In addition to adhesives specified for various floor surfaces and carpet backings, today's products are tailored to address climate, moisture and other installation conditions. There is also increased demand for products that can lessen the time an installation crew is on the clock. Of course, most notably, the industry rule book has been almost completely rewritten over the past decade by a hodgepodge of state and federal environment rules aimed at reducing volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions.
"As an industry we have become more sophisticated," says Jack Raidy, president and CEO of Taylor Adhesives, which has focused on moisture control products that are designed to speed installation time. "We are working with [floor covering] manufacturers to make sure we have an adhesive that is right for their product. We are addressing the moisture level on slabs and we have to make sure we meet the environmental concerns and that the VOCs are at acceptable levels. There is a lot we have to accomplish," he says.
According to David Ford, vp of sales and marketing for Stauf USA Adhesive, the big challenge for manufacturers involves making products that are strong enough to keep flooring in place for years, but safe enough to be used by installers every day.
"You want to make certain your products are installer friendly," says Ford. "You also have to make certain the adhesive is strong enough to avoid problems like hollow spots or popping noises." He adds that his company this year plans to introduce a "hybrid" product that meets the highest standard of performance but is free of chemical compounds that can be problematic.
Manufacturers say the need for specific applications affords them an opportunity to stand out in a crowded field. Companies battling for market share in the category have also taken to introducing ancillary products that guard against moisture or remove old adhesive residue. The adhesive business, they say, belongs to those who are able to accommodate trends and adapt to changes in the floor covering business.
A case in point is the rising popularity of wood floors. While adhesives formulated to work with wood floors have been a mainstay of business for decades, it is no longer simply a matter of gluing down Oak floor products. The growing popularity of other woods -perhaps most notably bamboo- has required manufacturers to take a fresh look at the products they are bringing to market.
"Used to be you had two types of wood to deal with: solid oak and engineered oak," says Wade Verble, vp of sales and marketing for AAT, Inc. whose wood based products include ProblemSolver EW Engineered Wood Adhesive.
"That's how the business has changed over the last ten years," Verble says. "Hardwood is taking a lot of market share in the adhesive business. Now, you are seeing all these other types of wood being imported and some, like bamboo are very sensitive to moisture. Today you have to be very user specific."
Even while the breath of adhesive products now vying for attention may be a bit bewildering, manufacturers agree there have never been more opportunities in the market.
"I agree, the specialty products are having the biggest impact on the market," says Robert McNamara, Bostik manager of national sales and marketing. "It is the new products and new technology that is driving the business."
He notes for example that the company late last year introduced MVP (Moisture Vapor Protection) as means of protecting flooring material from moisture seeping up from the subfloor. "You could have a monsoon outside and your flooring will not come up."
At MAPEI, there has been considerable focus on advancing the adhesive category in health related areas. In addition to moisture barriers and reduction systems, the company markets products that offer anti-microbial features well suited for hospitals and other health care facilities.
"You want to have a product line that is job specific," explains Steve Chase, vp sales and marketing for APAC. The company's name, an acronym for All Purpose Adhesive Company, reflects its effort to address virtually all installation needs. It also helps explain why APAC offers 75 products and 175 SKUs.
"As the floor covering industry has grown, so have the opportunities in the adhesive market," says Chase. "Our products are application specific. We are very focused on problem solving because ‘easy' is big in our market."
In addition to a full line of adhesives, the company offers products designed to create optimal conditions for its adhesives. TacAbates, for example, is a polymer-based surface coating for floors that have some remaining adhesive residue. Chase notes that the product is ideal for remodeling and is an environmentally friendly alternative to compounds that were once sprinkled on the floor.
The growth of niche products in the adhesive category does not necessarily translate into more costly installations. "If you know you are only going to have the floor covering on for a year, it's important to know what to use and what not to use," says Chase.
Manufacturers say they recognize that their adhesive products are being purchased by floor covering retailers/contractors and their installers, who are likely to stay with a product for a long time if it meets their needs.
Craig Dahl, a former installer who is now MAPEI's floor covering installation systems assistant product manager, says the proliferation of adhesive products is aimed mainly at addressing problems that have been nagging retailers and installers for years.
"If you provide answers to their installation situations, you will gain their respect. Sure, there are more and more options available because the adhesive technology has gotten better.