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Few product sectors in the floor covering industry are as stable as the vinyl segment, according to three years of data compiled through exclusive research commissioned byNational Floor Trends.Our just-released 2003 Vinyl Flooring Market Study confirms many of the projections and findings that emerged in the last two annual surveys of flooring retailers who handle the products.

Measured against the benchmarks set in the 2001 and 2002 editions of the study, little has changed in the U.S. vinyl flooring marketplace. The vast majority of dealers still consider vinyl floor covering a profitable alternative to ceramic, wood and laminate products. Seventy-four percent of this year's respondents characterized vinyl as such -- an incremental increase over the 72 percent and 71 percent who said vinyl was a profitable alternative in the 2002 and 2001 studies, respectively.

Likewise, dealers' reported vinyl sales volume has remained virtually unchanged over the past three years. In 2002, our survey determined that participating dealers logged a median 11 vinyl floor sales per month. This year, that median dropped slightly to 10 sales on a monthly basis, a figure identical to the results of our first vinyl survey in 2001.

In terms of the overall flooring pie, sheet vinyl, with a 14 percent market share, remains the No. 2 seller behind the 50 percent share commanded by carpet/area rugs (chart 1). According to all three of our annual surveys, vinyl tile has steadfastly maintained a 5 percent market share.

One survey category that did show interesting change was that of top-selling brand. As in our previous two surveys, 2003’s three best sellers, in descending order, remain Mannington, Armstrong and Congoleum (chart 2).

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However, Congoleum has steadily gained on the leaders and this year was identified as top seller by 23 percent of respondents. In 2002 and 2001, respectively, Congoleum was named best seller by 16 percent and 12 percent of respondents. Though not directly addressed in the survey, it might be reasonable to assume that Congoleum's gains have been fueled by the success of its Ultima product line and strategic partnership with Mohawk Industries.

As for the future, most dealers expect 2003 vinyl floor sales to remain the same but fewer than ever before expect decreased vinyl sales. In 2001, 53 percent projected that sales would remain the same and 23 percent expected a decrease. In 2002, 55 percent thought sales would remain static and 20 percent anticipated a decrease. This year, only 17 percent projected decreased vinyl sales and 61 percent felt sales would remain the same.

When questioned about how their customers respond to vinyl flooring, dealer responses indicated that fewer consumers than ever before view the product in a negative light and more consumers than indicated in previous surveys now react to vinyl flooring in a very positive way (chart 3).

If consumer complaints are a gauge of overall vinyl floor quality, the segment appears to be improving. In 2002, 25 percent of dealers said vinyl was more often the subject of complaint compared to 10 percent who said it was less often the cause of customer complaint. This year, only 14 percent of dealers said it was more often the basis for complaints and 15 percent said it was less often the subject of complaint (chart 4).

Overall, dealers participating in our 2003 survey said their customers perceive vinyl's characteristics as rather average. Sixty-three percent said their customers rate vinyl’s durability as average, 56 percent characterized its maintenance needs as average, 58 percent viewed its pricing as average, 70 percent felt the product is of average quality, and 55 percent said its selection/styling is average.

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Improving consumer perceptions of vinyl may require a multi-pronged approach. When asked to identify the biggest challenges facing vinyl flooring manufacturers over the next two years, 70 percent of dealers indicated the popularity of alternative hard-surface floor coverings must be addressed. Fifty percent felt that product innovation is vinyl producers’ top challenge, while 29 percent felt that installation services are in need of greater attention.

These are just a few highlights of our 2003 Vinyl Market Trends Study. The complete, unabridged report is available for $225 each or $195 each for multiple copies.

Editor's Note: National Floor Trends commissioned another in our ongoing series of market studies to help flooring retailers and contractors enhance the success and profitability of their businesses. Identifying current product and sales trends, and projecting the industry's future direction, is vital to making strategic decisions that ensure growth and prosperity.

Our 2003 Vinyl Flooring Market Study is based on responses from a representative cross-section of flooring retailers and distributors. The study was conducted by the market research department of Business News Publishing Co. in conjunction with the NFT editorial staff. A sample of 1,500 active, qualified floor covering dealers/contractors was selected on an Nth name basis from the domestic circulation list of NFT subscribers. The study had a 22 percent response rate.

Topics addressed include: the number of vinyl floor sales per month per retailer; types of floor coverings sold currently and projected 18 months into the future; percentage of floor space devoted to vinyl products; frequency with which dealers recommend vinyl flooring; customers’ response to vinyl floor coverings; the frequency of vinyl floor consumer complaints; customer perceptions of vinyl flooring characteristics; top and No. 2 best-selling vinyl flooring brands; ranking of 12 different attributes that affect dealers’ decision to sell/promote a particular vinyl floor brand/manufacturer; issues that currently impact dealers’ vinyl flooring business; biggest challenges facing vinyl manufacturers over the next two years; dealer expectations for vinyl flooring sales in 2003; and more.