When we think of industry disrupters today, some of the innovators that come to mind include Uber, Tesla and Netflix, to name a few. Many would agree that these companies are changing the paradigm in their respective industries. As it turns out, the flooring industry has its disrupters as well. Some are established companies with decades-long track records, but there are also a few new kids on the block who are not afraid to upset the apple cart, so to speak.
FCNews’ third annual “Industry Disrupters” issue features innovative players and thinkers who are pushing the envelope in terms of product innovations, technological breakthroughs or simply radical new ways of doing business.
Below are the 2020 Industry Disrupters.
The mother of all disruptors
It has been called the invisible enemy, but the effects of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) have been visible everywhere—from how we work to how we live our daily lives.
The numbers speak volumes. As of March 1, 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic has killed 2.53 million worldwide, including more than 500,000 in the U.S., and infected an estimated 114 million globally. And although vaccine distribution is slowly working its way through the population—with now three vaccines available—the death toll is expected to continue in the weeks and months ahead, experts say.
For the flooring industry, the pandemic has caused major supply chain disruptions that impacted manufacturers and distributors and, eventually, retailers—who at times throughout 2020 were out of stock on certain products. Supply chain issues persist to this day. However, despite the supply chain challenges, flooring retail businesses have fared surprisingly well during the pandemic. Most benefited, unexpectedly, by the shutdown that ushered in the stay-at-home movement. Consumers also eschewed vacations and other travel-related expenses, opting instead to spend their money on home improvement projects.
Many retailers who thought they might lose their businesses during the dark days of the shutdown told FCNews they’ve finished 2020 with their best year ever. Many others exceeded expectations even if they didn’t set a record. Although they are hesitant to say so, COVID-19 turned out to be a blessing in disguise for most flooring retailers on the business front.
And there’s more encouraging news. As some Americans flee cities and move into suburban or rural areas during the pandemic, some analysts are predicting home projects and repairs will shift from a trend to a long-term habit.
Coming to America
Whether it’s the uncertainty with tariffs, supply chain issues or a desire to target the American consumer, several flooring manufacturers are coming to America to start domestic production of LVT and hardwood flooring. Northwest Georgia is the landing spot for many new and proposed sites, which has been announced by the likes of Wellmade, Novalis, CFL Flooring, Huali Floors and Concord Flooring, formerly Arte Mundi.
As part of its “Made in the USA” initiative, Wellmade is expanding its manufacturing operations to Bartow County, Ga., with its first domestic production facility to manufacture rigid core vinyl and other products. The company said it is investing $35 million in capital improvements at the new 328,000-square-foot facility, which will open in three phases. The first of the three phases commences June 2021 and will have a capacity of 3 million square feet. By phase three, Wellmade said it expects to employ about 200 people and increase monthly production beyond 6 million square feet.
Novalis has dedicated $30 million to its domestic rigid core plant project in Dalton, which will be adjacent to its newly opened North American headquarters and North American innovation center. “Our decision to open manufacturing in Dalton is reflective of the journey of our brand and our commitment to be closely connected to our customers,” said John Wu, president and CEO of Novalis.
Huali Floors, a China-based manufacturer of resilient flooring, will establish its first U.S. headquarters and manufacturing facility in Murray County, Ga. “Our USA headquarters and manufacturing facility will further support our commitment to bringing world-class service and quality to our customers,” said Philip Yuan, president of Huali Group.
CFL Flooring said it will invest more than $70 million in a new manufacturing facility in Calhoun, Ga. “This marks a next step in our plan to become a global company, producing closer to where our goods are being sold,” said Thomas Baert, owner and president of CFL. The company will locate to a newly constructed 252,000-square-foot facility in Calhoun with plans to build another 250,000 square feet in the near future.
In 2019, Arte Mundi China , one of the largest manufacturers of engineered hardwood flooring in China, announced plans to build a hardwood flooring finishing plant in Chino, Calif. The new, 54,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility will handle both finishing and automated packaging of products under the Concord Flooring banner manufactured at its sites in Asia and via its partner on the East Coast U.S.
Challenging the industry to go bigger
Disruptive brands are the ones that set the standard for everyone else to strive to emulate. And in waterproof vinyl flooring, that brand is COREtec. Since its inception, COREtec has challenged the industry to think bigger and go further—in style, design, performance and innovation. And with COREtec Advanced+ (shipping to stores now) the company took that philosophy literally by creating a 9-inch wide by up to 86-inch-long waterproof plank that boasts a new mineral core and anti-scratch finish backed by a 15-year scratch warranty.
Good leadership requires fresh, original thinking. In that vein, COREtec will continue to lead the pack—and keep more and more customers coming through showroom doors asking for the original: COREtec.
These days, home has never been more important to consumers, and COREtec lets the customer show off the styles that are true to their “CORE”—all without having to sacrifice design for performance.
Turning heads again with RevoTile
In its 70-plus years of delivering trendy product designs in a range of formats, including floor and wall tile and countertops, a few Daltile products have stood above the rest. On that list is RevoTile.
Officially launched on Jan. 1, 2020, Daltile’s RevoTile is the latest example of the brand’s innovation and leadership, company executives said. “RevoTile is a spectacular game changer for the tile industry, an entirely new technology and product category destined to transform the tile industry,” said Amber Leigh Martinson, senior director of marketing for Dal-Tile Corp.
RevoTile is said to install two-times faster than traditional tile in three steps: 1) place underlayment, no mortar required; 2) click tiles together; and 3) grout immediately. No wait time and no acclimation is required. It has been designed as the quintessential DIY product.
RevoTile is genuine porcelain tile offered in 26 marble, wood, stone and concrete looks. The curated assortment of design-driven styles is made to reflect today’s most popular colors, textures, finishes and sizes. RevoTile also features Daltile’s state-of-the-art printing technology, Reveal Imaging. The proprietary technology produces realistic color, detail and veining for a look that’s meant to be virtually indistinguishable from the material being emulated. RevoTile is also waterproof, slip-resistant and designed to be easy to clean.
A stamp of authenticity
Ensignium stakes its claim as an industry disrupter thanks to the 3D printing technology used in the manufacturing process. Unlike traditional rigid core products that offer a handful of unique patterns, Ensignium delivers up to 35 unique wood visuals. Engineered Floors is able to accomplish this by using ultra-high-definition scans of real wood planks that are then printed onto a highly dimensionally stable SPC composite board. There is no paper film covering the plank giving the illusion of real wood, but rather the clean grains, natural wood feel and natural colors are engrained directly on each plank. This process produces an authentic, natural appearance and texture.
“Ensignium disrupts the industry’s coequal rigid core segment and offers a unique waterproof product with unmatched quality and natural aesthetics,” said Mike Sanderson, vice president of marketing for Engineered Floors. “Unlike other collections, Ensignium’s low-repeat wood patterns are digitally printed directly on each planks’ rigid core. This is achieved by using high-definition scans of real wood planks, which produces an unrivaled natural look and feel.”
EF’s Ensignium also delivers durability, thanks to the company’s Evertuff coating. As opposed to other protective coatings that produce a sheen when exposed to different lighting scenarios, Evertuff is a matte finish, ensuring the floors look as authentic as possible.
More committed than ever
Since its inception in 2010, FloorForce’s goal has remained the same: elevate and empower the local flooring dealer. What has changed, however, is its strategy—and the arsenal of new tools the company is building to accomplish it with.
But the strategic shift wasn’t made on a whim. As COVID-19 dramatically changed consumer shopping habits, FloorForce made a bold decision: completely revamp and accelerate the next 24 months of its product roadmap to better help flooring dealers with the unequivocal shift to digital.
Luckily, FloorForce didn’t have to rely on guesswork when changing its roadmap. For years, FloorForce had been studying consumer data, talking to retailers, conducting consumer surveys and running beta tests to monitor the behavior of consumers—both during and after her floor-buying journey. The results of these tests showed a massive consumer shift during COVID-19, which significantly influenced FloorForce’s data-driven strategy.
The new strategy is anything but ordinary. Primarily focused on optimizing integrations and connectivity among digital marketing, website platforms, visualization tools, consumer messaging and reporting, it’s a holistic marketing plan said to be unlike anything else in the flooring industry. While most of these products were already part of the FloorForce platform, the advanced integrations provide all-new functionality and greatly improves retailers’ ability to engage with the consumer throughout the buying process and deliver a more streamlined consumer experience.
The most radical change to the FloorForce roadmap, however, is the addition of in-store merchandising features to its platform. By conducting beta tests for more than half a year, FloorForce was able to prove that a more integrated digital-to-physical experience led to higher quality leads, more sales of target products and increased consumer satisfaction.
2021 will be a transformational year for FloorForce and its clients.
The next frontier: Advanced printing technologies
When it first started, I4F’s main focus was locking technologies. And while the company has not strayed from its core mission, in recent years it has explored many opportunities to grow its market share.
The latest example: the company recently entered into a patent partnership with Hymmen, a leading global digital printing systems provider specializing in flooring. As a technology leader, Hymmen provides digital printing solutions for all leading European flooring producers. According to I4F, more than 80% of digitally printed flooring around the world is produced using Hymmen technologies. This new partnership gives I4F exclusive licensing rights for all Hymmen’s digital printing patents and technologies for flooring production, including Hymmen’s Digital Lacquer Embossing (DLE) technology.
Hymmen’s award-winning DLE technology aims to produce convincing results by printing a transparent liquid medium into a layer of non-cured core lacquer using the proven technology of the Hymmen Jupiter Digital Printing Lines. Optimized haptic effects in special structure designs include deeper, sharper and more defined edges as well as special effects through higher variability of depths, different gloss grades and the embossing of fine lines and entire surface areas. Additionally, the digital structuring supports surface performance needs including hardness, bonding, scratch resistance and chemical reliability of the core lacquer.
I4F believes Hymmen not only has the most innovative and highest quality technologies, but it also maintains a fiercely strong IP position, according to John Rietveldt, CEO of I4F. “This latest addition to our patent cluster concept reinforces our promise to licensees to receive the world’s best, most cutting-edge technologies in the industry backed by a robust patent protection infrastructure,” he said.
Digital printing continues to play a crucial role in the future of flooring as it enables unlimited design flexibility and can be applied to a wide range of materials. This facilitates faster response times to market demands and trends while reducing material waste. The minimization of storage and production costs generates a rapid return on investment. The combination of reduced process costs and market differentiation is driving the significance of digital printing technology within flooring production.
Simplifying sampling for flooring dealers
Thanks to a new innovation unveiled by Inhaus, maker of the Sono Eclipse mineral-based core product line, rapid sample development and deployment is now a reality. Dubbed Fast To Market, or F2M, the state-of-the-art technology allows Inhaus to create representative sample boards in a matter of a few hours vs. several weeks or months.
Inhaus’ all-digital, high-speed manufacturing process, which is utilized specifically in the production of its new Sono Eclipse line, prints both the decorative layer and embossed-in-register surface texture. Designs are generated from production files, and then the samples are printed on the production line at standard production speed, on actual material used in the construction of the final product.
For added value, Inhaus is able to print the actual label onto the sample board, thereby providing the RSA or consumer with more detailed information and/or product specifications. For retailers, the added benefit is faster and more accurate sampling.
“We had a production sample in a 24 x 24-inch piece that was not only real product but also an exact representation of an installation,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO of Inhaus. “We can now offer our latest designs extremely quickly. We knew instantly that this was going to be the new direction of our sampling process.” Welbourn said he learned early on the importance of samples. “We often repeat the saying, ‘No samples, no sales,’ and this is often echoed at our management meetings when we are reviewing our annual budget for sampling, which is high. Regardless of cost, a good sample is key to our entire business. Rarely is a product chosen without an actual sample as it is just impossible to have a final impression of the product without seeing and touching an actual piece. A good sample should inspire customers to imagine using the product for their project.”
Building momentum with in-person events
At a time when many buying groups, distributors, trade associations and others were postponing or canceling conventions in favor of a virtual format, Mohawk charged full steam ahead—albeit safely—with its Mohawk Momentum Roadshow.
Back in August 2020, with the coronavirus raging, the company announced plans for a seven-city tour to showcase the latest in product innovation and program offerings to help retailers move their businesses forward in 2021.
“Coming together to connect with our retail partners is more important now than ever before,” said Jeff Meadows, president of residential sales at Mohawk, when the Roadshow was first announced. “Consumers are spending more time at home and online searching for new ways to improve and upgrade their living spaces, including shopping for flooring. This is great news for our industry but only if we can deliver—and Mohawk can. Mohawk didn’t stop innovating during the pandemic, and customers can count on us to bring the momentum they need for 2021 when it’s needed most—at the beginning of the year.”
As it turned out, Mohawk held in-person events in four locations, much to the delight of its flooring retailers. “I thoroughly enjoyed the Roadshow,” said Typhannie Watson, owner of Carpeting by Mike, Somerset, Wis. “It had the feel of roadshows in the past—friendly, familiar faces; new and exciting products; great location and weather. This time, it was just with a safer-than-usual environment—with temperature checks, health questionnaires, sanitizing throughout and social distancing.”
Mohawk proved that it could have a live, in-person event and conduct it in a safe, socially distanced manner. It also accomplished its goal of showcasing the latest and greatest products for the new year. Pent-up demand that was experienced in the second half of 2020 continued into 2021, and retailers said they expect another record year. To do that, they need to see new product lines.“I was really impressed with the extraordinary product releases for this upcoming year,” Watson said, citing WetProtect, UltraWood and Mohawk- and Karastan-branded carpets among the key standouts.
A powerful selling proposition for retail sales reps
Since its founding in 1915, Mannington has pursued a commitment to quality, customer satisfaction and the environment through product design and state-of-the-art processes. The latest feather in Mannington’s cap is Microban, which provides antimicrobial protection to help floors stay cleaner, fresher and last longer than products with untreated surfaces.
In 2021, Mannington is incorporating Microban into its Adura line (Adura Max, Adura Rigid, Adura Flex). The technology is built into the wear layer of the floor and won’t wear off over time. “This makes the power of the Adura Selling Solution that much more relevant, and it really simplifies things for the retail salesperson,” said Jimmy Tuley, vice president, residential resilient.
In Mannington’s research, almost 90% of consumers responded that they want a floor that helps keep their home cleaner. Microban antimicrobial surface protection is said to help protect the surface of the floor 24/7 against the growth of bacteria and remains 99% cleaner than untreated surfaces. In the age of COVID-19, products like Microban are resonating with homeowners.
Phenix Flooring, part of the Mannington family of companies, has incorporated Microban in its soft surface products for several years. Phenix first introduced its Cleaner Home with Microban collection of carpet styles in 2017 and has since expanded Microban antimicrobial treatment across virtually all its SureSoftSD PET carpet products as well as SureSoftSDN styles.
Microban is built right into the carpet, so it lasts for the life of the product and is designed to prevent the growth of stain and odor-causing bacteria, mold and mildew. This built-in Microban antimicrobial technology offers a new level of cleanliness to homeowners, a top-of-mind attribute today.
“A few years ago, when Phenix entered into an exclusive agreement with Microban for use on residential carpet, we did so because Microban is a leader in antimicrobial technology and a brand that has tremendous consumer awareness,” said Mark Clayton, president of Phenix Flooring. “Little did we know how relevant that topic would become today. Mannington has leveraged this relationship and is now rolling out Adura products with Microban. It’s very exciting for us, it’s exciting for our retail partners and it’s exciting for consumers as it answers a very timely concern around cleanliness in the home.”
Taking ‘interactive’ to the next level
MSI was one of the first companies to introduce augmented reality to the flooring industry in 2018 with the launch of a series of tools originally aimed at the floor to help buyers bring product selections to life. Over the last two years, MSI rolled out separate augmented reality-enabled visualizers for the countertop and the wall.
MSI has now taken its innovation up a notch with the launch of its multi-surface visualizer to allow consumers to visualize how any MSI product would look on the floor, countertop or wall—all within a single digital experience. With this latest innovation, MSI has integrated all three visualizers into a single experience, providing consumers a more dynamic experience. By uploading an image, the application automatically and quickly detects the different flooring, countertop and wall surfaces. Users can then select and view different MSI product materials for each surface. Other features include the ability to save, email and share images and more. Customers can also select product favorites and make direct sample purchases of the visualized product.
“Our customers love the ability to provide the consumer with instant gratification and increased confidence in their selections, resulting in a much higher close rate,” said Rup Shah, president of MSI. “The multi-surface visualizer is a complete game changer. We will continue to aggressively invest in innovative digital technologies as we look to the future of marketing our products.”
MSI also recently integrated a new image search tool throughout its website, which allows users to see a selection of similar products for any image submitted. Using artificial intelligence, the digital tool finds the closest MSI product match to just what the consumer is searching for.
Real Wood Coalition
Putting hardwood back in the spotlight
The Real Wood Coalition was launched in 2021 with the goal of promoting the sale of solid and engineered hardwood flooring by educating retailers and RSAs through the pages of FCNews as well as its digital platforms.
Why now? Manufacturers say there is no better time to retrain retailers on the value of hardwood flooring and the opportunity it presents for increased sales dollars. Consumers have more disposable income to spend and much of that is going toward home renovation products, including flooring. Hardwood, being an aspirational product, should be a part of the spend.
The Real Wood Coalition will put forth multiple messages, from the natural aspect of the product—which is often mimicked—to the fact that it adds value to consumers’ homes, to how retailers can make more profit dollars. The campaign is designed to educate retailers and RSAs on the product itself as well as how to successfully promote, market, position and sell hardwood to consumers. The initiative will hope fully increase sales for hard wood manufacturers and gen erate greater profit dollars for flooring retailers.
The charter members bring a global perspective. They include three of the top hardwood manufacturers in the U.S.—AHF, Mullican and Somerset; two of the top Canadian mills in Boa Franc, makers of the Mirage brand, and Mercier; the leading South American hardwood manufacturer in Indusparquet; Nature, a global leader that operates manufacturing facilities in China, Cambodia, Poland, France, Peru and Gabon; and Torlys, a supplier that sources from Indonesia and Belgium.
Going against the grain
If there was a company that best depicted the term “industry disrupter,” a worthy candidate would be Republic Floor. While other companies zig, they like to zag. “We have always gone against the grain,” said Rotem Eylor, CEO. “We are not interested in running with the herd because if we do, we will never be ahead.”
Republic Floor’s dare-to-be-different approach was in evidence in 2020. While other companies were hunkered down during the first half of 2020, Republic stepped up its sales efforts. In August, the company did 50% more business than in any previous month.
Soon after, NFA elevated Republic’s status with the group to “core” vendor. To service NFA, Republic essentially built a separate operation within the organization, including warehousing of inventory and customer service personnel.
As it expanded beyond the West Coast, Republic bought properties and turned them into distribution centers—it has also been on the acquisition hunt for distributors. Eylor said the company is currently in negotiations with several wholesalers.
Its latest purchase—that of renowned distributor Hughes Western, based in Salt Lake City—adds not only a private-label carpet brand but also extends Republic’s coverage into Utah, Wyoming and Montana. “As we grow, we will be everywhere in the U.S. locally so we can better service those accounts.”
Connecting local businesses with skilled trade labor
TraLaMa is the Trade Labor Marketplace that connects trade labor with businesses who hire trade labor. A beta version of TraLaMa was launched within the flooring industry in Q1 of 2020. Based on that beta, enhancements were made, and the app was launched nationally to all trades in December 2020. And here’s the best part: All TraLaMa services are always free for trade labor.
According to TraLaMa creator Jason Goldberg—who also serves as founder and CEO of America’s Floor Source—the app was created due to a common challenge he was continually experiencing. “No matter how many full-time or subcontract installers we have, it seems we always need more,” Goldberg said. “We all see the employment stats in the press, and we are experiencing it every day.”
With TraLaMa, a skilled tradesperson can download the app, create a profile and see what relevant, local, full-time and short-term work opportunities are available. One recent enhancement to the tool is that trade labor can now list up to five trades and identify their skill level in each. By trade labor including multiple trades in their profiles, each job post is seen by more potential workers.
TraLaMa is moving toward critical mass in all trades and in all markets. Currently—in large part due to Goldberg’s experience and connections—the TraLaMa community is quickly establishing itself within the flooring industry.
The relentless pursuit of new technologies, innovations
When an executive with the experience and stature of a Jeff Striegel, Elias Wilf president, remarks that Välinge Flooring’s Hardened Wood Floor is “without a doubt one of the hottest introductions in the past decade,” the industry listens.
Though, really, it should come as no surprise for those who follow the company’s history. In its latest innovation, Välinge has integrated cutting-edge, patented technology—Woodura and 5G Dry—from parent company Välinge Innovation to create a new category of real wood floors—which it calls Hardened Wood Flooring.
The Woodura surface technology means consumers can now choose a real wood floor with significant impact protection. But it’s not just surface protection. Sustainability is greatly improved, too, as Woodura allows for up to 10 times more product from the same amount of lumber, according to the company. Additionally, the recycled wood powder in the construction is used to fill any voids due to knots, allowing for an incredibly high level of aesthetic control and creativity.
The floors also feature 5G Dry, Välinge’s premium fold-down locking technology, which offers waterproof properties and stress-free installation; as well as 5G Climb, allowing the floor to be installed on walls by simply adding a small plastic clip.
Another added benefit of the flooring is that it can be installed where traditionally a floating wood floor would not be recommended, such as a very dry or humid climate. And then there is this: the floor can also be installed over very large areas without the need for installation joints.