So what happened?
Those in the category say they awoke one day to find it is no longer enough for rubber and vinyl floors to be durable, versatile and environmentally friendly. Companies competing in the category say the ever-increasing popularity of hardwood, ceramic, stone and other types of flooring has compelled them to expand their horizons. In the process, resilient flooring makers have harnessed technology to yield product that is focused as much on fashion as function.
"There was a time when if you were talking about cutting-edge flooring, resilient would not be top of mind," says Mark Brown, Tarkett's director of residential products. "The history of resilient was that it was shiny and white. That is the vinyl flooring of yesterday. But wood has been like a rocketship and stone is claiming more ground. Resilient has been losing share over the last two years."
The scenario has forced resilient manufacturers to step up and fight back on a number of fronts. Perhaps most notably, the "look" (textiles, gloss levels, colors and designs) has been upgraded significantly. Manufacturers in the category are working to position today's resilient selection as far more sophisticated than the drab and ho-hum image it has acquired over the years. There is also more talk about ease of installation. While resilient is typically not a do-it- yourself job, manufacturers are stressing that the category is still much quicker and easier that other flooring segments.
In short, manufacturers say they are constantly trying to better themselves. For example Centiva this fall is introducing a new series called Contour, which is engineered to improve on its two other resilient flooring lines, Victory and Event. The new series is produced with a fiberglass mesh backing that gives it an added measure of durability. "This is something that you can put down there for a long, long time," comments Amanda Teyeb, marketing coordinator for Centiva.
For its part, Tarkett has also attempted to build a new platform for its resilient lines. According to Brown, the company has held its own mainly on the strength of FiberFloor at a time when the resilient category has been struggling. It is described as "a hybrid product" that offers the comfort of carpet and "ease of maintenance" of resilient flooring.
Of course the range of options now available can be daunting even for those working in the category.
"If I was a consumer I'd be a little confused," admits Joe Amato, Mannington Mills vp of residential styling. "There are so many looks, so many options. But that is the idea. We want to offer choice. That's why we make all types of flooring. Whatever suits your lifestyle. We don't treat resilient any different from other floor types. That means more colors and more selections.
While Amato notes that the resilient category has seen little overall growth over the past two years, he notes that Mannington "Realistique" has remained popular because it so closely resembles more expensive floor types. Also, the company in 1997 introduced NatureForm and last year enhanced it further with NatureForm Optix to reflect technology that renders authentic looking floors.
While many of the enhancements in the resilient market have involved textures, gloss levels and patterns, one of the biggest shifts has involved color. Specifically, consumers have demonstrated a willingness to use bold and unorthodox shades throughout the house.
"We have 120 colors to choose from in our sheet product and 30 in our tile products," explains Piera Marotto, residential marketing manager for Forbo Flooring. "Some say this can be confusing but we feel the opposite. This gives the consumer more options. They can really play with color. That's why you will see a bright red kitchen." She adds that much of the company's focus has been on its Marmoleum, which is marketed as a hard surface solution that is durable, bacteria resistant, easy to install-and fashion-oriented.
The bacteria-resistant qualities found in Marmoleum also illustrate that resilient flooring is usually selected for qualities that go well beyond looks. Products that earn Leadership in Environmentally Engineered Design (LEED) credits remain an important consideration for the category. Also resilient textures are a consideration. Whether it is smooth textures that make it easier to roll items around or surfaces designed to be non-slip, the resilient manufacturing process is more accommodating to such demands.
"Environmental considerations are always important when you are talking about resilient flooring," says Ashley Gassaway, marketing coordinator for Flexco. "Resilient can give you a type of look you want but it can also address a number of other issues like safety and environment. This is why it is such a versatile flooring surface."