Even so, while those and other factors have contributed to the health of the resilient market, those involved in the business say the real catalyst for growth is the same as it has always been: mimicry. Manufacturers continue to produce sheet vinyl and even rubber flooring that closely resembles natural materials that have a much higher price tag and require more maintenance. At the recent Surfaces show, show-goers could be spotted running their fingers across the newest resilient introductions in an apparent effort to confirm that the exhibitor did not mix in some real wood or ceramic tile or stone.
Not surprisingly, resilient manufacturers took this as a very encouraging sign.
"Today's resilient flooring is not the shiny happy vinyl of the past," said David Sheenan, director of resilient business for Mannington Mills. "We have worked very hard on the aesthetics and have made a dramatic improvement in the look of resilient products. The housing market has heated up and consumers building their homes want a good looking affordable product. They are opting for resilient."
He noted that about two-thirds of the 3.4 billion sq. ft. of resilient flooring sold in the US last year was for residential use and the segment has emerged from a mild two year slump.
A significant element of the rebound is tied to image. Increasingly, manufacturers are eager to make a case for the resilient category.
"We continue to stress the life cycle cost benefits of rubber flooring over other alternatives," explained Bob Segers, Musson Rubber vp. "In addition to the long-term durability, stain resistance, and overall comfort, rubber flooring requires no wax or sealers, resulting in low maintenance costs over the long-term life of the flooring."
Segers points out that consumer education is the key to success in the category and noted that it is a market that favors those who adapt and innovate. He added that Musson is planning to introduce a one-piece rubber stair tread/riser combination designed specifically to appeal to architects and designers.
Technology has greatly assisted the segment, helping resilient to shed what was once seen as an unsophisticated image, said L.A. Train, president of EarthWerks/Swiff-Train. "In the beginning it was more plastic looking," said Train. "Now we have photographic technology that enables us to match exactly what the consumer wants."
While looks may sell flooring to consumers, resilient floor product is also being closely examined for its environmental impact, notes Ashley Gassaway, Flexco marketing coordinator. The company's EnviroFlex products meet select standards for the design and construction of environmentally friendly buildings.
"The market is demanding this type of product," said Gassaway. She added that anti-microbial properties make resilient products an option for hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
Likewise, Roppe has unveiled Eco Effect, an environmentally-friendly product made with renewable resources, post-industrial or post-consumer waste. Also new is Repel rubber tile and tread, formulated to resist oil and grease and Contract Vinyl, a solid vinyl tile with an antimicrobial barrier.
Indeed, the effort to bring resilient to a higher level has created some noteworthy new entries. Centiva by International Floors of America is rolling out Olivet, a wood look in four warm colorations in 4" x 36" planks.
The emergence and advancement of resilient floor products like Congoleum's Xclusive featuring Scotchgard Protector and Stainmaster resilient flooring has also sparked consumer demand at the retail level.
For its part, Mannington has developed a technology called NatureForm Optix that is designed to create highly authentic looking product. Most recently the company added the Realistique collection which also uses a new ultra-low gloss urethane and a Digital Enhanced Imaging process.
To secure more space at retail, manufacturers are churning out new in-store merchandising systems designed to occupy a minimal amount of floor space but still be eye-catching and informative. For example, the Nafco PermaStone luxury vinyl line by Tarkett is supported by a display that the company describes as both visual and emotional. Also, Spectrum Imports recently started offering a new compact display for its Euroflor vinyl-backed sheet vinyl.
Those involved in the resilient floor covering say the new displays and creative flourish seen in the category is clear evidence that the overall resilient category is expected to grow during the coming year.