Vendors step up their game in a big way
By most accounts, TISE 2020 was another successful event in the annals of Surfaces history. From the abundance of news products, tools and merchandisers on the show floor—to the bevy of educational sessions in the meeting rooms—there were more than enough enticements to get retailers to make the trip.
“We are so excited to be able to celebrate another incredible event with the industry for TISE 2020,” said Dana Hicks, TISE show director. “The show floor was busy all three days of the event. Everyone we spoke to—from the exhibitors, the associations and the attendees—were all amazed at the amount of people, the quality of the connections, the products they were discovering, the education offerings. It was just an incredible event that brought the whole industry together once again.”
Key draws for 2020, Hicks noted, included some show favorites as well as enhancements to the TISE experience. Among them: Tech Hub, which had a great kickstart launch at TISE 2020; the Style Hub at The DISH, which offered an experiential discovery of the newest colors, textures and surface trends for 2020 and beyond with surface materials featured by Shaw Floors, Anderson Tuftex, COREtec and Iris US; along with celebrity appearances by TV personality Jennifer Farrell and Bravo TV’s Craig Conover from “Sewing Down South.” In addition to that, the Natural Stone Pavilion saw some action. Here, the Natural Stone Institute’s Women in Stone group conducted a “Natural Stone Amazing Race” on the show floor, much to the delight of attendees. Lastly, the 2nd Annual National Installer of the Year Competition had another stellar year for year.
“There were a lot of unique moments, finds and adventures all over the show floor,” Hicks said. “Exhibitors’ spaces were packed with opportunities to demo and touch and feel products. Small lounge areas offered intimate opportunities to learn from associations and brands such as in the WFCA booth, which offered ‘lounge and learns’ for the industry to find out more about their new initiatives to help the installation crisis.”
Anecdotally speaking, Informa Exhibitions—which manages the show—estimates attendance was up over TISE 2019. “Our attendee audit is still in process; however, it was very clear on the show floor and to all those in attendance that the industry was there in full force and were eager to find the resources for the new year,” Hicks said. More importantly, he said re-bookings were for TISE 2021 were “very strong,” with the sales office on the show floor packed daily with exhibitors rebooking steadily for next year. “We had companies not currently exhibiting for TISE 2020 also come to the sales office and inquire to book for the following year,” Hicks added. “That’s a testament to the strength in attendance and the positive experience from the show floor they don’t wat to miss out on in the upcoming years. In addition, many of the TISE 2020 exhibitors booked larger spaces for 2021.”
But what arguably brought the vast majority of attendees to Surfaces was, of course, new product. Following is an overview of the key trends seen across the primary flooring categories. (For more specifics on each product segment, see each beat section within this issue.)
Soft surface may have less of a presence at Surfaces than in years past; however, that reality did not prevent carpet mills from showcasing some truly striking looks. Armed with the latest tufting equipment and color technology, suppliers introduced an array of patterns, textures and colors that drew notice. Blue was the color of the show in carpet and soft has never been more fashionable—witness Marquis 100-ounce face weight product, an ultra-soft carpet called Simply Awesome.
The general sense among soft surface executives at Surfaces is carpet is still very much in vogue—whether that is broadloom or custom rugs made. “The traffic the first two days were the best in memory, and the third day was better than the typical third day,” said TM Nuckols, president of the residential division of The Dixie Group.
It was a sentiment shared by others. In fact,traffic was so brisk at Southwind’s booth that the company had trouble accommodating all the retailers there to see the new introductions. “To me carpet has the biggest potential,” said Richard Abramowicz, executive vice president. Under Abramowicz, Southwind has completely turned over its carpet inventory in the last four years, from having no soft polyester to a lineup dominated by it.
No one had more traffic flow than Mohawk and its family of brands. Many dealers came to see Karastan’s introduction into hard surfaces. However, soft surface impressed with a slew of offerings, notably KaraLoom, which uses precision stitching replicates real wool. “It’s what people are talking about and gravitating to,” said Brittany Stanley, senior design manager, residential product development for Mohawk. “There’s nothing like it in the market.”
There’s nothing quite like the Anderson Tuftex brand, either, which discussed its new design theme: Artifact. According to Katie Ford, director of brand strategy, among found treasures, favorite pieces and curated keepsakes, the A-T design team found inspiration throughout the world and incorporated it into three collections: Yin, Kindred and Terra. Each collection was curated to create different design aesthetics and offer consumers ideas on how they might mix and match different hardwoods and carpets in the home.
Innovation was the name of the game for resilient products seen at TISE. From newer visuals and textures to brand new cores and constructions to easier installation methods, resilient flooring manufacturers came to the show with differentiated solutions for every type of specialty flooring dealer.
As in previous years, rigid and WPC products nearly took over the show floor with more and more manufacturers entering these subsegments. What’s more, companies and brands such as COREtec, Tenacity and Happy Feet are introducing products on new rigid formats such as MGO and ESPC in hopes of providing an alternative to the already red-hot rigid, SPC subcategory.
In terms of visuals and textures, Raskin Industries introduced a brand new digitally printed SPC product called RI Digital. With DPI twice that of LVT and 3D texture, Michael Raskin, president and founder, explained, “The stones and ceramic looks are a real opportunity because we’re using similar technology to ceramic. We can now go toe-to-toe with ceramic. We also have design flexibility with digital printing.”
Not to be outdone, Karastan LuxeCraft, the high-end brand’s leap into the luxury vinyl arena, features wood décor inspired by original wood creations discovered in nature. According to Ed Sanchez, vice president product management, Mohawk Industries, LuxeCraft features visuals that mimic wood patterns found in real life that could never be produced in large formats.
In addition to visuals and cores, WPC planks are literally growing. Introductions such as COREtec Grande and Trucor Prime XXL are pushing the envelope with some of the longest WPC planks seen in the industry. “Trying to be innovative and a little different, we have to go wider and longer,” said Jamann Stepp, vice president of hard surface, The Dixie Group. “In the real wood category what’s selling today are the higher-end looks and longer looks.”
As innovation continues to drive the category’s most popular products one thing is certain: WPC, rigid and MGO will continue to move the needle in 2020. “Resilient in the market is still far from slowing down,” said Piet Dossche, CEO of USFloors and executive vice president of Shaw Hard Surface. “We see all three platforms (WPC, SPC/rigid and MGO) providing features and benefits unique to their cores.”
The rollout of waterproof wood floors and wood/rigid core hybrid products witnessed at Surfaces 2019 accelerated at a rapid pace this year, with seemingly dozens of hardwood suppliers showcasing their own iterations of the product. Observers say it’s clearly a testament to the impact that waterproof LVT products—specifically WPC and SPC floors—have had on competing categories such as hardwood.
One new entrant to the arena is HF Design, with its hybrid AquaTek product. Billed as a 100% premium hardwood floor, the line features a real wood veneer bonded to a solid polymer core, making the product suitable for kitchens, bathrooms, mudrooms and basements. The line features HF Design’s Nanotek Shield technology, which enhances the real wood layer while creating a waterproof seal. AquaTek also boasts a patented locking system that prevents liquids from seeping between the planks, according to Jeff Garber, vice president of sales and marketing.
Another noteworthy trend at Surfaces this year was the emphasis on higher-end products. With so much competition in the entry-level and mid-range of the market, suppliers like Anderson Tuftex, The Dixie Group (via the Fabrica brand) Mannington, Johnson Hardwood Floors and Mohawk—courtesy of its brand spanking new Karastan wood line—are touting step-up products that earn retailers higher profit margins.
With low unemployment rates and a strong stock market in the U.S., tile and stone suppliers are adamant there’s no better time than 2020 to draw consumers back to the category. While the category has felt the pinch from encroaching vinyl products, tile and stone is truly the resilient player. It remains aspirational for most homeowners, and suppliers agree it’s time for the industry—retail included—to strongly tout its features and benefits while tapping growth opportunities sure to abound in the coming years.
Inspiration. That will be the key to sales in the new decade, suppliers told FCNews. To facilitate inspiration for aspirational products such as tile and stone, independent retailers would do well to tap current trends in the category that support not only consumer design whims but the retailer’s bottom line.
For the new decade, design trends include returning favorites as well as fresh looks. Indoor/outdoor, for example, taps consumer interests in outdoor living spaces while also allowing retailers to expand their offerings into new areas of the home. Large-format tiles also continue to make waves in the market, but suppliers agree 2020 will see dollars finally support the product not only on the commercial side but in residential side as well.
Decoratives will also continue to prove their worth in the market—think accent walls, backsplashes, bathroom floor/wall coordination and simply that “pop” of uniqueness. In terms of colorways, blue has moved to the top of the design heap as buyers continue to reach for this fresh, calming and neutral colorway to compliment various design tastes. Educating and helping consumers visualize these trends and their benefits will be key for the successful retailer in 2020.
Reports of laminate flooring’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Although the category has been battered by stiff competition from the red-hot LVT segment (and who hasn’t?), savvy suppliers still believe there are opportunities for retailers to make money in the segment.
“I am still one of the biggest proponents of the laminate category,” said Dan Natkin, vice president of laminate and hardwood, Mannington. “Of all the hard surface categories, it still offers the best scratch, dent and indentation resistance. Plus, with all the new digital printing technologies available today, manufacturers can render much more realistic looks and textures that are closer to wood.”
Dealers agree. “Mannington’s laminate introductions are as real wood looking as it gets,” said Phil Koufidakis, president of Phoenix-based Baker Bros. “These are home-run additions to the line.” Jason O’Krent, director of sales at San Antonio, Texas-baed O’Krent’s, concurred. “The Anthology Laminate Collection’s visuals were so realistic we thought it was real wood,” he said.
Beyond the enhancements to core flooring categories, ancillary vendors also revealed innovations in the way of printing capabilities—a key focus for flooring suppliers looking to capitalize on the technology. Case in point is I4F, which announced at the show a partnership with Benchwick, one of China’s fastest-growing vinyl flooring producers. According to I4F, the deal facilitates the introduction of a unique digital printing technology delivering an embossed 3D effect on decorative panels.
“The addition of Benchwick’s 3D-effect embossing technology to I4F’s digital printing patent portfolio means that our licensees now also have access to the most performant and usable digital printing technologies in the industry,” said John Rietveldt, I4F CEO said. “Retailers can offer their customers the wow-factor by delivering tailor-made designs with the best visual quality around today.”