By Ken Ryan While the residential flooring market started to take off in the second half of 2020, fueled by the home renovation boom spurred by the COVID-19 shutdown, Main Street commercial was stuck in neutral as scores of restaurants, hair salons and other small shops closed for extended periods.
Unfortunately, many of those businesses never recovered; others survived but initially had no interest in spending money when none was coming in. A fortunate few took advantage of the down time to tackle long overdue flooring projects.
Still, the consensus among flooring executives was that Main Street was down nearly 10% overall in 2020 vs. 2019—not as steep as corporate and some other commercial segments, but certainly not on par with the performance of residential.
“We saw the Main Street market pull back,” said Blakley Satterfield, product manager, residential resilient for Mannington, echoing a familiar sentiment. “Owners struggled and there were mandates on how they could operate.”
Robb Myer, vice president of business development for Aladdin, a Mohawk commercial brand, added, “Main Street business did not pick up right away during the pandemic. Home renovations were the first to see an investment, with Main Street seeing a pickup in Q1 .”
Indeed, since that period Main Street has been on a roll. Executives cite at least two reasons for the lift. One, the economy started opening up; two, the Federal Reserve expanded its Main Street Lending Program with an infusion of $600 billion to allow more small and medium-sized businesses to be able to receive support. The Fed’s expansion lowered the minimum loan size for certain loans to $250,000 from $500,000, increased the maximum loan size for all facilities, raised the term of each loan option to five years and extended the repayment period for all loans by delaying principal payments for two years.
“We are already seeing a lot of businesses take advantage of special financing offers and deals,” said Sam Ruble, vice president of sales, Foss Floors.
The appeal of Main Street among manufacturers has grown in recent years, with the major mills ramping up their programs. The list includes Mannington, which earlier this year launched the rebranding of Mannington on Main to incorporate popular existing products as well as new additions, along with revised merchandising and a simplified selling system created with the retail sales associate in mind.
Mannington created a website (manningtononmain.com) specific to this program that allows samples to be ordered online. According to the company, the Mannington on Main selling system was developed using feedback from customer research with dealers across the U.S. to ensure an easy-to-use program. “RSAs need to be the subject matter experts, so we built this program around taking the complexity away and helping the RSA,” Satterfield said. Within LVT, Mannington has included a heavy commercial product, City Line, its first LVT product to feature Microban technology. “Products with built-in Microban product protection are 99% cleaner than those without Microban and provide 24/7 product protection against the growth of bacteria,” Satterfield explained.
Mohawk Residential views Main Street as an important business for the growth opportunity it presents. For that reason, it has amassed a large sales force around the Aladdin Main Street line. “My outlook is very bullish,” Myer said. “We see continued growth across all three categories—broadloom, carpet tile and hard surfaces. Our approach is DIY, which stands for Design it Yourself. That’s really our Main Street push with DIY customers.”
Aladdin has a bevy of offerings for Main Street, from 100% waterproof hard surface selections to carpet tile in a coordinated broadloom segment, and solution-dyed PET and nylon. Mohawk’s PET platform, EnviroStrand, has taken off, according to Myer. “Residential dealers like that these carpet tiles were mergeable pieces—12 x 36 and 24 x 24. With EnviroStrand I can match the broadloom with plank tiles to give it a good coordination story. Mohawk has been able to grow its broadloom platform year over year as a result.”
Of course, selling to Main Street can be quite different than specified commercial contract. For starters, territory managers are not calling on influencers or the A&D community. In most cases, they are dealing with RSAs. And so, with residential flooring clearly outpacing commercial at the moment, mills are pouncing on the opportunity Main Street presents.
“Main Street has a significant opportunity in education right now, as schools across the country look to prepare for students’ full, in-person return in August,” said Kurt Paulson, vice president of Main Street Commercial and Floorigami, Shaw Industries. “There seems to be a perception with educators and parents alike that new equals clean, and clean equals safe. Independent retailers are in a prime position to tap into the boom happening now in this market segment.”
Among the offerings for Shaw Floors’ 5th & Main line is Authentic—a 24 x 24 premium carpet tile on sustainable EcoWorx backing and Eco Solution Q Nylon that can perform in the toughest environments. Flexible for any application from healthcare, education or public spaces in multifamily housing, Authentic is a Cradle-to-Cradle Silver certified product available in nine colors.
Philadelphia Commercial’s Silva Valley LVT features on-trend contemporary wood visuals with a modern color palette. Silva Valley’s 6 x 48 format comes with ExoGuard+ finish; the 12- and 20-mil options are ideal for light and heavy applications and a variety of segments.
For Engineered Floors, Pentz Commercial continues to be an important target market as it allows the company to offer diversified products (broadloom, modular tile or LVT) and solutions for its retailer base in the non-specified segment. In 2021, Pentz Commercial will focus on a variety of new offerings across carpet and hard surfaces including its high-performing, high-styled Apex SDP polyester broadloom and modular products as well as a focused approach to expand its Encore SD nylon carpet offerings, which focuses on setting trends in style, design and color trends. Pentz Commercial will be strategically expanding its LVT presence to match the demands of the Main Street marketplace.
While the initial closures caused a setback in commercial business, Stanton executives say they are now seeing an uplift. As such, Stanton has expanded its commercial offering to include luxury vinyl that leverages its position of high style and design in hard surface commercial. “We see Main Street as a huge opportunity for growth in carpet and vinyl as more businesses return to their office space,” said Christine Zampaglione, senior director of marketing for Stanton.
Much like specified contract, the challenge in addressing the needs of Main Street clients is finding the right product to fit their particular needs, according to Bill Furman, senior channel marketing manager at Armstrong Flooring. To that end, Armstrong Flooring introduced the Quick-Ship program to service these distinct Main Street customers. “By focusing our offering on relevant products by segment that are domestically made, readily available products and cover multiple price points, we have been able to simplify the purchase journey and sell-in process,” he explained. “We have seen great success and reception to this model and are looking to expand it further.”
Foss Floors’ signature self-stick adhesive has been a boon for Main Street customers as it can be used indoors or out, and installation effort is minimal, allowing businesses to open the next day since there are no VOCs or cure times. “We see tremendous growth in soft flooring for outdoor applications in some commercial channels such as restaurants,” Ruble said.