Luxury vinyl tile continues to stir up a lot of excitement in the world of floor coverings. It’s no secret that this category has grown double digits in market share year after year, even through the depths of the recession. No wonder so many manufacturers have jumped on board to try to get a piece of the pie! Opportunity is the catalyst drawing manufacturers, retailers, architects, designers and, ultimately, end users to LVT.

Let’s drill down on that last statement to understand what it reallymeans. What does LVT mean to designers? Designing “green” is the gold standard for designers and architects and LVT answers the call to design green. Mannington/Amtico International, for example, is attuned to the needs of green/sustainable design. The purity of a 100% vinyl product that is recyclable andcontains recycled content is a powerful combination for green designs. The exceptional durability and lifespan of the product, combined with ease of maintenance, brings solutions to the commercial market unparalleled by most other flooring materials.

To be sure, the commercial world embraced LVT long before it made its way into the residential market, but now the secret is out. Residential demand is on the rise, so it’s no surprise that manufacturers – domestic and international – are entering the LVT market. As a result, you will find that choices are becoming more and more abundant.

When manufacturers gear up to meet increased demand, it is an important cue for retailers to do the same. Savvy retailers usually have a stake in Main Street commercial work (i.e. doctors’ and dentists’ offices) and if you aren’t bringing LVT to the attention of those customers as well as your residential customers, you are missing a key product opportunity.

An overview of the current LVT market shows that most commercial sectors are in growth mode. According to a June 2012 Mannington Mills market share study, LVT in general represents a strong presence in the following commercial areas. Corporate applications have a 29% market share (as compared to other flooring types). Healthcare applications are seeing 20% market share, while retail applications have a 12% market share.

This is largely due to architects and designers being well educated on the features and benefits that LVT brings to commercial applications. The A&D community continues to specify LVT for applications in health care, hospitality, retail, corporate, multi-family, government, military, education and other specialty markets.

Travertine, slate, marble, and every species of wood have all been replicated in LVT. These highly valued, earth-born products now have an admirable “lookalike” that can provide a genuine aesthetic without the worry of performance failure in high-traffic settings. Add to that surface graining and texturing, and even the most experienced designers are hard-pressed to decipher whether it’s the “real thing” or high-quality LVT.

Note:that photographic replication techniques differ from manufacturer to manufacturer, as do the important protective wear layers, so research established brands and compare products carefully.

If you are a residential designer reading this column, opportunity in LVT awaits you. Take a good look at what LVT really means to your clientele. Designers choose to use nature’s own products for authenticity whenever budget allows. However, designers need to be solution-driven, so form follows functionstill reigns supreme. LVT addresses “function” first and foremost.

I was recently asked to consult with a designer refurbishing a boutique hotel in Palm Springs, Calif. Her first choice was to use natural hardwood flooring throughout the hotel for a welcoming, homey look. After presenting options in LVT to get the high-end look she wanted with a product approved for heavy commercial traffic, she chose a slate-look LVT for guest bathrooms and a rich walnut vinyl plank for all the guest rooms. The hotel is pet friendly, making LVT the perfect product solution. The lobby and common areas were designed around a contemporary, linear metallic LVT tile in an 18” x 18” format.

She was so excited to learn about the LVT product category, she ultimately discovered a whole new product line. She got the homey look she wanted, with ease of maintenance and extreme durability.

If you are a retailer reading this column, consider how the same benefits the commercial market enjoys with LVT translate to residential customers as well: visual aesthetics, ease of maintenance, longevity of product life and a flooring choice that is budget-friendly. The selection available to you is diverse, appealing and enormous; there are more than a few highly credible LVT manufacturers out there to choose from.

When researching different product options, consider styling; price-points; “green” qualifiers and where the product is made (the latter can critically affect delivery times). Ask if the product is 100% vinyl, or are you paying for fillers. Compare the visual each manufacturer is offering. As I mentioned, there is a huge difference in the photographic processes used. You want to align with a manufacturer whose product offers clarity and authenticity in the finished product.

The protective wear layer, or mil layer, is extremely important. This determines how well the product will perform. 40 mil is the best on the market and is much in demand by the A&D community. 20 mil products will perform admirably in all settings, both commercial and residential. 20 mil can certainly meet the need when performance and budget are equally important. 12 mil products can meet the need for light commercial installations or multi-family applications.

There are products available at much lower mil levels, and although these products offer an attractive price point, the durability and long-term performance is questionable. If a manufacturer is not well-known or has not established a reputation for quality and service, pricing alone may not be a good determinant for you to align with them. Warranties are important, of course, but they won’t mean much if you cannot get service after installation. Consider all of these factors when selecting your vendor.

Hopefully I’ve given you much to think about. The obvious message is that opportunity awaits in one of the fastest-growing flooring segments in the industry. LVT has developed an incredible fascination factor in the marketplace, and this is just the beginning. Enhanced styling, colorations, improved manufacturing technologies; they’re all fueling that fascination. All that’s left to do is for you to find out more.