As most flooring retailers know, winter traditionally brings with it a slowdown in business. Yet, in terms of the industry's new product, color, styling, and design introductions, it might also be considered the dark before the dawn.
With regard to residential resilient flooring, 2002 looks to be a banner year for cutting-edge, innovative products - products specifically developed to reclaim market share lost to the recent rise of ceramic, wood and laminate flooring.
During a recent visit to the Midwest, I spoke with a variety of large residential flooring retailers who were quick to point out that recent resilient sales have been off approximately 50% to 75%. Even though their geographic market has traditionally been strong for resilient flooring, these retailers have seen a majority of their sales gravitate to the aforementioned product alternatives.
But curious retailers who made the pilgrimage to Surfaces 2002 in Las Vegas got firsthand confirmation that this year's resilient offerings are not only the segment's latest but, arguably, its greatest array of products to come on stream in some time.
Faced with the dilemma of competing head-to-head with other resilient manufacturers, as well as with suppliers of ceramic, wood, laminate, stone, and marble, the industry's resilient leaders have drawn a line in the sand and hit this year's market with possibly the most stimulating, chic offerings - ranging of old world treasures and cosmopolitan trend setters using a variety of techniques, technologies and color combinations to create realism, colors and patterns - the flooring world has ever before seen.
In fact, the residential market has become so enticing that many resilient manufacturers that had previously focused exclusively on the commercial arena have now plunged into the residential side of the business in hopes of tapping into a mother lode of sales.
This article by no means covers all of the new resilient products out for 2002, but I hope it gives you a feel for where the product category is heading. If I've neglected to mention a product of particular interest to you, I urge you to call your local manufacturer representative for the full details.
It's been said that what goes around comes around. Linoleum - a classic flooring product with a natural beauty of renewable raw materials that is soft, comfortable, sound absorbing, and long lasting - is a case in point.
The product really hasn't been used residentially since Armstrong, among other suppliers, ceased its production in 1974. With the consumer's ever-increasing awareness and demand for flooring products that are environmentally friendly and conducive to the health and well-being of people, both Armstrong Residential Flooring and Forbo Linoleum Inc. raced to the residential market with their new residential linoleum programs.
In doing so, Armstrong leveraged the company's September 1998 acquisition of DLW Aktiengesellschaft of Germany. The firm, which was subsequently renamed Armstrong DLW AG, in 2000 launched a reborn line of linoleum sheet and tile targeted primarily at the commercial market. But now for 2002, the company has set its sights on the U.S. residential market with its fashion-driven Marmorette flooring for the home.
Marmorette is available in an variety of vivid colors and hues, delicately blended into marbled color gradations that boast international and contemporary designs. With an array of 16 colors ranging from saturated colors to subtle neutrals, Marmorette lends itself to an endless rainbow of creative possibilities.
Forbo Linoleum announced in December that the company will support its launch of Marmoleum for residential use with a new, exciting, and seriously fun campaign. Forbo, which has been well respected in the U.S. commercial market, is positioning Marmoleum as a viable and exciting flooring option for homeowners - particularly those with allergies, asthma or other respiratory disorders. The line's 155 colors allow for individual customization. End users can juxtapose unique combinations for borders and insets, or opt for a modest design to capture timeless simplicity.
New innovations in vinyl
Mannington, on the other hand, has introduced NatureForm Textures, the next generation of its NatureForm line. Textures was developed to deliver a more realistic resilient depiction of slate, ceramic, sandstone, limestone, and even metal.
NatureForm Textures, featuring patent-pending proprietary technology, is available in two new resilient patterns in the NatureScape Collection. Shenandoah mimics European limestone in 12-inch pavers with shaded, textured grout. Even the untrained eye is likely to be captivated by the floor's textured pockmarks, mineral striations and reflective crystallization deposits. Cozumel combines three different tile surfaces - Jerusalem stone, pitted limestone and painted ceramic tile - with a gritty grout in a modular design for an broad range of surfaces that look strikingly like the natural products they seek to emulate.
Domco Tarkett's residential flooring group has charged into the market with its new TruTex Innovative Surfacing. TruTex encompasses two distinct new product lines that, the company claims, have the most realistic natural textures in the industry.
Domco Vintage and Tarkett Contours offer impressive realism that combines the look of textured grout, glazed ceramic tile, quarry stone, tumbled marble, or granite with all the inherent qualities of resilient, including durability, lower installation costs, low maintenance, with permanent under-foot comfort at a great value.
Armstrong seems determined to redefine color and design industry leadership with its Urban Settings introduction. Described as a sophisticated, modern collection of resilient floors not available from any other vinyl sheet manufacturer, the collection includes two patterns - Raku and Kyoto - that were inspired by Japanese color and design. Both feature woven textile looks.
The company's bold Crocodile pattern features the raised texture of reptilian scales, but the handcrafted appearance of the vinyl is unexpected. It looks and feels rich and luxurious. The styling of Earthen Textures feeds off materials like stucco and concrete, with unusual textures and vibrant tone-on-tone coloring to emulate the natural nuances common to those materials.
Toli International, best known for their high quality films and embossed product surfaces, has transformed vinyl flooring into incredible replicas of natural stone and wood in endless combinations. Long a leader in health care specification, Toli now hopes to extend its commercial success to the residential arena. Its strategy is to use the same warmth of wood tones and faux stones to create a classic elegance through a myriad of novel pattern variations.
Other players roll out their latest
During Surfaces, Swiff-Train Co. unveiled the newest colors and styles in its Winton Tile line, and also debuted its Wood Classic Vinyl Plank by EarthWerks.
The Winton line added new colors in Venetian Stone Vinyl Tile, the Aberdeen Vinyl Plank Collection and the new Natural Vinyl Plank Collection. The EarthWerks Wood Classic, a registered embossed vinyl plank, was styled for extreme realism. Also introduced under the Earthwerks brand were Metallic Vinyl Tile and Conductive Tile.
Centiva's newest floor tile, C-Tech, was styled to look "out of this world." The product, which is available in 18-inch-square format with a granite surface, replicates the look of a lunar terrain in five different colorations, ranging from purple ice to mint metallic green.
C-Tech utilizes an intricate design process consisting of crushed pieces of aluminum-like material fused together with a .30-mil commercial wear layer. This process adds visual depth while still allowing for easy maintenance, the company says.
At Congoleum's exhibit at Surfaces, quite a buzz was generated by the company's launch of the new Utopia sheet vinyl line. Available in nine designs and 42 colorations, Utopia features a 15-mil Scuff-Tuff natural gloss urethane wear surface (which is significantly thicker than many competing products) and Congoleum's ArmorGuard construction for enhanced tear and gouge resistance. In addition, mechanical embossing technology was applied to the Utopia line to produce a highly realistic surface texture.
Certainly, no discussion of resilient flooring products is complete without a nod to wall base. Johnsonite brings to the market for 2002 two new rubber wall base lines: Millwork, a contoured product that emulates the look of milled wood; and Wall Art, which incorporates a variety of patterned design options including he looks of wood, stone and metal. Millwork is available in more than 100 colors and finishes. Wall Art features an impregnated - not laminated - pattern and is available in pre-manufactured inside and outside corners.
As you can see by the product releases for 2002, this will be an interesting year for resilient manufacturers as they begin in earnest to try to capture a greater market share. The changes and innovations the segment has advanced this year are radical, to say the least.