannington’s launch of Adura Apex.” He also likes Revotec. “This rigid core product has some nice visuals with a very realistic grout line. This product and others that DreamWeaver [from Engineered Floors] introduced on the LVT side will give them an opportunity to take market share.”
Refusing to take a backseat to the rapid rise in popularity of competing hard surface products, wood flooring suppliers across the industry are combining creativity and technology as they seek to develop the next generation of products that will compete against the likes of WPC, LVT and rigid core floors. Innovations range from advanced finishing techniques that enhance natural hardwood visuals to alternative core materials designed to boost dimensional stability. Examples include innovations in reactive staining and thermal heat treating combined with wirebrushing techniques and subtle handscraping. Suppliers are also integrating different constructions into the core of their products (i.e., HDF, SPC, etc.) in a move to improve the product’s overall dimensional stability and resistance to moisture.
Ongoing investments in R&D and improved capabilities across manufacturing footprints are expected to pay off for ceramic tile makers. Specifically, advances in digital printing are enabling producers to introduce game-changing formats and designs that meet consumer and commercial end-user needs for performance, styling and sustainability.
Ongoing investments made by tile suppliers are bolstering production efficiency and speed to market while creating new, value-added products. One trend in particular seems to be the move toward bigger sizes. Large slabs with infinite design possibilities due to printing technologies were seen all over the showroom floor in varied thicknesses that could be delegated to floor, wall or countertop applications.
Waterproofing run amok. That’s how some attendees described the atmosphere across many booths at the show that featured some form or demonstration of the product’s newfound resistance to moisture and water damage. In some ways it represented a throwback to the early days of laminate flooring in the U.S.—a time when the major players in the category were jockeying for a leadership position and market share by touting their respective product’s perceived indestructibility.
So far, retailers don’t seem to be put off by all the claims. “Waterproof seemed to be the theme of this year’s market again, and Mohawk and Quick-Step took things to the next level with their waterproof wood introductions,” said Eric Mondragon, hard surface buyer, R.C. Willey, Salt Lake City, Utah.