Why are flooring suppliers bullish about growth prospects for Main Street when most economic indicators convey uncertainty? To understand the reasons, one must go beyond the numbers to tell the whole story.
“There have been concerns about higher inflation and rising interest rates within the lending industry over the past year,” noted Glenn King, vice president sales, Southeast region, Stanton Carpet. “However, the American consumer continues to spend. This has led to smaller, Main Street businesses trying to expand their labor force to accommodate this trend.”
Main Street remains an important driver for flooring dealers and contractors, a market representing approximately 30% of commercial sales, according to Floor Covering News research. Many expanded into this segment during the pandemic to diversify their businesses. “We’re seeing a lot more of our customer base invest more time and resources in going after the commercial Main Street segment,” said Fred Reitz, vice president of commercial, AHF Products. “We’ve had a lot more requests for architectural binders and commercial products.”
Renovation and new construction work are rampant on Main Street, industry observers say, especially for supporting revitalization projects in small towns. “We’re seeing old, historic buildings being renovated and many people going back to restaurants,” said Robb Myer, vice president of Aladdin Commercial. “It’s hard to pinpoint growth numbers because there are so many product groupings or category growth between soft and hard surfaces.”
While the commercial market experiences the same economic conditions affecting the residential sector (i.e., inflationary pressures, rising interest rates, labor shortages and supply chain disruptions) there are trends on Main Street softening the blow. For example, retail stores are undergoing face-lifts to create inviting and comfortable shopping environments to attract more people. “Businesses are looking at how they can make an impact statement at the front of their space and in the back,” Myer added. “We have that offering from broadloom, carpet tile and hard surfaces.”
It’s not just retail projects that are under way. Renovations at K-12 schools are projected to take off, stimulated, in part, by untapped congressionally allocated COVID-19 relief funds. “Private primary/secondary schools and higher-education use carpet and carpet tile to offer warmth, noise reduction and in damp climate environments reduce slip-fall concerns,” Stanton’s King said. “The ease of use of carpet tile is also a main decision driver in an education environment.”
Influential design trends
As brick-and-mortar stores attempt to lure in shoppers, the influence of residential and hospitality interior design trends is increasingly evident. “The desire to have a residential/warm design with commercial durability, at a value, is front of mind for most Main Street commercial customers,” Stanton’s King explained. “They want to have a welcoming and warm feeling in their office settings, a sense of calm in their healthcare and hospitality environments with overall durability, so they realize a true return on their investment.”
Vendors are responding by introducing colors and styles that align with these preferences. “There is warmth in the color palette coming out of COVID-19,” said Yon Hinkle, vice president of product management – resilient, AHF Products. “From an overall standpoint, floor patterns are less rustic and more ‘homey’ looking. Commercial spaces continue to look more residential, comfortable and inviting.”
Others, including Aladdin’s Myer, are seeing a lot more vivid colors, such as specific types of oranges like terracotta. “There are more floors featuring yellow and green colors. We are also seeing a cooling of gray colors and a slight toning down of browns.”
There is a segment looking to blur the line between residential aesthetics and commercial functionality. “Designers are asking more performance-related questions, such as how new visuals and bold textures will hold up over the years,” AHF Product’s Reitz said. “They want high style, low maintenance and high-performance products.”
For instance, designers want styles that combine the warmth and texture of carpet with the durability of hard surfaces. “Businesses are wanting to get the most value for their dollar while making sure their selection lasts for years,” Eric Ruppert, director of product marketing, Engineered Floors, pointed out.
Hard surfaces, led by LVT, ceramic tile, hardwood and polished concrete, cater to the diverse needs of specifiers, combining style, functionality and resilience to withstand heavy foot traffic. “LVT is outpacing all categories in growth,” noted David Sheehan, SVP – residential product, Mannington. “While we continue to see inroads with rigid products in this segment, the vast majority of all LVT sales remain in glue-down applications over concerns with click systems and high-traffic areas.”
While VCT and rubber are found in many public areas, wood and carpet tile are often specified for high-end retail spaces on Main Street. “Engineered hardwood is still being specified in certain types of Main Street applications, such as retail spaces and restaurants,” AHF Products’ Reitz noted.
Carpet is prominent in certain applications, such as home offices, healthcare, hospitality and retail spaces. “Businesses are also looking for flooring that is comfortable for their employees and customers,” EFs’ Ruppert noted. “This is leading to increased interest in modular carpet products as well as resilient flooring options that provide different aesthetics for different spaces.”
While color and design are major selling points, equally important is the sustainability factor. This trend is driving a shift toward flooring choices featuring eco-friendly materials that contribute to a building’s carbon footprint and healthier indoor environment. “Many soft and hard surfaces are made from sustainable materials, such as recycled content,” Ruppert said. “These materials have a lower environmental impact than traditional raw materials.”
Main Street businesses are prioritizing products made from renewable resources and recycled content while providing low-VOC options, aligning flooring decisions with environmental values.
“Adding the Armstrong Flooring brand last year brought in several domestic manufacturing facilities with LVT, VCT and sheet vinyl,” AHF Products’ Hinkle said. “With those plants, there are lots of initiatives around energy use, water consumption and yield improvements, so less waste is going into landfills.”
The mills have taken a stance on environmental responsibility and continue to develop innovative systems to create products made from responsible materials, ensuring viable options for reclamation, recycling and reuse. For example, Philadelphia Commercial’s 20-plus year commitment to Cradle to Cradle design ensures it keeps a keen focus on designing products and solutions that support both people and the planet. “Almost 90% of the products Shaw manufactures are Cradle to Cradle Certified,” explained said Kurt Paulson, vice president, Main Street Commercial at Shaw. “Meaning they have met the stringent requirements for material health, product circularity, clean air and climate protection, water and soil stewardship and social fairness.”
Aladdin is introducing a new solution-dyed carpet featuring recycled content in the fiber and backing.
All Mannington on Main products are low VOC, FloorScore certified for good indoor air quality and recyclable. As Sheehan noted: “Mannington on Main products are durable and can last for many years, which means they have a lower environmental impact over their lifetime.”