July 8/15, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 2
By Megan Salzano
Chicago— The 51st edition of NeoCon held last month welcomed 55,000 attendees as designers, architects and facility managers converged on The Mart. Those in attendance were witness to innovation across multiple product segments within the commercial building industry, including the second highest represented at the show—floor covering.
The buzz about the building was palpable, and exhibitors talked of a notable increase in positive energy within the design community. “The energy this year is much better,” said Dee Dee Brickner, marketing manager, Roppe. “Designers have a reinvigorated desire to build better spaces and unique designs. They want to see what’s new and innovative and they have their own reenergized outlook on their projects. They’re also interested in designing differently. A lot of designers will have their go-to products, but this year we’ve seen a lot more that are open to looking at something new.”
Manufacturers also hailed quality over quantity. “We haven’t noticed as many people on the show floor as last year, but I think the quality of people and the decision makers that are here is really top notch. I think that’s what’s important,” said Ellie Priester, director of marketing, Teknoflor. “I want to talk to people that are really interested in our initiates and what we’re doing in the industry, and there’s been a lot of interest.”
When it comes to traffic, John Clouse, senior marketing, account and Takiron manager for CBC Flooring, which holds a booth space on the 7th floor, said, “Yesterday I think was one of the best Monday’s that I can remember having. Attendance is great. Our neighbors are saying the same thing.”
Some manufacturers pointed to the economy as a possible factor. “Obviously the economy is a little better than people thought,” said Jeff West, vice president of marketing, Patcraft. “Each design firm sent several people, maybe that’s a good sign about the robustness of the economy. Hopefully we’ll see that in business results in the year.”
Amidst the buzz, designers at the show praised the quality of the shows exhibitors as well as the importance of flooring within commercial design. “This is an event. It can be overwhelming, but there are definitely certain exhibitors where I feel like I can use their product. It was definitely worth the energy to get down here,” said Joy Cardillo, founding principal, Studio Rad in Marquette, Mich. “Flooring is definitely a huge element, obviously, in terms of functionality and design. It’s a foundational element.”
Business highlights were also favorable for the first half of the year, and several exhibitors shared positive outlooks. “There’s a very positive sense in the marketplace, and there’s a lot of momentum. Designers and project groups have a lot of work still out there in the pipeline,” said Jackie Dettmar, vice president of commercial design and product development, Mohawk Group.
Melissa Quick, commercial product and marketing manager, Novalis, noted, “Business has been great. Our brand continues to grow, and I think with these new introductions it’s going to push our growth further. We’ve been investing in people, investing in products and in facilities. Growth within a company is always exciting.”
Patcraft’s West said the first five months for the company had been very good from both a carpet and resilient standpoint. “Our resilient has grown like crazy over the last several years, and there has been a boom in carpet tile. Our business is still more carpet than resilient but the resilient is now about 1/3 of our business. Senior living has been the best this year for us.”Shifting the conversation
It’s no doubt that flooring is an integral part of NeoCon. It is a foundational category for commercial and residential designers looking for the latest and greatest in product design, and the show touts most of the major flooring players in attendance. “Flooring is a very important part of the show,” NeoCon’s Morton said. “We want to provide all the product categories that specifiers are looking for and flooring is a big part of that.”
While flooring remains integral to design, several new conversations are beginning to take shape. First, due to demand from the design community, manufacturers are designing product lines based on overall functionality and aesthetic and no longer focused on specific market segments. “You have a lot of blurring across the segments,” Mohawk Group’s Dettmar said. “Designers don’t want their hands tied as far as what they can use where. We can guide them as far as the right choices for performance, what patterns are going to hide soiling, or color, but there’s a lot of crossover in the aesthetics that people are looking for.”
Several flooring manufacturers at the show unveiled new collections across hard and soft surfaces that boasted a design-first mentality. Bentley Mills’ Sorted collection, for example, directly aligns with this new blurring of the lines. The collection “fosters flexibility and coordination. It won’t hinder or limit creative expression: it encourages it,” the company said. The collection is made up of three patterns— Misfit, Square Peg and Typecast—each meant to harmoniously interact with one another while also maintaining unique characteristics. David Turkes, Bentley’s director of sustainability, said the collection is meant to reach across a wide variety of commercial segments including education, hospitality and corporate workplace. “You’ll see certain segments take on certain products, but the point is to allow everyone to take part,” he said.
Another conversation that exhibitors said has begun to evolve is that of sustainability. While the flooring industry and the A&D community agree that the word itself no longer carries the same meaning as it used to, the conversation about its evolution and its importance has grown deeper. “What felt like for many years was this ‘check the box’ mindset has changed,” said Erin Jende, director of marketing for Interface Americas. “The questions are now getting deeper and more specific. I am feeling a shift. I think firms are thinking about what their impact is.”
Bentley’s Turkes agreed and noted a similar shift in conversation. “I’ve only been doing this for three years with Bentley and I’ve already seen that conversation shift dramatically from where it was to where it is now,” he said. “You’re seeing a lot more information requests—going beyond the LEED check box to how and why it applies. It’s becoming more in depth, and that’s exciting.”
Manufacturers also noted their own part in starting those important conversations with design firms while watching interest in the topic increase. “Within the past nine to 12 months I have seen an absolute exponential increase in interest,” Teknoflor’s Priester said. “Part of that is because we have now trained our sales force to be experts on the matter. We want them to be the first people to say, ‘here is why it’s important; here is why you should be interested.’ And part of it is because the word is spreading fast. And it’s not just isolated on the coasts like we typically see green movement, we’re seeing it all over. I think that’s an indicator of how much it’s going to take off.”
When it comes to what questions are being asked specifically, Valerie Molinski, Tarkett’s environmental stewardship manager, said designers are now looking at the overall footprint of a building. “They want to know, what is the carbon footprint? What is happening in the manufacturing process? Those are def newer questions, in addition to what’s in the product and what does it mean to us?”
Product touting sustainable attributes were not hard to come by at the show, but some manufacturers took things to the next level with product launches that help meet the evolving needs of today’s green spaces. Congoleum’s Cleo brand, for example, showcased its Cleo Contract LVT collection, which features three essential design categories: wood, stone and textile. What makes this line unique is it contains zero PVC, plasticizers, phthalates or chloro-chemicals, a huge win for LVT. It is also Floor Score certified and certified Asthma & Allergy Friendly by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America Standards Limited. Kurt Denman, chief marketing officer & executive vice president, sales, Congoleum, said the new line taps into a new holistic approach while increasing the design community’s ability to specify eco-conscious LVT.
Teknoflor unveiled its Coordination collection, which features three lines and six products designed to help ease the burden of hospital design with a single collection suited for every need throughout the space. The collection includes Naturescapes HPD resilient sheet and Nature’s Tile, which is Living Challenge Petal certified, contains no phthalates, no Red List chemicals and is chlorine-free.
Interface, a leader in sustainability, was on hand with its carpet and LVT lineup. The entire product catalog for the company boasts carbon neutrality, and Jende explained the company is able to take back all of its LVT and make new backing for its carpet. “For us, our mission has moved into climate takeback,” she said. “Too much carbon in the atmosphere is causing climate change. People are understanding it for their own person life and interest, and that is now reflected in how they think about products. I’m foreseeing that we’re going to continue talking about it.”
Flexco also unveiled a reformulation of its Tuflex Force line. The rubber flooring line is now Red List free and 100% recyclable— the line can be taken back into the company’s recycling program for a complete closed loom process.What’s trending
The desire to select from one collection to fulfill multiple needs within a design concept was undeniable at this year’s show. Manufacturers across soft and hard surface launched collections designed to do just that and ease the design process for the A&D community. One unique trend stemming from that need are single collections that boast both soft and hard surface.
Milliken’s Change Agent, for example, is a new LVT and modular carpet collection influenced by natural materials. The carpet tile and LVT are designed to seamlessly work together by coordinating both color and tile size.
Interface’s Look Both Ways collection represents the first time the company has launched hard and soft surface in a single collection. The line features on-trend concrete and terrazzo aesthetics with complementary patterns and textures.
Trending visuals at the show also included woven LVT, textile-inspired designs and classic concrete and wood looks. Shaw Contract, for example, launched reFrame, a collection of 9 x 36 woven LVT resilient tiles that were designed to blur the boundary between hard and soft surface.
Mohawk Group launched its Sakiori collection, which combines the soft look of textiles and carpet with resilient hard surfaces. The collection includes three enhanced resilient tile patterns: Hemstitch, a traditional weave; Weave, a multiwidth cord-like weave; and Linked, a vertical striated weave.
Patcraft unveiled its textural resilient tile collection, Handloom, which features two coordinating styles, Painted Weft and Wooden Warp, with colorful accents and neutral colors inspired by textile arts and natural materials.
On the soft surface side, J+J Flooring unveiled its Fabrications collection, which aims at celebrating the artistry and complexities of handcrafted textiles, the company said. Each of the three patterns in Fabricationsdraws inspiration from the textures, patterns and finishes that are unique to the textile-making process.
Mannington Commercial tapped the concrete trend with a new collection named Mixed Monolith. The three styles of LVT are said to explore the delicate textures, angles and shapes of Brutalist treatments of concrete in a palette that traces the shifting colors of a sunlit concrete surface over the course of a day.
Karndean showcased its lineup of wood-look LVT, including designs within the new spring 2019 collection that feature the beauty of rare, and in some cases extinct, woods, such as American Chestnut and Reclaimed Hickory within its Art Select line.
Of course, some manufacturers were inspired by shifting demand within the commercial market overall. Tarkett, for example, launched its award-winning Tatami System, a unique modular broadloom collection that allows users to reconfigure their spaces, supporting the constantly fluid spaces of the modern workplace.