In the late 1990s when laminate was all the rage and other hard surfaces such as wood and tile were starting their surge with consumers there were rumblings around the industry the resilient category was becoming a dinosaur and like it, a dying breed as market share was being eaten up every which way.
But as the industry entered the new millennium resilient manufacturers were starting to fight back with sheet goods that had improved, more realistic visuals beyond the old, traditional black-and-white diamonds, as well as stronger, better lasting wearlayers that helped protect against scratching, tears and gouging.
As the Great Recession hit an interesting thing started to happen: As more and more people started looking for products that provided more “value” for their money end users began “rediscovering” the benefits of resilient and the category not only maintained it actually was able to pick up some market share over the products that had stripped it a decade earlier.
In recent years the category overall has actually been the most active as luxury vinyl tile and plank (LVT, for general purposes) products have been all the rage and have gobbled up market share—not just from other categories, but also within resilient.
Still, while LVT has been given most of the press lately, manufactures are quick to point out sheet goods still play a very important part in both residential and commercial applications and shouldn’t be discounted by retailers or contractors when discussing potential jobs with clients.
As with just about every company surveyed by Floor Trends, Paul Murfin, co-CEO of IVC US, believes, “sheet vinyl still represents the best combination of style, performance, durability and clean-ability all at the best value compared to all other flooring products.”
Kurt Denman, Congoleum’s senior vice president of marketing, added, “The reason resilient sheet continues to be relevant in the market today is the basic value proposition has not changed. In addition to being affordable, durable, versatile and easy to maintain, the visuals have improved dramatically over the past few years delivering compelling realism in wood, stone and tile designs.”
In fact, when it comes to resilient sheet, manufacturers say there are a few major areas as to why it is a good product for both residential and commercial uses—visuals, durability/performance and installation, as sheet goods can be installed in a variety of ways, from loose lay to perimeter glue to a full spread glue and, now, a number of products feature a releasable self-stick adhesive attached to the backing making it simple for installers to lift and correct if needed.
Zack Zehner, Mannington Mills’ senior vice president distribution network and customer service, called resilient sheet “kid and pet friendly,” meaning it has the performance attributes to handle the messes both make and the comfort underfoot to make the floor livable in everyday situations. And for the homeowner, “style and design continue to be the best in the industry.”
Residentially, Rachel Lombardo, product manager of Armstrong residential resilient sheet, said the product “remains important because no other product at this time can match the value and easy maintenance requests for consumers. Sheet cleans easily, is water resistant and has the greatest value of any other product on the market. Additionally, designs have drastically improved over the years to provide a more realistic visual than in the past. So now customers still get great value but also get a more realistic looking floor compared to other options.”
And on the commercial side, Dominic Rice, Armstrong’s vice president and general manager of commercial flooring, said, “Of the various types of flooring available, resilient flooring is widely chosen because of its ability to meet a range of durability and design requirements. In some spaces it may be advantageous to specify sheet flooring instead of tile, since a primary advantage of sheet flooring is the ability to cover large spaces with a reduction in seams.”
Barry Ferman, New York-based commercial sales rep for Adore Floors, said sheet goods are important in places such as healthcare, where “both heterogeneous and homogeneous have their place. Rich wood visuals for homey atmosphere/healing properties of non-institutional appearance enhance patient’s/families experience, and homogeneous for operating rooms, treatment/procedure rooms and in patient rooms where fluids and chemicals can be spilled and they need a product with minimal seams.”
Denman said besides various healthcare settings, resilient sheet is an ideal choice for Main Street or light commercial, offices and multi-family dwellings for many of the same reasons as residential installations. “It is affordable, incredibly durable and easy to maintain. Resilient sheet flooring provides an impervious surface throughout the entire area.”
Bruce Ziegler, Tarkett’s director of residential product, said in general, “The style and design of sheet has improved greatly. the category has come a long way from the shiny tile looks to the stylish matte designs featuring wood, tile and overall looks.”
Along with better printing technologies, such as high definition, many point to the use of fiberglass in the construction as a key reason why visuals have increased
“Newer, more modern printing techniques and equipment available today have enabled us to make products that look more realistic than ever before.,” noted Murfin.
Bart Rich, IVC’s senior marketing director, added, “Visually fiberglass sheet vinyl is truer to natural products today thanks to advances in technology. We can literally recreate a hardwood look in a fiberglass vinyl product with the same color play and depths, sheen, grooves and textures with embossing. These technological advances help enhance the true realism of the product.”
When it comes to the product’s durability, Rich said fiberglass “has taken sheet vinyl to a level never seen. What it provides is tenfold to what it used to be with just traditional felt. The performance of that is even better, you not only have a more durable floor, it now provides cushion under foot, stain resistance, water resistance, and mold and mildew resistance.”
The introduction of fiberglass has also helped on the installation side, Murfin said. “These products make it so much easier to install and repair. Historically, sheet vinyl was considered a product a true expert had to install in order to get the installation correct and neat the first time. Now with fiberglass technology, subfloor preparation is easier and the development of releasable adhesive allows you to adjust as you install. And you can bend our product, fold it, and it won’t crease or crack. It’s flexible and easier to install.”
Tarkett’s FiberFloor was one of the first of the new sheet products to feature fiberglass and since its introduction has remained a top seller for the company, Ziegler noted. “FiberFloor has many exclusive advantages for the consumer and provides strong selling points for the retailer. The Tarkett iSelect system allows consumers to easily express their personality and style while living up to the wear and tear of everyday life. iSelect helps consumers choose the perfect floor by grouping every design and color into six color families, making coordination a breeze.”
In addition, he said, “Tarkett’s SPECIFi collection, a select grouping of our most popular designs, allows consumers to pick the right flooring for their lifestyle with the ability to choose the same design in four different constructions. iSelect also includes the Tarkett Finishing Accents collection, an offering of wall base and transitions to tie the décor together and offer add on sales for retailers.”
Zehner said Mannington is so confident in the future of sheet it is making this year all about it with the introduction of Luxury Vinyl Sheet (LVS), which was unveiled at Surfaces. “LVS will revolutionize the selection process at specialty retail,” he noted, as the company has invested heavily in new technology to make this product standout.
For example, LVS features Mannington’s fourth generation of printing technology, NatureForm 4G, which he explained, “provides the most incredible visuals imaginable—a 25% increased pixel count that creates superior clarity and fidelity, as well as richer colors.” And, with the new ColorSelect System, “we’re taking a process that many consumers and salespeople called confusing and simplifying it.” By incorporating the same visuals throughout LVS’ three construction levels of Silver, Gold and Platinum, the consumer can find the look she wants and then match it to the performance needed for her family’s lifestyle.
He added, Mannington is not only committed to driving the launch of LVS, it is also going to “focus on sheet as a category” by trying to move it to square foot pricing and not square yard because “when it is priced by the square foot you can compare it apples to apples with other products and then the value of the product truly becomes apparent.”
While Armstrong’s Lombardo feels “the value of sheet is already known on the consumer. You need to have beauty beyond anything else to sell a floor. Since design has taken such large steps forward to look like the real thing, that’s how the product stays relevant in the marketplace. Once a customer loves it, the budget or value is not as important.”
As such, she noted, “Armstrong has four unique vinyl structures to meet specific performance and installation needs. Consumers can easily choose the one that’s right for their lifestyle, décor and budget.”
Lombardo said these include Duality, “which offers 3D visuals along with fiberglass and ToughGuard wear layers that provide exceptional durability and superior stain protection. CushionStep is an exciting innovation in cushioned vinyl flooring. It delivers comfort, style and flexibility. It’s warm and soft underfoot has a CushionCore backing, which brings an unexpected level of comfort to your floor. StrataMax has a 70% stone content in the base layer that holds the floor down and adds durability. It is a hi-performance textured vinyl flooring that piles on layers of performance, durability and beauty in a revolutionary vinyl sheet floor that is quick to install. Last is traditional felt, which offers best-in-class stain protection combined with ToughGuard durability.” She added, Armstrong’s most popular vinyl sheet collections in this area—Memories, Station Square and Initiator—are perfect for builders and property managers.
Denman said Congoleum’s AirStep family of products are “designed to be both beautiful and easy to maintain. High performance urethane wearlayers that contain nylon and aluminum oxide deliver exceptional scratch and scuff resistance. The addition of silver provides a level of protection against mold and mildew, and Congoleum is the only brand to offer Scotchgard protector which makes AirStep incredibly easy to clean and maintain.”
Recognizing the value resilient sheet products deliver in commercial applications, he added Congoleum introduced AirStep Vibe as the newest member of the AirStep family.
Most recently Congoleum introduced Zo-N, a solid color, extruded, homogeneous resilient sheet product that is available in three surface embossings and six colors. “Unlike any other product on the market,” Denman explained, “Zo-N is available in an unprecedented 10-foot width featuring an embedded nylon webbing to control dimensional distortion. Zo-N is ideal in residential garages, basements, laundry rooms and play areas. The product is equally suited for use commercial use in retail, offices and healthcare facilities.”
Adore’s Ferman said the company just added to its homogeneous sheet vinyl collection with Context. “It features 24 designer inspired colors, with matching welding threads, and is made with PUR, and includes BioSilver technology for added antimicrobial and antibacterial defense. Context is engineered for low maintenance, long wear and strong overall life cycle value.”
IVC’s Rich noted, “What IVC US has done is we’ve made the best product in the industry. We’ve challenged everyone in the industry, and we lifted everyone as a whole to higher standards. I think everyone is getting better at sheet vinyl because we’ve provided a superior product, so we’ve really helped better the image of the sheet vinyl industry by doing this.”
Murfin concluded resilient sheet is a great product for both residential and commercial applications and while LVT is the golden child at the moment dealers and contractors are well advised to not discount sheet. From performance to looks, “it can go anywhere in the house. The realistic designs today allow the product to be used anywhere in the entire home: Dining rooms, living rooms, bedrooms, dens, you name it.” And the same is true in commercial where design, performance, ease of maintenance and installation are important.