Richard French recently joined Mannington Commercial as its new president and has big goals for the company in 2023.  

A veteran of the floor covering industry his entire career, French was most recently the senior vice president and chief commercial officer at Bentley Mills. Before joining Bentley Mills, French spent more than 20 years at Interface serving in a variety of leadership roles before becoming the company’s vice president of sales for the Americas. French began his career at Milliken.    

Floor Trends had the opportunity to learn about his goals for next year and his outlook for the commercial business. 

Floor Trends: What's your focus for 2023? 

Richard French: I don't know if you heard, but Antron exited the nylon business. We feel like we're at a spot where we can put that behind us in a couple of key areas. One is new product development. We'll concentrate on new product development and carpet in '23. Quite frankly, that disruption also trickled down into our customer experience. When you're re-promising and revising, we put a lot of pressure on our customer service teams and our mill associates. We're going back to an industry-leading place around customer experience.  Part of that is mill visits, and we're finally seeing people who want to get on a plane and come visit and come see an LVT plant or a carpet plant. We're excited to hopefully host a lot of customers in '23.

Floor Trends: How has your shift from Antron affected product development? 

French: It was difficult for the industry, and we went about it in different ways. We're still a big believer in the Nylon 6,6 platform, and we've continued to go forward with that. We've converted the styles that were in the line from Antron to another supplier, and we're really excited about cranking up new product development and letting our design team take their handcuffs off—letting them go crazy and have some fun and be creative and do what they're great at. Matching color from one supplier to the other suppliers—that's not why any of them went to school. It's not why they go to work every day. So letting them really be designers again, it's fantastic.

Floor Trends: It seems like post pandemic more people want color? 

French: Gray is always still the number one seller, but people are having fun. People are coming back to the office with a different view of the office. We're seeing color used in different ways. Not necessarily giant swaths of saturated color, but peek-a-boo color in smaller percentages. We're seeing a little bit of a residential influence to the workplace, a little bit of hospitality to the workplace. It's probably a really fun time to be a designer.

Floor Trends: What's your outlook for workplace? 

French: You'll see the hybrid model continue to morph and solidify over '23. I'm not a believer that just because there's a hybrid workforce that companies are just going to immediately shed 25% of their real estate. There was such a rush over the past decade to squeeze the corporate offices amount of square footage per employee. I think you'll see that reverse a little bit, and it'll just be a different way that real estate's used versus just being a place somebody comes down and throws their laptop. As people work from home more, it puts such an emphasis on the fact that when they do come to office, they really need to collaborate and they really need to be together. I don't see the workplace as being doom and gloom.

We're still seeing more and more soft surface being converted to hard surface, but I would tell you that just like in 2020 when all the commercial real estate companies were putting out their future of the workplace, the minute it was published, it was wrong. I still think we're not a hundred percent sure what the corporate office future looks like. 

Floor Trends: What's your general business outlook for 2023? 

French: We are in the bucket of cautious optimism. Our business is heavily weighted to healthcare, education, and in the workplace. And there's no such thing as recession proof, right? We feel like it's a pipeline in education and healthcare, and we're seeing hospitality, we're seeing multifamily and some of the other segments come along a little bit. We are very cautiously optimistic. Our hope is that we as a country will not talk ourselves into a recession. 

You look at some of the indicators, the AIA billings index is short-term positive. Mid-term, it gets a little more questioning. The CEO positivity index is a little negative. When you talk to CBRE, Jones Lang LaSalle [JLL], they have different factors they look at that are pointing in different directions. There is not a clear indicator positive or negative, but we're pretty optimistic.