National Floor Trends (NFT)asked a range of questions to a panel of industry experts about what innovations and insights will drive the flooring industry in 2011. Companies/participants include: Beaulieu of America – Ralph Boe, pres./ceo; Bostik – Phil Pitts, hardwood installation prod. mgr.; Custom Building Products – Steve Taylor, director of technical marketing; Florida Tile – Michael Franceschelli, ceo; Hanley-Wood – Dana Teague, Surfaces show director; Kronotex USA – Travis Bass, exec. vp sales/mktg.; Mannington Mills – Kim Holm, pres., residential; MAPEI Americas – Luigi Di Geso, pres./ceo; Mohawk Industries – David Duncan, svp mktg.; MP Global Products – Jack Boesch, dir. mktg; Mullican Flooring – Brian Greenwell, vp sales/mktg.; Shaw Industries Group – Randy Merritt, pres.; Stauf U.S.A. – David Ford, vp sales/mktg.; Tarkett Residential – Gary Finseth, dir. mktg.; USFloors – Piet Dossche, owner/ceo; W.F. Taylor Co. – Jack Raidy, Jr., pres.; and WFCA – D. Christopher Davis, pres./ceo.
Bass:The concept is simple: Achieving the right look at the right price. Getting it right is more complicated, and requires the best talent and adequate resources.
Boe:We need to creatively come up with a way to give the consumer more confidence that will have the biggest impact. We need to try to do things to influence the consumer to look at our products. In the case of carpet, it is coming out with nice patterning, subtle patterning in terms of sophisticated looks and designs, and certainly feeding the move toward softness. I think people are concerned with the environment they are living in within the home. They want a cleaner environment. They are using all of these air fresheners and are concerned about the health of their families. Different additive benefits within our products can provide something meaningful to the retailers to sell and advertise. We need to attract her attention to at least get her into the store to look at the products.
Boesch:The green wave still seems to be going strong. The problem is that buying green gives the consumer a warm fuzzy feeling only if they don’t have to pay more to get green. Unfortunately, often there are costs involved with manufacturing with recycled materials that make it tough to keep costs low.
Our research clearly shows people use the Internet to obtain information about floor covering before they buy. So many dealers claim to have web sites when in actuality they have the equivalence of a brochure posted on the web. It sells nothing to no one. Your web presence should be used to attract her to go to your store, not to drive her to some other website that understands how she likes to make her purchases. It takes a combination of active promotion in a broad spectrum of local media and some real attention to local search engine optimization. It’s simply a matter of working smarter and measuring the results.
Di Geso:Three areas have emerged recently that point to needed innovations in the flooring industry. Land for contractors to develop is at a premium today. Soil completely free of moisture issues is a rarity, resulting in the need for moisture barriers. Industry-wide training is needed to help contractors gain knowledge about the degree to which moisture can be effectively controlled.
There are currently a variety of measurement methods for determining moisture in concrete substrates (relative humidity, calcium chloride testing, moisture meters), and there is a need to correlate the measurements between varying types of equipment. Once moisture emissions are determined, there is a need for innovative new products to control rate of emission so that flooring can be installed successfully and sustainably.
A recent trend in the wood flooring installation segment has been to provide moisture barriers between the substrate and the wood to prevent curling and subsequent installation failures.
New trends in tile and stone installations involve large-format tile, the advent of thinner tile for vertical applications in new construction and restoration projects, and the use of engineered tile and stone to reduce costs involving exterior and interior wall cladding. Along with these new trends comes a need for innovations in mortars and grouts to ensure successful installations.
Cork will break out of its traditional sheet and tile look and enter the wood plank format, which will give it a much broader appeal and bring it from the kitchen and entertainment areas into the living, dining and especially the bedrooms. As a warm, comfortable, quiet and hypoallergenic floor, it is an ideal product for bedrooms. Strand-woven bamboo will solidify its position as the hot category in bamboo. The hardness and wear resistance combined with the LEED points it qualifies for makes it an ideal wood flooring product for commercial applications.
LVT in plank and tile format will flood into the market in a variety of glueless and click systems in solid construction or as a veneer on an HDF or other composite core material.
There are many opportunities to bring new, creative ideas to the market, as long as they’re grounded in the idea that they’re here to solve a consumer problem. We have an aging population, so that can lead to innovation in illumination in flooring. Innovation is needed whether we’re addressing the older population, or the younger generation that has that need to be connected, wants a more enhanced customer experience and more social responsibility connected to the brand.
Finseth:End-users now enter the flooring market with minds open to a wider variety of flooring options than in the past. This opens up the entire resilient category to a large consumer base that may never have considered resilient flooring products before. This “new normal” in value/performance consumer spending is a great opportunity to educate them on the recent innovations resilient products now provide that present great design, style and quality while better meeting their budgetary needs.
And once consumers are exposed to the new resilient category – albeit initially due to budget constraints – we feel they will see the innovative advantages combined with the style and patterns they want with the durability, value and performance they need.
Ford:Every successful innovation must meet four criteria: Cost, benefit, design and environment. For the flooring industry to “get to the next level,” cost savings in labor, manufacturing and the supply chain must be found.
Competition is already driving product costs down from abroad. On-line retailers are squeezing from here. U.S. manufacturers and distributors must meet these challenges by examining every step to see where costs can be reduced, processes improved, and jobs simplified.
Benefits is another word for solutions or problem solving. Tied directly to reducing costs, the challenge for our industry in every transaction is to demonstrate a price/value relationship that solves the consumer’s problem. The low cost guys will always be there and never before has the statement “You get what you pay for” meant so much. Our challenge is to educate the buyer about what we really have to offer - a quality product at a reasonable price with unbeatable service before and after the sale.
Environmental issues will become even more important. Any successful product must be acceptable and meet those standards. It’s a given, a requirement, a feature every consumer expects. No longer is environmentally safe unique. Everyone must have it as a cost of entry to the marketplace.
Franceschelli:Digital printing is still growing in popularity and I think this type of application still has a lot of avenues left to explore. Also, advances in technical porcelains and body composition are bringing larger formats with thinner materials. Again, this technology is still fairly new and will continue to grow and develop. Lastly, I believe we will see more interest in the need for verifiable recycled content, and reductions in energy use.
Our Meridian Pointe collection will also carry our new lifetime warranty finish, Claritage Extra by PPG, which applies nanotechnology to achieve greater surface durability and gloss longevity. This represents Mullican’s first lifetime warranty on a finish, which we’re applying to a number of our collections, including St. Andrews, Muirfield and Green Haven. We are confident that finding solutions to long-standing problems in the hardwood flooring industry, such as cupping and warping, will help bring us to the next level.
Holm:Today, innovation is driven by what technology can do. But these innovations need to have a marketable payoff; they have to offer the customer something tangible. For example, high definition printing allows for incredible realism in our Sobella Omni HD fiberglass line. We’ve been able to introduce looks like a fine-veined marble – because of that technology. Ease of installation is another area that has been positively affected by innovation – recently we introduced Adura with LockSolid, which offers a fast, easy, and reliable ‘click’ installation for luxury vinyl.
Merritt:It is clear that future product innovations will feature sustainable components as core attributes. Over the last 36 months, Shaw has developed new technologies to utilize post-consumer and post-industrial materials in the soft and hard surface arenas. There is much work on expanding FSC-certified, rapidly renewable materials for engineered and hardwood segments. Development of these materials as part of Shaw’s Extended Producer Responsibility is a key to Shaw’s growth plans.
Other products using non-traditional materials are also in development. Global growth of carpet tile as an economical flooring option is an area of focus for Shaw as well. Value leadership, opportunities to ease product maintenance, and continuing to explore the role flooring plays in indoor air quality are all important goals for Shaw and the flooring industry.
Pitts:The industry has embraced the green building movement and those initiatives are becoming standard practice. Future innovations will bring value to the trades in reduced time, labor and materials.
Taylor has now actively shifted gears in terms of R&D, in the use of Renewable Starting materials. That is to develop adhesives derived from biological sources. These are alternative raw materials to petrochemical resources. Bio-source raw material costs should be more favorable and stable as oil prices rise and provide a dual benefit of cost effective solutions with enhanced Green credentials.
Taylor:People want easy to maintain surfaces that improve the indoor living experience. They want materials that are durable and will last with minimal impact on the environment. They are looking for products that are green and ceramic tile fits this need. Today we are seeing larger tiles, up to 4’ square, which provides a large clean, easily maintained surface.
What is your company doing to achieve these types of innovations?
Bass:We are investing $45 million in our U.S. factory, which will give us the mechanical ability to manufacture the full range of laminate products including various surface structures, gloss levels, attached pad and beveled edges in a highly efficient operation. To achieve the “right look,” we have assembled a proprietary design team to choose the style and type of products that will stay in front of trends in home and commercial décor.
Boe:One innovation is our Magic Fresh treatment, which literally takes odor out of the air and freshens up the home or offices. Another is our Silver Release treatment for residential and commercial that acts as an antimicrobial and reduces any bacteria buildup that could lead to mold and mildew in a moist environment.
In addition, we are making a move to polyester bcf which has a lower material cost than nylon, so we can offer a heavier product at a lower price that still performs very well and gives the consumer more of a value offering.
Davis:The WFCA is in the business of offering marketing solutions, opportunities and connectivity for not just our members, but the entire floor covering industry. We are the honest broker of information about all types of floor covering and engage in public policy impacting the industry and consumers. This is an organization that spawned floor covering marketing groups, founded Surfaces and has a very aggressive web presence and consumer marketing initiatives.
Di Geso:MAPEI has developed Planiseal Easy as a moisture barrier for new “green” (normal curing) concrete. This product will allow flooring contractor crews to install flooring more rapidly. Planiseal EMB, an epoxy moisture barrier for control of problem areas with moisture vapor emission rates up to 25 lbs/1000 sq. ft./24 hours, has also been introduced to resolve problems in new and existing construction.
MAPEI has developed Ultrabond ECO 995, a single coat adhesive for environmentally sensitive woods, plus moisture vapor emission control on concrete slabs (MVER up to 15 lbs). The formulation of Ultrabond ECO 995 uses rapidly renewable raw materials and is phthalate-free. MAPEI is introducing Ultrabond ECO 985, which provides a strong bond and excellent sound reduction properties while it protects wood flooring from moisture vapor emissions coming through concrete slabs. It was developed with a hybrid-polymer that is Isocyanate-free.
In 2011, we will be introducing Ultraflex LFT Rapid, a rapid-setting version of our LFT mortar for large-format tiles that allows property owners to reopen for business very quickly after renovations.
Duncan:We have been on a quest over the last several years to really invest in our R&D group and market research by making sure we’re better connected to the consumer, the A&D community and facility managers. We get a lot of insight back from them, which we bring over to our product management/development team to help drive that innovation.
Ford:Stauf has introduced an isocyanate-free urethane-based wood floor adhesive that eliminates the etching found when urethane adhesive gets on the floor finish. It has greater shear strength than comparative adhesives. It meets an industry need, is cost competitive and completely green.
This new adhesive follows other industry innovations by Stauf, specifically an environmentally safe solvent-based adhesive and the first polymers-based adhesives, an innovation that resulted in the first combination of sound and moisture abatement in a one-step application.
Finseth:We’ve continued to spend considerable time and money to better meet the changing market needs. This includes redesigning our product offerings and merchandising, revising our brand structure, realigning our logistics and expanding our sales/service organization. We have invested significantly in human capital to revamp the Tarkett of the past into the Tarkett of the future and provide the flooring market with the products, patterns and performance characteristics end-users need for their day-to-day lifestyles.
Products like Tarkett FiberFloor, a Consumers Digest Best Buy, resonate with consumers. They appreciate – and seek out – flooring that is warm and comfortable underfoot, is water- and moisture-resistant, stands up to scratches, scuffs, stains and indentations, is easy to maintain and is affordable.
Our Tarkett NAFCO luxury floors PermaStone collection, which provides consumers vinyl tiles that look great, and provide warmth and quiet underfoot, was recognized this year by Consumer Reports as a Best Buy.
Greenwell:Mullican Flooring spent four years developing Meridian Pointe, which included extensive third-party testing by Virginia Tech. Mullican Flooring is launching one of the most innovative products in its history – a solution that addresses a long-standing problem in the industry.
Holm:Mannington has always been focused on both styling and technical innovations. The balance of these two things, and the way they work together, has kept our products at the forefront – which was recognized by the industry with (winner or runner-up) in 9 Styling Excellence Awards this year.
Merritt:In 2007, Shaw established “Innovation Leadership.” As a result, a vice president position was created and a team established to concentrate on traditional soft and hard surface research and development. This group, along with the seven strategic business units, has responsibility for researching and discovering new technologies that can grow into new businesses over a five-year time frame.
Pitts:At Bostik we are committed to driving value through innovation. We use global resources to create progressive solutions for the flooring market.
Raidy:We have developed and hold several patents and developed our patented Meta-Tec technology to utilize bio-source raw materials and have a number of Green Guard certified products in that product group that service the wood, resilient and carpet categories.
These products have enhanced green credentials by not only replacing some petrochemical derived raw materials with bio-based materials but allowed for reactive adhesive systems without potentially harmful MDI or TDI isocyanates. This chemistry also eliminates Formaldehyde in wood adhesives. This technology offers a distinct marketing advantage for flooring manufacturers, contractors and a health benefit for flooring installation professionals and ultimately the homeowner consumer.
Teague:For the past two years, Surfaces has invited the consumer press to the show. We engage in a “push through” marketing campaign with the editors of the consumer publications to write about the new and innovative products introduced at the show.
How is your company marketing to the consumer?
Bass:We are investing heavily in placing both our branded and private label products in the forefront of the retail environment.
Boe:In the past, most of our message to the retailer was through trade advertising. We’ve done a little bit of consumer advertising in home interest magazines and will continue to do so, particularly when we have a story to tell like Magic Fresh or Healthy Home. And then we have our point-of-sale, which we are trying to make a little more demonstrative and easy to understand so the consumer can quickly ascertain what our offering is and how it is different from someone else.
And then clearly more and more consumers are going to the web before going out to the store to buy products. Many retailers today say that consumers are looking at the web 85% of the time before entering the retail store. This is clearly an area we are expanding on. We are launching a new website in January (2011) and it will be more dynamic and interactive. We hope to give the consumer more information to make a judgment about our product before she goes in to the store.
Davis:The WFCA has used its position as the unbiased source of information about floor covering to build up its credibility as a trusted source for journalists who write for women’s magazines, shelter publications, daily newspapers, design journals and other media outlets. At the conclusion of the annual Surfaces trade show, the WFCA conducts consumer media tours in New York and Des Moines (home of Meredith Publications, who produces Better Homes & Gardens Magazine and also publishes over 200 titles of books and periodicals on home improvement, renovation and interior design).
The WFCA also has an active program providing information and updates about floor covering to news media, all designed to get stories and articles produced about floor covering that will heighten consumer interest and drive traffic to the WFCA consumer web site (www.wfca.org) and into specialty floor covering retailer stores. Our campaigns have won all kinds of national awards for their effectiveness.
Di Geso:We recently retooled our web site www.mapei.us to help consumers understand the scope of our products and how many of these products help contribute to LEED project certification and to sustainability in general. MAPEI also educates contractors and distributors through our MAPEI Technical Institute to help them explain to their customers how important installation systems are to a successful project.
Dossche:We support our retail customers with a variety of marketing tools to bring our story and the features and benefits of our products to the consumer.Our website and social media messages on Facebook and Twitter provide a close link and connection with our end consumer and are channeling them to our retail partners trough our store locator feature.
Duncan:We market directly to the consumer with national campaign in print and online. We also market to consumers through our retail co-op program and through point of sale materials.
We also use non-traditional avenues, creating buzz with Ricko the Rhino, and similar high-profile PR events. Finally, we market to the consumer by improving our merchandising, and telling better stories about product benefits. We know we’re a B2B company, but we try to act B2C.
We’re now seeing a far more educated consumer, so we’ve created and provided better tools to help retailers deal with this more savvy and ‘I’m ready-to-buy’ shopper. This includes providing materials like our roomvue visualizer for in-showroom or at-home website (www.tarkettna.com) viewing. It allows consumers to actually see how they can mix and match different floor patterns, styles and paint colors.
At store locations, we have new point-of-sale merchandisers, as well as other educational tools that all help the retailer close the sale.
Franceschelli:We offer a very specific sub-site for the consumer through our website at www.floridatile.com.
Greenwell:Mullican Flooring made significant investments during 2010 in terms of marketing and branding. This was partially due to 2010 being our 25th anniversary year, but we also recognize that we have reached a turning point in our maturity. To that end, we developed a new website and chose to invest in a half million dollar ad campaign as part of our sponsorship of the recent HGTV Urban Oasis Giveaway. This popular television event involved the sweepstakes giveaway of a luxury apartment. By being the exclusive hardwood flooring sponsor for this 900 sq. ft. apartment located in The Residences at W New York-Downtown in New York City, Mullican strengthened its reputation as a leading producer of quality hardwood flooring products.
Merritt:Shaw is committed to consistently and aggressively driving consumer brand awareness and consumer preference through national advertising (in print, TV, and online), local advertising support, public relations, in-store materials, national promotions and more. And our end goal is always to deliver educated, ready-to-purchase consumers to our retailers.
Shaw can be seen consistently on networks that the target female consumer is viewing, like HGTV, TLC, Style and Food. Additionally, Shaw advertises in consumer shelter publications and on websites like BHG.com and HGTV.com. Shaw also targets special interest publications. The fashionable and inspirational ads focus on driving consumers to shawfloors.com to locate a retailer.
To drive engagement in a powerful way, Shaw has sponsored the HGTV Green Home Giveaway for three consecutive years and will again be the exclusive flooring provider in 2011. Each year, the giveaway earns over 17 million entries and provides lasting impressions of Shaw flooring.
Pitts:Bostik markets on a “good, better, best” principle which ties peace of mind, improved performance and better warranty with more premium products.
Taylor:We are using media to let our customers know that we have solutions to their flooring situation. We offer many choices in each phase of the installation; for instance we offer several levels of performance with traditional cement based grout, we have an easy to use stain resistant epoxy grout and for those that do not want to mix the grout we offer pre-mixed grout.
What message would you like to convey to the flooring industry?
Bass:From our well-respected and high-style Formica Flooring brand, to the solid offering of our Kronotex brand, to the innovative fit of our private label products, we are uniquely positioned to serve our customers with the full range of laminate flooring products…and domestic logistics.
Boe:It is important to get the consumer’s attention away from other things they might be willing to spend money on. They are continuing to spend on electronic products that are also deferrable, but they seem to be ready and able to spend sizeable amounts of money on iPods, iPads, Wiis and other systems. We need to show there is value in decorating the home and making it a more comfortable and cleaner place to live, and to push more affordable products so the consumer is more enticed to close the purchase.
Boesch:Look closely at warranties and beefed up claims for high acoustical test scores. If it sounds too good to be true, it often is.
Davis:If you are planning to not just survive, but thrive, the only way you can do so is to adapt to economic realities and function in the here and now. The days of sitting in your store waiting for someone to drop in so you can write up their order are few and far between. Now you have to aggressively seek out that customer and provide her real value for her dollar.
You have to keep a strong hand on your costs and expenses and make certain you invest in those things that will get customers in your store and create an atmosphere that will generate sales, and not just once. You want this customer for life, and you want them to be so pleased they’ll encourage their family, friends, neighbors and everyone they meet to buy from you. To be successful at that requires you to listen to your customers and guide them to making the right purchase for their particular situation. That means your salespeople need to be knowledgeable about your product and service offerings, which requires you to invest in their training. In a world of like products and services, people buy from people they know and trust. The most successful sales people don’t sell anything to anyone. Instead, customers buy from them. There is a huge difference.
Dossche:2010 has been another difficult year for our industry but the outlook for 2011 looks more promising. With the extension of the tax cuts and the unemployment benefits as well as the other growth incentives agreed by Congress, the economy should get a boost and the American consumer will have more disposable income to start spending again. In addition, the housing surplus will continue to be absorbed by the market, triggering growth in new residential construction, the fuel for our industry.
Duncan:Mohawk, Karastan and the Mohawk Group are going to continue to be leaders and innovators in the industry. We are absolutely driven to bring industry-leading products, designs, innovations and technologies to residential and commercial markets. We are partners with the retail community and the commercial market, and our success is literally based on our partners’ success.
Finseth:We’ve been working hard for the Tarkett brand to be perceived by all our customers – end-users, installers, retailers and distributors – as the everyday performance brand that meets all of their needs. Our number one goal is to provide the Ultimate Flooring Experience by creating the best innovative flooring solutions.
Ford:The U.S. economy is still the best place in the world to do business. It’s in a trough right now. What a great time for solid business people with sound business plans, ethics, and financing to be in business. These are the times for them to succeed since the weaker players will fail. So pay attention to details, closely monitor your costs, provide better service than anyone else, sell only dependable, complaint-free, quality products, and look for innovation and products that meet your customer’s needs from your suppliers.
Greenwell:We must all acknowledge that 2010 has been a trying year, and 2011 is likely to be just as challenging. However, companies that are willing to continue to invest in the future and strengthen their brand recognitions will be ahead of the curve when the economy rebounds in 2012.
Holm:Obviously, we’re still in the beginning stages of economic recovery. We’re still looking to see that recovery impact our industry but it’s coming. There’s a lot of pent-up demand for flooring and we believe that once business begins to come back, the floodgates will open.
Merritt:The recovery will be slow and long. It will be a long time, if ever, before consumer behavior and spending is what it once was. However, it’s imperative that we all remain optimistic and forward-thinking. Those who keep their name in front of the consumer while proving product value will succeed.
Taylor:As the tile and stone industry changes we will adapt and supply state of the art products for the needs of every installer and installation situation.
Teague:Surfaces is dedicated to providing the floor covering industry with an event offering both our exhibitors and attendees the tools they need to succeed whether during a tough or robust economy. We will continue to work towards keeping Surfaces the can’t miss event year after year.