Pictured is Garden Linen from Mannington's Artisan Collection of resilient flooring.

Product reliability and quality, product design and styling, and distributor service/support are the top three attributes (aside from price) that affect the retailer/contractor's decision to sell/promote a particular brand or manufacturer of vinyl floor covering, according to respondents of the just-completedNFT2004 Vinyl Flooring Market Study (chart 1).

Our 2004 Vinyl Flooring Market Study was based upon responses from a representative cross-section of flooring retailers and contractors culled from the ranks of NFT subscribers. The study was conducted by the market research department of BNP Media, in conjunction with the NFT editorial staff. It received a 22 percent response rate.

Mannington was rated the top-selling vinyl floor manufacturer with a 39 percent share (a gain of 8 percent over the company's 2003 rank). In second place was Congoleum with a 25 percent share (up 2 percent from last year). Armstrong placed third with 21 percent, a drop of 6 percent from last year's study (chart 2). In voting Mannington No. 1, our respondents cited the company's great style/patterns as the reason for their preference.

Specialty floor covering retailers are key to the consumer's selection of a particular vinyl floor covering product. According to 35 percent of respondents, between 51 and 100 percent of customers with a vinyl floor covering brand in mind complete their floor covering purchase of another vinyl manufacturers' product based on the dealer's recommendation(chart 3).

Likewise, when customers visit a store with a specific vinyl floor covering product in mind, on average 43 percent end up purchasing a different floor covering product based upon the retailer's recommendation.

Fifty-five percent of our survey panelists expect 2004 vinyl floor covering sales to stay the same, while 25 percent expect an increase in segment business. Another 20 percent expect a decrease in vinyl floor business. The reason for an increase in vinyl business, according to the survey panelists, is increased construction and the economy. Decreases in the segment sales are being fueled by increased sales in the alternative floor covering product segments of ceramic, laminate and wood.

Issues that presently impact the vinyl flooring business, according to our retailer/contractor panel, are led by the increasing number of Big-Box channels, 50 percent; increasing competition from other flooring channels, 49 percent; eroding profit margins, 44 percent; consolidating retailers & manufacturers, 21 percent; and consumer brand switching, 13 percent. (As with our previous vinyl studies, multiple responses were allowed for this question.) Last year's leading issue, other flooring types (61 percent in 2003), tallied 39 percent in this year's study with laminate floors most mentioned.

And, our panel felt that over the next two years, the biggest challenges for vinyl flooring manufacturers (multiple responses allowed) will be alternative hard-surface flooring, 77 percent; followed by product innovation, 48 percent; installation services, 36 percent; and ability to meet consumer demand, 15 percent.

Following are some other study findings: The vinyl segment continues to maintain its position in the floor covering product mix. Vinyl floor covering products are now being sold in 75 percent of responding retailer/contractor companies, a 3 percent drop from the 2003 study.

Vinyl floors are a profitable alternative to ceramic, wood, stone, and laminate floors. Seventy-seven percent of our respondents (the largest percentage recorded since our annual studies were inaugurated in 2001) view vinyl floor coverings as a profitable alternative compared to ceramic, wood, stone and laminate flooring. This number has increased from 71 percent in 2001, to 72 percent in 2002 and 74 percent last year.

Vinyl Sales Generated Per Month. Dealers report a median of 10 vinyl floor covering sales per month, a figure identical to our 2003 and 2001 results. Annual Sales of Vinyl Flooring Per Retailer: $185,064 (mean) with an average ticket amount of $952 (mean). Floor Space Devoted to Vinyl: our panel is now dedicating 18 percent (mean) of their total floor space to vinyl floor covering products. This represents a 2 percent increase over 2003.

Consumer complaints are dropping for vinyl flooring products compared to other flooring types (chart 4). Care, cleaning and maintenance is the leading customer complaint followed by discoloration/yellowing, and cutting, denting and tearing. Customers' perceptions of vinyl flooring increased in durability and quality compared to the 2003 study results, while selection/styling, price, and maintenance were similar to the 2003 results.

A copy of the complete 2004 Vinyl Flooring Market Study is available for $225 each or $195 for multiple copies.