Results of the just-completed 2002National Floor Trends'Vinyl Flooring Market Study point to the continued strength of the segment.

Eighty percent of survey respondents expect vinyl floor covering sales in 2002 to increase or stay the same compared to 2001. In our 2001 study, just 77 percent of participating retailers/contractors felt that vinyl sales would expand or at least hold their ground over the coming year.

For the second straight year, the top-selling brand of vinyl floor covering by sales volume is Mannington, followed by Armstrong. Mannington and Armstrong are ahead of the pack with 36 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

Congoleum, which improved its standing by 4 percent compared to our 2001 study, is in third place with 16 percent; followed by Domco, 8 percent; Tarkett, 5 percent; Amtico, 2 percent; Nafco, 1 percent; and others -- including Allied Tile, Altro, Gemtec and Toli -- accounted for a combined total of 2 percent. (See "Top Selling Brand" chart.)

Our vinyl flooring findings are based on responses from a representative cross-section of the dealer/ contractor segment of NFT's subscriber base. The study was designed and conducted by the market research staff of Business News Publishing Co., in conjunction with the editorial staff of NFT. 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 25 percent response rate.

Our survey respondents also identified their second best-selling vinyl floor covering brand. Our tally yielded the following results: Armstrong, 31 percent; Mannington, 23 percent; Congoleum, 19 percent; Tarkett, 11 percent; Domco, 11 percent; Azrock, 2 percent; Nafco, 1 percent; and Amtico, Flexco, Forbo, LDBrinkman Vinyl Tile, and Parterre together represented 2 percent of the total.

Installation/qualified installers, price, and competition from laminate and other flooring alternatives were identified by survey participants as the most serious issues facing the vinyl floor covering industry today. Vinyl floor covering remains a profitable alternative to other floor covering products (compared to ceramic, wood or laminate floors) as its acceptance grew by 1 percent. Concerns about quality installation, indentations, eroding margins, and maintenance are limiting vinyl from being more accepted as profitable alternatives to other flooring products.

The top qualitative comments we received in the survey to explainMannington'spopularity were "style," "patterns" and "selection." ForArmstrong,the top comments were: name recognition; inlaid construction; ToughGuard; and quality.

Floor covering retailers and contractors ranked product quality as the most important attribute in determining whether to sell/promote a brand/manufacturer of vinyl floor covering. Following, in descending order, were product design and styling; distributor service/support; price; customer request; ease of installation/maintenance; sales representatives; merchandising support; technical support; training; incentive plans; and rebates. (See "Attributes" chart 2.)

Sixty-one percent of dealers say they are seeing their vinyl business impacted negatively due to other flooring types. Other impacts on the product segment were identified as: increasing competition from other flooring channels, 47 percent; eroding profit margins, 45 percent; increasing numbers of big-box channels, 39 percent; consolidation of retailers and manufacturers, 31 percent; and consumer brand switching, 11 percent. (Multiple responses were allowed.)

And looking ahead over the next two years, the biggest challenges for vinyl floor covering manufacturers will be (multiple responses allowed): alternative hard surface flooring, 69 percent; product innovation, 42 percent; installation services, 36 percent; and ability to meet consumer demands, 16 percent.

Editor's Note: National Floor Trends commissioned another in our ongoing series of market studies to help retailers/contractors enhance the success and profitability of their businesses. Identifying current product/sales trends and projecting the industry's future direction, is imperative to making strategic decisions that ensure growth and prosperity. The complete vinyl flooring survey is available for $225 each or $195 each per multiple copies.

Topics covered include: Vinyl Floor Covering as a Profitable Flooring Alternative to ceramic, wood or laminate floors; Customers Look at Vinyl Floor Covering; Average Number of Vinyl Sales per month; Floor Space Devoted to Vinyl Floor Covering Products; Frequency of Recommending Vinyl Floor Covering; Customers' Response to Vinyl Floor Covering; Vinyl Floor Covering Perception; Ranked Attributes of Vinyl Floor Covering Brands/Manufacturers; How salespeople recommend Vinyl Floor Covering; Expectations for Vinyl Floor Covering Sales in 2002; and more.