Surfaces 2023: Resilient touts premium products, ease of doing business

Home Featured Post Surfaces 2023: Resilient touts premium products, ease of doing business

Las Vegas—The resilient category had a lot to live up to coming into The International Surface Event this year, which kicked off here Jan. 30-Feb. 2. The category remains the leader in flooring when it comes to growth—SPC the reigning powerhouse. So, the outlook of those exhibiting resilient flooring at TISE 2023 provided a glimpse into what the industry could expect for the coming year. Luckily for flooring, that outlook was bright.

“We are very optimistic,” Matt Rosato, hard surface channel director for Shaw Floors, told FCNews. “[We’re several shows in] since January started—our SFN event was in Orlando and that was the most successful event we’ve had—so we’re carrying a lot of that energy into Vegas. We had some big goals in January, and we have smashed them. So that’s telling us our dealers are very optimistic about 2023. They’re ready for a successful year.”

Some suppliers noted a potential slowdown in Q1 but most are expecting the category—and even the industry in general—to do well the rest of the year. Novalis, for example, is   cautiously optimistic about what’s to come. “We think we’re probably going to have a slow start in Q1, but we do very much believe things are going to pick back up—especially for us specializing in residential SPC,” Kimberly Hill, director of marketing and creative design, told FCNews. “Even if the housing market goes down, we still have so many people wanting to do residential remodels. So, cautiously optimistic about the category in general.”

The irony of the positive energy emanating from retail store owners, distributors and the industry at large against a backdrop of less-than-stellar economic predictions wasn’t lost on exhibitors at the show. “It’s funny, it’s juxtaposed with the economic forecasts,” Yuni Choi, vice president, Pelican Creations Home, told FCNews. “People are like, ‘Oh my gosh, the economy’s going to crash. It’s going to be a recession.’ I find that the sentiment I’m getting from actual customers is the opposite. People are not afraid. People want to buy. People want to bring in new and different things. I am feeling optimistic.”

Energy, excitement in 2023

Exhibitors at the show agreed that the optimism for the category in 2023 had a lot to do with the positivity of attendees at the show itself. Orders were up, the energy was palpable and the show floor was packed.

“We have a lot of great traffic from the moment we get here in the morning to the moment we leave,” Maud Swalens, senior marketing manager, COREtec, told FCNews. “Our booth is two-and-a-half times the size of last year’s and it’s still full of people. We’re very happy it’s that busy. We went so much bigger I thought there might be a kind of optical illusion where the booth looked somewhat empty, but I’m glad we upgraded our square footage.”

Similarly, at the Novalis booth, attendance was noticeably up from the previous two years. “Our schedule is packed,” Hill stated. “We have back-to-back meetings, so we’re very excited about it. With our schedule being so packed, I believe the numbers are up. I think it’s going to be a really busy show. It bodes well for everybody. I think people are very optimistic this year.”

For Mannington, attendance resembled the energy of pre-COVID-19 events. “The show has been busy—not only are the retailers out coming, but they’re actually buying, which is great,” said David Sheehan, senior vice president, residential, Mannington Mills. “We use [TISE] as a selling event. We’ve got our Jay’s Bargain Basement here and it’s almost like pre-COVID-19-level activity, which is really good. The buying activity has surprised me given the state of the economy. But they’re not fazed. Everybody’s ready to buy.”

What’s trending

Karndean unveiled a variety of new designs at the show, including updates to its Opus collection, which is finding a home with diversifying specialty retailers.

It seemed for a few years that trending design in resilient flooring had somewhat stagnated. The buzzword had become “waterproof” and, while visuals continued to improve, innovation—and marketing, for that matter—was focused on moisture protection. Now, visuals are back in fashion and suppliers unveiled resilient product lines that were dressed to impress. Clean looks, lighter, warmer colors, tile looks and sustainable vinyl, in particular, stole the show.

“I would say a major storyline in the industry is growth in light, warm colors, whereas the last couple of years, we’ve probably been in a mid-neutral, rustic area,” said Jenne Ross, product director, Karndean.

The standout for Karndean at the show was the update to its Opus collection. Designed for the Main Street commercial space, the company also found the collection speaks to the diversified specialty retailer. “A lot of the conversation with dealers has been, ‘I need to be doing more Main Street commercial. I need to be diversifying because I’m leaving money on the table,’” Ross added. “And I think that’s what the Opus Collection really represents to the marketplace today.”

For Novalis, the warm wood trend is also taking off. “Warm woods are, of course, one of our biggest trends of the year,” Hill explained. “We’ve seen the gray and beige rise in popularity for years and years. It has been a macro trend. It has stayed around for over a decade, and it’s finally starting to shift away—slowly but surely. And the trend now is everything from blondes to those mid-tone modern browns, to dark coffees and espressos. You’re going to see a lot more of that.”

For the show, Novalis introduced several new looks catering to market demand, including ultra-gloss and ultra-matte finishes, chevron and herringbone click products—something previously only available in glue-down formats—and premium bevel technologies, all available in trending warm wood looks.

SLCC Flooring stormed onto the scene with new leadership and a ramped-up product assortment that taps into trending design in today’s market. “I’ve traveled the whole country for the last few years—I’m in metropolitan areas and I’m in urban areas,” said Vincent Circosta, the company’s newly appointed chief influence officer. “So, from an aesthetic standpoint, it really does feel like there’s been a push to more clean visuals.”

To meet that demand, SLCC brought innovative looks to its SPC program. “We’ve taken the very best visuals from our already-established, well-selling hardwood line and used those to create our own film and our own patterns,” Circosta added. “And if you bring on both collections, you can have the hardwood side and the SPC version of it. It really creates a dynamic story.”

Another SPC line that drew attention at Surfaces was the new (sort of) Lutea offering from Armstrong Flooring, which is now owned by AHF Products. Although the brand was previously available under the old Armstrong Flooring offering, the line is getting a shot in the arm thanks to manufacturing investments from AHF.

“Lutea is basically the re-introduction of the Armstrong line in the rigid core offering, but we’re bringing everything back and starting clean,” said Yon Hinkle, business product and innovation leader, AHF Products, parent company of the Armstrong Flooring brand. “It comes in two structures: a 9 x 60 plank on a 5.5mm SPC that has microbevel and a 20-mil wear layer, and a 5mm-thick (4 + 1) SPC in a 7 x 60, 12-mil wear layer. We’re starting with 20 SKUs—11 in the 5.5mm and nine in the 5mm—and we will continue to build off that base.”

Republic tapped the tile-look trend with the introduction of Solar Granite, a shiny marble look product, which is slip resistant and scratch resistant. What’s more, there is no attached pad. Rather, there are grooves on the back to enable it to be glued to a wall. The company also launched new 12mm and 14mm SPC products as well as an SPC that is said to be half the weight of typical SPC called UltraLite, which allows for reduced costs.

Another trending focus at the show was the resilient category’s push toward sustainability. Nox, a global supplier of LVT, for example, came to the show with an impressive sustainability story. For PVC, the company said it now uses Bio-Circular balanced PVC, a sustainable raw material that is produced using discarded, plant-based resources and has been verified to have a higher carbon reduction effect—114% compared to that of conventional PVC. “That is a great step forward toward getting a carbon-neutral product out the door,” said David Thoresen, SVP. “We’ve found that this is probably the future for all of our products, and we’ll be moving everything that way as fast as we can.”

Benchwick also touted a sustainable option in resilient vinyl: Blue 11. The SPC line features a high-performance core derived from plastic bottles recovered— then recycled—from ocean waters. This offers a greener alternative compared to core materials derived from oil or virgin PVC. Beyond its clear environmental appeal, the core boasts improved stability and impact/ dent resistance over previous SPC iterations and offers direct-to-core digital printing for added realism.

Making it an easy sale

Mohawk introduced a slate of new resilient products—two launches each across its three master brands.

It’s no secret that the resilient category is awash with product. Many resilient manufacturers liken it to the heyday of laminate when suppliers came from near and far to sell their wares and soon all players found themselves in a lofty race to the bottom. Much like laminate’s history, resilient is feeling the pressure of an overpopulated marketplace.

To help combat that hardship, top resilient suppliers are making a concerted effort to ease the buying process for retailers and consumers alike. That means not only supplying new, quality resilient products but also the selling tools and marketing materials to make it a smooth experience.

Mohawk, for example, has revamped its brand messaging and marketing strategy—in addition to launching new products that meet key needs—to bring ease to the selling process. “Resilient is a crowded field— you just walk around [the show floor] and there’s a lot of people selling resilient flooring,” noted Adam Ward, vice president of product management, resilient. “How do you make it easier for the RSA who’s got a lot of products to choose from? Well, we need to make sure our products are easy to understand and easy to sell. We now have a variety of different selling features—anything from our new binders to new displays that trade up. We really want a display or sample for every size store and every size budget. We’ve done that this year to help sell these products.”

In addition, the company has reinvigorated its marketing brand messages for its Mohawk SolidTech Essential, Select and Plus tiers, as well as lines outside the resilient category. “Mohawk is a powerful brand, we have a lot of tools, but we have to have simplicity and consistency over and over again because that really helps the RSA make the sale,” Ward added. “That RSA wants to close the sale every time. They’re going to go to the products that close those sales the easiest. We want to make sure we’re [easy to work with] so we’re that first choice for the RSA.”

Mohawk also unveiled a slate of new products—two launches across all three master brands: Mohawk, Pergo, Karastan. The new lines focus on lighter, cleaner colors, calmer naturals, browns and cleaner visuals.

COREtec Pro has been revamped to offer a more consistent story for dealers to tell their customers.

COREtec also focused on easing the selling process to become a better partner and help specialty dealers make the sale. “Go back to COVID-19 when everyone was trying to bring simplicity into their life,” Swalens said. “We know a lot of things just get overwhelming sometimes. And when you shop for something like flooring, it’s a big-ticket item and there are a lot of options out there. You want to make the right choice but the more options you have, the more afraid you are to make the wrong choice. So, we’re trying to make that as easy as possible. We’re doing a lot to get the brand out there to the consumer to make us as easy as possible to work with.”

COREtec invested heavily in its WPC and SPC constructions and launched several new looks at the show. In addition, the brand also unveiled new bevel technology that is featured on its COREtec Pro line—which has been revamped with an updated logo, tagline and colors to better fit COREtec’s premium brand stature and offer a more consistent story for dealers to tell their customers.

Tarkett Home continues to innovate in an effort to ease the selling process for its retail partners. The company launched a new selling system, for example, designed to help RSAs lead any consumer through the purchasing journey regardless of need or budget. “We have a brand-new display that helps satisfy any consumer-need state as they come into the store,” Jason Surratt, president, told FCNews. “Starting with value products at an entry price point if price is their need state, we have durable products with our Triton-Tuff and TruTex and inside the overall comfort story we have a brand new, really thick cushion-y product called First Class with some aesthetically pleasing patterns and innovative technologies.”

For Forbo, easing the selling process means giving RSAs eye-catching products that will draw consumers in and start a conversation. To help accomplish that, the company launched its new Marmoleum Cinch Loc Seal for the residential market, which features a new waterproof warranty and unique color options not often found in residential resilient products. In addition to being a waterproof, sustainable choice—Marmoleum is made of natural products—the line is available in a click format as well as interchangeable 12 x 12-inch squares and 12 x 36-inch planks to give homeowners a variety of ways to design their spaces.

“When you look at the palette of colors we have, you’re not going to see those colors in traditional LVT,” said Tim Donahue, U.S. national residential sales manager. “When the display sits on a showroom floor, the colors are going to grab people’s attention and create conversation, which helps the salesperson. And they don’t have to worry about selling a product to a homeowner that doesn’t fit every need in today’s market.”

Cali its revamped Windansea collection, which focuses on its West Coast style.

For Cali, the company’s California lifestyle branding and unique go-to-market strategy are designed to make it an easy sale for its trusted customers. “We think of Cali as a brand that’s in the flooring industry, not a flooring manufacturer that’s trying to sell flooring,” said Doug Jackson, president. “And so, from our perspective, the lengths of our planks, the widths of our planks, the textures on our planks, our edges and our colors make us so different. We’re excited about trying to make it simple and keep it simple. And our customers that know us, know what we’re good at and appreciate us for that.”

At the show, the company showcased its revamped Windansea collection, which focuses on its West Coast style. It features a deep color line, pressed edges and two lengths: 48 x 7 Low Tide, and 72 x 9 High Tide.

Creating a unique product in the resilient category is no easy feat, but suppliers like OneFlor USA are doing just that. The company recently unveiled its Cling Comfort with SetaGrip, which was designed to ease the hardship around  installation many flooring dealers are currently tackling—among other things. Its SetaGrip technology is a patented foam padding that is attached directly to the back of a flexible LVT plank or tile.

“What we like to say is, ‘It’s not your grandmother’s peel and stick,’” said Tiffany Davis, director of marketing. “It’s perfect for the residential market. You have retailers that have labor shortages; now, they can send their B or C team to install the product. It can be installed over existing floors, so they can save money there, too. Or, if they have cash- and-carry customers, they can opt to install it by themselves. And it’s waterproof with sound absorption.”

Premium product push

TDG’s Jamann Stepp stands next to TruCor’s behemoth Prime Pinnacle, a 12 x 90-inch WPC plank.

Due to the inundation of lower-quality rigid core products in the market, resilient suppliers have noted a push toward premium products that many say will drive the category in 2023. Those products include wider/longer WPC products as well as SPCs boasting attributes like thicker wear layers and advanced bevel technology.

“I think you’ve seen a little bit of softening in SPC—that is from some inferior-quality SPC that’s been pushed and dumped and sold into the U.S. market,” Jamann Stepp, vice president of hard surfaces, The Dixie Group, told FCNews. “And now the dealers across the country are kind of looking at it like, ‘What’s wrong with all this SPC?’ It’s not all SPC, but the [inferior-Quality products]. I think WPC will continue to hold its own and may even grow this year because people are still confident in WPC products—they’ve been in the market for a decade and still perform and have a perceived higher value.”

The Dixie Group supported the move toward WPC and wider/longer planks with its TruCOR Prime Pinnacle, a 12 x 90-inch WPC plank. “One of our top sellers in WPC is our 10 x 84-inch plank, so we said, ‘Hey, let’s one-up it,’” Stepp said. “Today’s floor plans are open, so you don’t have to have an 8,000-square-foot house to put down these massive 90-inch planks. You could do that in these vast, wide-open spaces. That’s a great perceived value. It’s been greatly received today, so I’m excited to see what it does.”

Shaw’s Rosato also noted a move toward WPC as a perceived premium product. At the show, Shaw Floors introduced wider/longer products with enhanced bevel technology. For example, its Floorté Classics line features a 9 x 72-inch WPC with the brand’s new Ascent Natural Bevel—what it considers the third generation of bevel technology. “What we’re finding with the lacquered bevel is it is really polarizing for consumers,” Rosato said. “They either love it because of the plank definition or they hate it because they think dirt and debris will get trapped in there. So, we really found that solution with the Ascent Natural Bevel where it looks just like a hardwood bevel.”

Mannington unveiled TumbledEdge technology, which provides an irregular hand-chiseled bevel look.

For Mannington, too, a premium resilient offering includes the evolution of the bevel. To that end, the company unveiled its new TumbledEdge technology, which provides an irregular hand-chiseled bevel look with a painted bevel to recreate grouted tile, providing a relaxed visual that complements traditional materials. The bevel technology was featured on the company’s new Rapolano, a travertine stone pattern with sporadic, natural, earth-colored mineral deposits with textural variation.

“We’re doubling down with our investment,” Sheehan stated. “This is going to be one of our biggest product launch years across all categories. We believe that when you run into an economy like this, the tendency is to pull back on your investment. We actually see it as an opportunity to gain share. We’re getting very aggressive. We’re going to lean in with new products and new technologies in order to try to get as much share as we can in that remodel business.”

Lions Floor is pushing premium via multiple product categories, including its SPC offering. “We see the residential market being focused on higher-quality, higher-end products in 2023,” said Jerry Guo, president. “People are focused on higher-quality SPC—larger profiles, larger planks, more aesthetically appealing and thicker.”

To meet that need, Lions Floor is introducing its Lone Star line to new markets. While it was originally only available in select states, the dealer-exclusive collections will now be available across its distribution network. “These products are 6 feet long, 9 inches wide with in-register embossing and [exclusive] colors—a sophisticated approach to making real wood-look designs,” Guo explained. “This represents the highest quality you can do in SPC.”

In addition, the company launched glue-down vinyl collections with the same features as the rigid core SPC line—including EIR, which is not often found in a glue-down construction.

CFL’s Novocore Q is a waterproof SPC that focuses on the company’s innovation in sound.

Thomas Baert, president, CFL, noted the category’s need to move beyond commodity-driven products, which will fuel premium in the coming year. “I think what is really going to make the big switch in 2023 is premium products,” he told FCNews. “We believe people have to move up in the pyramid of products, we cannot just all be stuck in commodity, and I think that’s what is going to be the big driver of 2023.”

CFL highlighted several premium resilient products at the show. NovocoreQ, a waterproof SPC, focuses on the company’s innovation in sound. The company’s NaturTrend finish focuses on bringing a true low-gloss finish to rigid core flooring via nitrogen infusion, which creates a very consistent ultra-matte look while keeping the sound deadening and scratch-resistant properties of the product line.

Casey Johnson, CEO of Happy Feet, said the failing SPC products in the market are turning retailers and consumers toward premium options like tried-and-tested WPC and even glue-down LVT. “Everyone knows there’s a lot of cheap SPC in the marketplace that’s failing, so now we’re seeing builders want glue-down or loose lay,” he explained. “They also know that WPC is very stable, so we’re seeing a big move back toward a thicker WPC. Right now, we’ve invested in WPC and loose lay. We think that’s where it’s going, so we’re prepared for it. We’re not going to run away from SPC, but we’re not going to do 2- and 3-inch thicknesses. We’re going thicker.”

At the show, Happy Feet highlighted its Pinnacle line, a 12mm WPC available in 12 colors.

BHW, previously Bamboo Hardwood, is also focusing on new constructions when it comes to its resilient product lineup. “We’re introducing a new luxury SPC this year that uses a different technology,” explained Jason Grant, vice president. “The technology takes the concept of WPC but the durability and the stability of SPC and combines it. And we’re able to do a pressed edge, which is definitely a different look from what the micro bevel or the painted bevel was. We’re focusing a lot of innovation in those types of products.”

The company’s new SPC products also feature its new Illuminary Plus finishes, which are anti-scratch and enhance durability.

Wellmade also looked to create a kind of hybrid technology in order to meet market needs. At the show, the company unveiled its new HDPC rigid core glue-down product designed for the multi-family space. “One thing that is occurring in the MF space is they’re using more and more pad installations for sound, so it’s become very expensive,” explained Dick Quinlan, VP of sales and marketing. “We’ve created a rigid core, pad-attached product that can be glued down, but it wasn’t so simple. We designed a new connection system that allowed the product to go down simply and with a waterproof seal. This is superior to the soft vinyl product—it’s more stable, harder and will save the contractor a lot of time and money.”

For Bella Flooring Group, premium is the name of the game. “We made a very conscious decision when we started the company five years ago to only use premium everything,” said Paul Dominie, president. “So, when people say, ‘Why aren’t you the cheapest?’ We’ve strategically put in the premium cores, premium pad, HD films.” For Bella, glue-down constructions—especially on the commercial side of the business—have risen in popularity. “To me what’s so funny is a lot of people exited the glue-down market because SPC was so hot,” Dominie said. “And now a lot of companies are trying to circle back and get back into that business. Whereas we’ve been in it from the beginning.”

Bella’s new commercial-light Vista line is a 3mm, 30-mil, anti-microbial product that’s sized at 7 x 48 and comes with a coordinating SPC.

The move toward premium suited Pelican Creations Home, too, as it ramped up its CushionTech line, which launched last year. “Everybody offers SPC—SPC turned into what laminate had turned into,” Choi noted. “It was like, ‘How low can you go with pricing?’ It’s the bottom of the barrel, and we didn’t want to swim in the bottom of the barrel. CushionTech is primarily a beefed-up version of [Unilin’s] Comfort Core technology, where we’ve increased the SPC thickness and the layered pad thickness. It can withstand more rigorous movement. The real reason we even conceptualized this idea from the beginning was that the flooring market is flooded with SPC. We want people to purchase product based on the merits of the flooring rather than just visuals and price.”

For Lux Flooring, offering a premium product also meant upping the thickness of the product to withstand today’s active home. At the show, the company unveiled its Royal Oaks line, which boasts an 8mm overall thickness, in a 22-mil, embossed-in-register SPC touting 20-30 repeats.

“We’re really proud of this,” said Jesse Woodrow, CEO. “It took us about eight months of trial and error and then another four months just to bring everything in. And we’re really excited about this 8mm overall thickness for the Southern California market, which is a big deal. And it is a big deal because there’s been a lot of issues in that market [with inferior, thin SPC products].”

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