Rubber Flooring: safe, practical and, yes, sophisticated
"Thirty years ago people were going on and on about rubber," he recalls. "They said all these things about how it needs no maintenance. They made it sound like the best thing since Wonder Bread. And there was fall out from that. Because people found out that it does require some maintenance. But I will say there have been some very impressive introductions in the rubber flooring category."
Stoler and others involved in the category note that manufacturers have worked to elevate rubber flooring by continually adding a host of aesthetic and functional elements. The challenge, they say, is not just the other rubber floor manufacturers vying for the business. They say they are also feeling the heat from laminate, vinyl and other floor types that have collectively raised the bar for quality and innovation in all areas of flooring. Rubber flooring makers agree that it has never been more important to create a point of distinction between other manufacturer-and other floor types.
"We try to position ourselves as the easiest company to do business with," says Bart Rogers, director of sales for Roppe, which has been involved in flooring for 50 years. "We took a hard look at the things that are important in the category and have worked to address them." He noted, for example, the company adopted a One Point Pricing policy that assures the same price regardless of the color selected.
More recently Roppe introduced SafeTcork tile and tread products which blend cork and rubber to create flooring suited for high traffic areas. The company says the uniquely engineered product was developed specifically to reduce slip/fall incidences yet is also easy to maintain and is longwearing.
The accent on safety is in keeping with the effort by manufacturers to emphasis at least one specific selling point that, they feel, will help them stand apart from the crowd. Flexco, for example, is touting its EnviroFlex line of "Nature Friendly Products."
The company recently announced that its SpecTones II Rubber Tile was upgraded and added to the list of Flexco products that feature EnviroFlex. Flexco assures that the enhancement is in keeping with the voluntary Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program that is designed to calculate the lifecycle impact of a building on the environment.
"The more we are able to develop EnviroFlex products that can contribute to LEED certification, the more we are able to help our flooring partners earn credits necessary to qualify for `green' building certification,'' commented Flexco marketing coordinator Ashley Gassaway. "That's not just good business; it's good for the environment."
While safety and environmental concerns remain big issues, manufacturers are also eager to earn style points. Allstate makes this clear with the address picked for the company's web site: www.muchocolors.com. Its Brasilia Rubber Tile, for example, is available in more than 100 colors and the company will create custom colors for orders as small as 300 feet.
Stoler notes the growing aesthetic appeal of rubber flooring has even prompted some designers to increase its use on walls. Overall, he notes that competition among rubber floor makers has lead to more innovation which in turn has raised the profile of category. He even gives a thumbs-up to a rival company for its contribution.
"I have to give props to Johnsonite for their introductions earlier this year," said Stoler, who notes he was, many years ago, a Johnsonite distributor before launching his own business. "They are really helping the cause with their new textures. It brings more attention to rubber and that is good."
The Johnsonite products, which were launched at Surfaces earlier this year, were added to the six textures already on the market. Each has been designed in a clear effort to offer rubber flooring whose appeal is anything but drab and industrial. Johnsonite says that more than 200 architects and designers were surveyed as part of the development of its new rubber tile textures.
The effort to elevate the stature of rubber flooring can be seen even in the names selected by Johnsonite. Three of the five new lines-bamboo, chopped bamboo and pebbles-reflect an effort to bring a more natural sensibility to the category. The remaining new entries seem to be angling for a more high brow appeal. One, Artistic Square, is described by the company as having a design that "enlivens the traditional square pattern for a more sophisticated look." The other, Cubis, is described as having various heights of lineal squares that "reflect the sophistication of a city skyline."
Johnsonite's marketing coordinator, Rachel Tipton, notes that the aesthetic appeal of flooring can have a positive effect on productivity in the workplace. "There is a real benefit in terms of motivating people. When you work in a nice environment you feel better about yourself. You don't feel gloomy."