Spurred by two consecutive years of positive sales—something most in the industry hadn’t seen for more than seven years—both exhibitors and attendees at The International Surface Event (TISE) in Las Vegas were filled with an optimistic spirit for the coming year. So much so, this year’s event not only saw retailers placing product and display orders much to the delight of exhibitors, it saw a wave of innovation across all flooring categories as manufacturers showcased technological investments in both performance and design attributes in preparation for a continued economy recovery.

Sam Ruble, vice president of sales for USFloors, said he and his sales team “have been on our feet the entire time, it’s been that busy—even on the morning of the last day we’ve been busy.” And it wasn’t just tire kickers as the old expression goes. “We had goals on all our product lines and displays and we exceeded them before the end of the second day. We expected interest to be high in certain areas for sure, such as with our COREtec line, which has just been going through the roof, but attendees have been placing orders on everything.”

Dan Natkin, Mannington’s senior director of residential products, pretty much echoed Ruble’s sentiments, noting how “we have been doing some outstanding business. Traffic has been really strong—and not in the sense of people just walking through and looking. We had dealers who hadn’t bought a lot of stock in recent years coming in and loading up with big orders. It’s been a real nice surprise to see the level of optimism people are feeling.”

When it came to placing orders the one area that was particularly strong was in laminate—a statement echoed by many at the show. In fact, Natkin went so far as to state: “Rumors of laminate’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.”

Betsy Amoroso, Mannington’s senior director of marketing and corporate communications, added, sales across all product categories were not only “up, they’re up in the better product types. People are really feeling optimistic and are stocking in anticipation of having a better year than 2014.”

At the EarthWerks booth, Jonathan Train, CEO, said, “business has been really good; we’ve had appointments throughout the show, along with a great deal of people coming in to see what we have.”

Lindsey Nisbet, EarthWerks’ head of product development and marketing strategy, added, “We’ve gotten a great response to our new products and displays.” With a totally revamped storyboard with new icons explaining each product and a new message, “Why LVT,” the company was showcasing its experience in the product by extending its warranties across the board and even offering a special 30-day satisfaction guarantee. “We’ve been doing LVT for 30 years so we know how it performs and can therefore offer warranties we can feel confident about.”

James Lesslie, assistant to the chairman at Engineered Floors, was “very pleased with the traffic and the receptions we’ve been getting to our new nylon products.” The company, through its Dream Weaver division, brought out a collection of solution dyed nylon featuring a modified polymer to make the product stain resistant. “There’s no topical treatment; it’s in the polymer.

Known mainly for its polyester offerings, Lesslie said the company “feels there is a place for both polyester and nylon,” and that it is more important “how you make the carpet,” noting not only is solution dyed the way to go but in the long term mills will not need to use water to dye carpet.

Stanton Carpet used Surfaces to introduce 115 products and Jonathan Cohen, COO, said, “traffic has been very strong. We make a huge investment for Surfaces as this is the industry’s main show and we want to use this time to tell our story and show people what we can do. This year people are reacting in a very positive way. They like what we are showing them and combined with most being optimistic about how the year will be we’re seeing good results. The final numbers aren’t in but I would say we beat our expectations.”

Tarkett once again had one of the more interesting spaces at the show with a ferris wheel sized board for people to spin and win prizes. Jeff Krejsa, senior vice president of marketing, said for this year’s show the company focused “98% of our space on residential offerings with a little Main Street and multi family because we realized who the main customer is at this show.” So the company put the majority of its focus on its iSelect system and how it helps tie the company’s various product offerings together to help make the buying process easier.

The adjustment seemed to work as Krejsa said traffic was “wonderful. We were hopeful for a better turnout and so far we feel things are going even better than our expectations.”

Along the lines of adjusting their strategy, a number of companies, such as software provider QFloors, and Aboeda, maker of the Bamboo Hardwoods brand, decided to move their spaces to the upstairs exhibit hall and it, too, paid dividends.

Chad Ogden, CEO of QFloors, called this “The best Surfaces since before the recession. We had a lot of people throughout the show and many came back for a second visit.”

David Keegan, COO of Aboeda, noted, “We’re celebrating our 20th anniversary in business and we’re only one of two bamboo companies that can say that so we felt this was an appropriate time to move upstairs.”

As for the result, he said, “We had appointments set up throughout the show and every one of them showed up. Plus we’ve had some real strong orders for our new displays and products. We’re working hard to dispel the myths about bamboo, and our distributors and the retailers coming by are seeing that what we are doing is also in line with helping them to be able to more easily sell the product.”

One of the things that made this year’s Surfaces interesting was the fact it was part of a mega building industry event in Vegas called Design & Construction Week. In addition to TISE taking place at the Mandalay Bay, further down the Vegas Strip was the International Builders Show (IBS), the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS), the International Window Coverings Expo and the Las Vegas Market. All told, upwards of 125,000 people were expected to participate in the five events, which allowed attendees from one to visit the other shows.

Mara Villanueva-Heras, vice president of residential marketing of Armstrong, was busy running back and forth between TISE and IBS as the company was exhibiting at both shows. In speaking just about Surfaces, she said the company was “feeling good about the amount of traffic and activity we’re seeing.” Whether it’s wood, resilient or laminate “people are showing interest in what we have to offer.”

Scott Brazinski of American Biltrite said he could see the effects of Design & Construction Week. I think it helped bring some new traffic to the show; people we normally wouldn’t see. I’ve seen a lot of kitchen and bath people come by, for example. Overall, it’s actually been a wide brush of people, but I’ve been most pleased with designers who have come through. There have been some top quality, professional designers—people who really know what they are doing—and these are the types of people we want to reach as our product is designer oriented.”

Crossville’s Lindsey-Ann Waldrep, vice president of marketing, had similar feelings. “The show has been really good for us. KBIS has breathed more life into Surfaces [and] more distributors have been out here. It’s been a good start to the new year.”

Like Brazinski and Waldrep, show organizers felt the format of having five major building industry related shows overlapping in the same city was a positive. While final figures were not available at press time, officials said TISE architects and designers generally account for nearly 7% of all registrants and based on early numbers the show saw an increase in this audience segment.

Dana Teague, vice president with Informa Exhibitions U.S., which owns and operates TISE, said, “The synergy from having five shows taking place the same week provided substantial new business opportunities for both exhibitors and attendees.”

When it came to the actual products, merchandising and other services on display at the show one thing was abundantly clear: Luxury vinyl tile (LVT) continues to be the hottest product type in the industry right now. In fact, a person not in the industry and walking into Surfaces would have thought LVT was the market share leader, when in fact it accounts for about 5% of all sales.

The reason? Just about every exhibitor seemed to be showcasing some type of LVT, from loose lay to click to groutable to its own version of an enhanced vinyl tile or plank that gives the product extra performance attributes.

One of the companies hoping with activity was IVC, which this year opted for a ballroom space, and Xavier Steyaert, co-CEO, said, “We’ve been packed the entire time. We weren’t sure what to except with the ballroom but it’s been non-stop.”

A key reason for this, he said is that during Surfaces the company was in the final stages of having its new LVT plant in Dalton up and running and that by year’s end “everything will be made in the U.S. It’s very critical that IVC makes every layer of the LVT sandwich, and like we currently have in Belgium, everything will be done in-house in Dalton. This allows us not only to be cost leaders like we have been with sheet vinyl, but also styling and quality leaders and superior quality can only be achieved through having superior technology in your factory and we will have the most state-of-the-art processes available.”

At USFloors, which many have credited with helping to create the craze thanks to COREtec, Piet Dossche said he expects LVT-type of products to be a $1 billion category. “It won’t happen tomorrow but in a few years it will be as there is nothing wrong with the category. The visuals are wonderful, the performance is fantastic.”

Innovation, though, “is the key to success,” he added. “The moment you think you are there you are going backward. We need to be creative in order to have products that allow the dealer to trade up and we will continue to do that—it’s in our DNA.”

If innovation is a key to success then it could help explain the optimism seen at the show, as there was plenty of it across all categories. And it wasn’t a case of just adding some new technology as companies were concentrating their efforts on enhancing a product’s performance attributes as well as its visual/styling features.

One of the categories showing a great deal of innovation was the carpet industry. After a number of years of pushing the “soft” envelope, manufacturers are now saying they hit the point of “soft enough.”

T.M. Nuckols, senior director of product strategy for Invista, maker of Stainmaster, said “it’s an exciting time right now with lots of innovation taking place.”

One of those areas is in the use of the supplier’s Stainmaster PetProtect fiber, which at this point last year had just two mills offering less than 10 styles, now there are nine mills in the program and the number of products have skyrocketed. “This year,” he noted, “of the 135 Stainmaster introductions taking place 40% of them are with PetProtect.”

Gary Johnston, Invista’s senior marketing manager, said the excitement around PetProtect “takes me back to the days when Stainmaster first came out, as every retailer coming by wanted to know about it, and that’s what’s happening now with PetProtect.”

Though both consumers and retailers have a “built-in trust” with the Stainmaster name, he said the company has created both an educational program to help the retail salesperson better explain the attributes of PetProtect and how it works, as well as a marketing campaign to generate excitement at the local level. “We’re now affiliated with the ASPCA and will help retailers work with their local shelters on a pet adoption program called ‘Sit, Stay and Save.’ We even have complete P-O-P kits for the event.”

Milliken was back at Surfaces for the first time in a number of years, as it was showcasing its Multiple Yarn Infusion (MYI) technology to help re-introduce the Constantine brand to the residential market with two collections, Hardanger and Crystal Stitch.

Scott Reams, director of Milliken’s residential initiatives, said, “We’ve been leveraging the brand on the commercial side but many of our customers said these two collections had the Constantine look and feel so we decided to put them under its umbrella but as residential carpets,”

He noted, MYI “creates luxurious constructions with depth and rich textural complexities, the perfect companion for discerning style and design This offering, paired with our industry-leading Millitron high-resolution printing, provides a range of floor covering aesthetics that enable designers to create the ideal home.”

In addition to offering its first collection of carpets featuring PetProtect, Stanton was showcasing a number of products that not only match the company’s mid- to high-end styling across its various brands but innovative constructions such as a wool/poly blend (called poly silk) which Amye Sinclair, marketing director, said “gives the carpet an extra layer of interest.”

But more so, the company was introducing carpets made with a blend of wool and tencel, which Cohen called the “fiber of the future” because of its natural stain resistant properties as well as its overall feel and look. “It’s really easy to care for and provides an exceptional feel and look.”

Innovation could also be seen in the Wools of New Zealand area where the organization was showing its new Aulana brand, which blends gold with the fiber to create a unique coloration. Hallie Cobb, said no dyes are used, rather “the science of Aulana comes from the early alchemical processes used to create the color in stained glass windows. Aulana takes this same science and uses gold to shift light into soft purples and grays. It’s interesting, it’s beautiful and not something you see everyday.”

The organization also was showing how wool could be blended with Himalayan nettle, which not only creates another unique look and feel, but proceeds from the nettle sales go back to help the villages where it comes from.

In the hard surface categories, performance was certainly a theme, especially with the various enhanced luxury vinyl products on display, but most of the innovation seemed to come in the form of visuals as manufacturers stepped up their game to create new and interesting looks be it laminate, wood or tile, as well as taking tried and true ones to new levels of realism.

Bill Dearing, president of the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA), said the organization took a larger exhibit space at Surfaces at the request of its members because of how well it went last year and the optimism going into this year. “We got every member’s floor shown in our space and so far the reaction from people has been good. They come and see what can be done with laminate and want to know [which company to visit] to learn more.”

As with hardwood, the reclaimed look is hot in laminate and companies like Mannington were showing off a variety of these visuals. Natkin said the visuals in laminate “keep getting better—from the printing to the embossing and everything else involved in creating a mid- to high-end look—and we’re at the point where you cannot distinguish a laminate from the real thing, whether it’s a wood or tile visual.”

Joe Amato, Mannington’s vice president of residential styling, said, “Homeowners love the look and feel of reclaimed wood, and we’ve created a variation on the theme with rustic looks drawn from both traditional and exotic wood species.”

Mannington added four floors to its award winning Restoration collection. “These floors deliver the natural look of wood with the incredible durability and ease of maintenance of a laminate,” he said. “And like all Mannington laminate, they’re made right here in the USA.”

Made in the U.S. was a big theme for Mannington as Amoroso said in addition to its laminate, by the end of the first quarter the company will have transitioned its entire LVT capabilities to Madison, Ga., meaning its entire Adura line will be made here. “It means a lot to Mannington to manfuacture products in the U.S., and it means a lot to our customers because they can get product quicker and it allows us to do custom work.”

Back to laminate, at the Quick•Step booth, the company was talking trends with its celebrity designer spokesperson, Erinn Valencich, who noted, “shiny is out and more matte, oil or natural finish is in. We’re also seeing more texture, such as the sandblasted or cersue finishes.”

The company was highlighting new designs in its popular Reclaimé collection, but a variety of new lines, such as Envique, which Roger Farabee, senior vice president of marketing, said features “advanced surface and design technologies to create unique visuals, noting how a new press plate was made for each one. “It helps to raise the level of authenticity.”

An example of taking visuals to a different place could be seen in the additions to Quick•Step’s Veresque, which features a “stonewash that is not a direct imitation of wood or anything,” Farabee explained. “We take looks from wood and tile to create a unique, but familiar type of look, what we call ‘fantasy designs.’”

Similar to companies that offer different hard surface products, Armstrong was also showing its strength in being able to take styles and use them across its different formats, laminate being one of them.

Villanueva-Heras said being able to cross over between wood, laminate and resilient is one thing but doing it correctly is another. “Realism is the key,” she noted when dealing with categories such as laminate. With the Armstrong Rustics Premium collection, “The hottest trends in flooring are within reach—reclaimed hardwoods, weather looks, rare, exotic species, even concrete and metals.”

Within the collection she pointed to Forestry Mix as an example. “It provides a harmonious blend of three hardwood looks—hickory, white oak and red oak—and three colors—white washed, gray washed, and brown washed. Each color has 24 unique planks displaying the varied stain characteristics of each species, creating a beautiful solution at an affordable price.”

Ben Lin, president of Linco Floors, was on hand to show off the new line the company is producing exclusively for Longust Distributing. While the line was developed for the West Coast, he said it could also be tailored for people in the east.

Marge Redmond, sales manager for Longust, was not only excited by the line itself, which despite being a top-end 12mil product, offers a “very competitive price,” but how the collection features a matching flush stairnose, “something laminate needs to make it look real when putting it on stairs.”

 As Quick•Step’s Valencich said the matte look is in, and it is not just in laminate but real wood, along with the continuation of wider and longer planks—though in many cases they are being put in cartons in random widths and lengths to help installers create unique, one-of-a-kind designs for consumers.

Along with showcasing these latest visuals some companies, such as Preverco were also using technology to help dealers and consumers see how these floors will look in their homes. The company was demonstrating its new app, which Etienne Chabot, vice president of marketing, said was getting rave reviews from the A&D people who were visiting the booth. “We were part of the Surfaces guided tour for designers and architects and every one of them loved the new app, especially in conjunction with our new products.”

Meanwhile, dealers were liking the company’s new display concept. “We’re not in the business of selling furniture,” he said, “and this display really showcases the product in a way that helps make the selling and buying process much easier.”

In tile, the wood-look was one of the popular trends that returned this year, with companies creating products that mimicked looks of distressed, reclaimed and even salvaged woods.

An example is Dal-Tile’s new glazed porcelain series, Yorkwood Manor. Lori Kirk-Rolley, vice president of brand marketing, noted, “When it comes to design, customers are taking more risks and trying out new trends. We are excited to be a continuing inspiration for them with the launch of more new products for spring 2015.”

Another returning trend was the stone-look, where it’s becoming almost impossible to tell the difference between a tile and natural stone. Companies are creating tiles that mimic the look of natural stones, such as marble, granite and onyx, but without the upkeep and maintenance that come along with that of natural stone.

A number of exhibitors told Floor Trends the luxury side of the market has certainly bounced back as consumers are investing in these items again. As such, many companies were displaying various types of mosaics.

A popular new trend that seemed to flood the floor this year was the washed look of concrete and cement in different colors and shades. This look was relayed in Crossville’s Ready to Wear collection, as well as Mediterranea’s Soho porcelain tile series.

Finally, large-format sizes also expanded, with new 18 x 36- and 8 x 48-inch formats, while other generic sizes like 12-inch tiles seem to be making their way out.

Amie Gilmore, director of TISE, said the 2016 event, scheduled for Jan. 19 to 22, will once again be held in conjunction with Design & Construction Week, something many seemed happy about as “nearly 80% of the show floor is already sold.”