By Ken Ryan The explosive LVT segment and its annual double-digit increases may still command the most attention and showroom space among retailers, but rigid core no longer has a monopoly on growth in the flooring industry. In fact, laminate and carpet have emerged as ascending categories in the red-hot retail flooring market.
In recent years, buying groups like CCA Global had deemphasized laminate in favor of LVT to where it was barely relevant. Today, however, laminate sales among CCA members doubled in just the last two years. Many observers were caught off guard by laminate’s resurgence, but not all. “The laminate category never died off—it just shifted from independent dealers to home centers,” Dan Natkin, vice president of hardwood and laminate, Mannington, explained. “Now it has shifted back again to the independents. I just wish we could keep up with demand.”
Carpet, meanwhile, experienced a disastrous, COVID-19-induced second quarter in 2020, with residential sales dropping a stunning 27.4% in dollars, according to FCNews estimates. That low-water mark followed a several-year period of negligible growth and declining market share. Today, carpet is literally on a roll with three straight quarters of double-digit increases on the residential side.
Following is a closer look at the comeback that laminate and carpet are currently experiencing.
The segment’s surge is more than anecdotal; it can be reflected in sales. In 2020, laminate flooring sales in the U.S. grew 5.8%, while volume increased 4.2%, according to FCNews estimates. It marked the first time in five years the category was in the plus column.
What’s behind the turnaround? For starters, more product was sold in the thicker, 10mm-12mm range versus the thinner, entry-level 7mm-8mm offerings often found at discount merchandisers and big box stores.
Derek Welbourn, CEO of Inhaus, said he sees opportunities for laminate to take back lost market share via new product/technology advances. “Water-resistant products and enhanced visuals with digital printing combined with traditional laminate product enhancements such as embossed-in-register designs and beveled edges will fuel growth of the laminate segment,” he said. “It’s all about creating greater value for consumers with products that offer durability, compelling looks and ease of use.”
Flooring retailers who stuck with laminate even during the lean years are now being rewarded with robust sales. Dealers cite the product’s great looks and superior scratch resistance for fueling the rise, noting that Mannington’s Restoration and Mohawk’s RevWood are outstanding performers. “Customers have figured out that laminate does a better job with scratches than a lot of your rigid products that have been so popular the last 24 months, and that the main problems with laminate in the past has been the lower-quality laminates,” said Ted Gregerson, president of Ted’s Abbey Carpet & Floor and Floors To Go, Anniston, Ala. “Therefore, we are selling a lot more laminate, and all of it is your higher-end, 12mm laminates with good warranties.”
Laminate’s stock has risen at a time when LVT, mostly sourced from China, has been bogged down by rising container costs, product shortages and multiple rounds of price increases, among other challenges. At the same time, retailers are embracing the many Made-in-USA laminate offerings (no tariffs) and technology advancements that have enhanced the segment. “The laminate of yesteryear is not the laminate of today,” said Olga Robertson, president of the FCA Network, Shorewood, Ill. “I have an LVP in the bar area in my basement and I’m replacing it with laminate. The best-looking laminate in the industry is Mannington’s Restoration line, and we’ve seen a huge uptick in business.”
Robertson said that home builders, including Lennar and Pulte Homes, have switched to laminate as their go-to because LVP is cost prohibitive, in their view. “As production builders go, so does the rest of the industry that needs to service these large production builders,” she said. “Laminate is more economically priced than LVP and is also waterproof. In my estimation, it is a better product than LVP.”
No flooring segment benefited more from COVID-19 than carpet. As people spent more time in their homes during the pandemic, they found that carpet— unlike other products—was more conducive to a quiet, warm and safe environment. While residential carpet’s comeback started with a small gain in the third quarter of 2020, the last three quarters have seen dramatic spikes as reported to the Carpet & Rug Institute (CRI): 13.4% increase in dollars in Q4 2020, 18% gain in Q1 2021 and a 54% increase in Q2 vs. the year-ago period. Year to date, residential carpet sales are up 35% over the prior year.
“There is a lot of optimism in the category right now, and everyone is enjoying the lift and the goodness,” said Brad Christensen, director of soft surface category management, Shaw Industries. “The more people talk about soft surface, the more first-time buyers are realizing there are things that can enhance their lifestyles.”
Softness and noise abatement are certainly two factors that have benefited carpet; however, the real catalyst has been the technology advancements that have ushered in more patterns and vibrant colors. “Even though carpet has been relegated to the bedrooms, we’re definitely seeing a resurgence in ‘better’ carpets,” said Sam O’Krent, president of O’Krent Floors, San Antonio. “Fashion is once again making a statement in carpet and consumers are embracing the warmth and beauty of having their toes land on carpet first thing in the morning.”
The growth of solution-dyed products has also paid dividends. According to Joe Young, soft surface category manager for Engineered Floors, the reality is that mills are making better carpet today with performance features that make it a viable option throughout the household, with solution dyed the fiber of choice. “Solution dyed alleviates the age-old fear of carpet staining, fading or bleaching over short periods of time,” he said. “Solution-dyed carpets also provide more blended multicolors that smoothly transition visually from hard surface to soft surface. These performance and aesthetic enhancements only add to the comfort underfoot that people have always loved about carpet.”
Whether carpet can keep the good times rolling is up for debate. However, there are some dealers who claim the category never really fell out of favor in the first place. “We have not experienced a slowdown in carpet,” said Cathy Buchanan, owner of Independent Carpet One Floor & Home, Westland, Mich. “We have been selling a lot of carpet and I stand firm to the demographic reasoning. Michigan has more cool weather than warm, and the comfort and sound absorbency is a key factor.”
Typhannie Watson, owner of Carpeting by Mike, Somerset, Wis., agreed, adding, “Midwesterners still love their warm, fluffy, soft floors.”