With summer days delightfully long and invitations to pool parties pouring in, more homeowners put their focus on making a splash with outdoor spaces. Independent flooring retailers have a major opportunity to expand market share by adding collections intended for the outdoors—including tile, stone and decking. In fact, demand for hardscape products are projected to rise 7.3% per year through 2019 reaching $2.9 billion, according to MSI, the surfacing products supplier based in Orange, Calif.
Homeowners’ movement to the outdoors isn’t a new one. Faith Popcorn, futurist and author, first coined the term “cocooning” in 1981, referring to the impulse to stay inside one’s home, insulated from danger. Post 9/11, this trend strengthened with people focusing more on their homes and a drive towards larger homes or “McMansions”.
“With the financial crisis and Great Recession in 2008, people spent more time at home, watching movies and cable, playing video games and cooking meals,” said Prashant Panchal, senior merchant, MSI. “They did things that were affordable. Now, even with the economy improving, people find that they enjoy staying at home. They binge watch movies, have food delivered and shop online from the comfort of their couch. They’ve put in their media centers with large TVs and surround sound and are now wanting to expand to the outdoors.”
This expansion usually means homeowners are building out backyards to feel as comfortable as they do on the inside of their homes, so they’re putting in hardscaping, fire pits, and outdoor furniture that would be worthy of being in the living room.
Driving Forces in Hardscape
- Trend toward outdoor living spaces
- Improving economy
- Strong rebound in housing
- Accelerated growth of disposable income
- Recovery in construction
- Growth in non-building markets
While the porcelain paver market is growing, there hasn’t yet been a major focus among manufacturers and distributors to promote porcelain pavers through independent flooring retailers. Del Conca USA established itself as experts in this market with its due2 brand. Due2 is a 20-millimeter-thick porcelain paver that offers hard-wearing, anti-slip, weather-resistant capabilities. Del Conca USA offers corresponding or compatible porcelain tiles made in standard thickness that can create seamless indoor-outdoor spaces.
“According to our research, creation of outdoor living spaces is one of the biggest trends in home ownership for 2018, said Doug Hayes, vice president of sales, Florida Tile. “The AIA’s Home Design Trends Survey from 2017 showed that outdoor living spaces were continuing to trend up with an increase from 58% seeing that request in 2016 to 70% in 2017.”
In response, Florida Tile recently introduced Thicker, a collection of ultra-thick porcelain tiles suitable for any outdoor flooring application. Hayes said the market timing is right for this product for a variety of reasons: “It is really two-fold. First is the improvement in technology to make a thicker, incredibly durable outdoor paver. We now produce a product that has a density, resistance to elements, and superior load/breaking strength that far out-performs other paver options. Add to that the aesthetic benefit of our HDP—High Definition Porcelain graphics—that give our porcelain pavers the look of natural materials like wood or stone. Based on the reception we have received since our soft launch of the product earlier this year, we think this demand will stay solid for a while.”
In the eye of the consumer, there is no quality or brand differential in retail yet for porcelain pavers, according to Panchal. He said there is an opportunity for brands to stand out in the market by providing more informative displays and strategic marketing efforts through the contractors and architects who work with homeowners on outdoor projects. “There’s no reason for the consumer to ask for a brand,” he said. “Decisions are based on preferences in color, style, use and price.”
The company is hoping to change that with its recent launch of Arterra, a collection of modern pavers offered in two dozen colors. In a variety of looks and formats, ranging from 12x24’’, 12x48’’, and 24x24’’ pavers to patterns and coordinating pool copings, Arterra can be used for a variety of projects ranging from decks and walkways to driveways and hospitality areas. The collection has indoor options available that create seamless transitions between indoors and outdoors.
To successfully sell porcelain pavers, Hayes suggests that retailers install outdoor themed vignettes to expose their clients to “outside” living spaces and inform them on how pavers can create a better choice than traditional concrete and brick pavers. “Include things like patio furniture, and a barbeque grill, and perhaps install the product on their own walkways into their store,” he noted.
Panchal of MSI noted that it is important for retailers to create a network of professionals who work with consumers on outdoor spaces. “The importance of the entity that touches the customer cannot be overstated, and that’s why it’s important to sell hard and consistently to landscapers and architects,” he added.
Leaders at Cali Bamboo, an omnichannel supplier of flooring and decking, said they have built a successful decking through Lowe’s home improvement stores, and they are seeing an increased number of independent flooring dealers getting into the product category.
“For a long time, dealers were challenged finding new revenue streams,” said Doug Jackson, CEO of Cali Bamboo. “They would try cabinets and other things, and this is a real natural. The key is to have a good decking contractor to do the installation. Our positioning is ‘Your floor outdoors,’ and it’s a natural extension for a flooring dealer to offer decking.”
The Cali decking product TruOrganics front runs with a green story. The product is made of 60% recycled wood fibers and 40% high density plastics, so no trees were harmed in its creation.
“Decking is an interesting buyer,” Jackson said. “Flooring buyers will tend to it within a six-month period or shorter. Decking is one of those projects where the owner questions ‘Can I get one more year out of it?’ We will get decking leads and a year later and then they are ready to do the project.”
Norberto Rivera, owner of LaValle Flooring in Valley City, N.D., added decking earlier this year. “We envision supplying a few local builders as they’ve liked our Cali Vinyl Pro products for their spec homes,” Rivera said.