Resilient flooring’s share keeps climbing
Tuesday, January 5, 2021 from Floor Covering Weekly
Navigating the “new normal”
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed behaviors of people around the world. Here in the U.S., it has led to increases in work from home, online shopping and emphasis on cleanliness, to name a few. Although no one knows for sure which behaviors will continue past the pandemic’s end or for how long, it is evident that some changes are here to stay.
“Obviously, COVID-19 has affected shopping behaviors with online shopping becoming much more commonplace for what were primarily in-person shopping like groceries and concierge shopping services like Instacart. Many specialty retail flooring showrooms are closed or appointment only resulting in a more personalized experience between specialty retailers and consumers,” noted Russ Rogg, president of Metroflor Corporation. Rogg said while things will reopen post-pandemic, the convenience of online shopping and the personal attention consumers receive during a showroom appointment are likely to increase in importance.
Mannington Mills’ vice president, strategic development, David Sheehan, said that though there is promise of change once vaccines are available, there is still no clear understanding of what that means for a return to normalcy. However, migration from urban areas and indications of a strong remodel business into 2021 bode well for retailers, he said. “The good news is that business has continued, and we’ve seen a strong recovery in residential. Retailers have adjusted based upon their local conditions,” such as operating by appointment or requiring masks, Sheehan said, adding he expects this to continue in 2021.
“There is little doubt the pandemic will have a lasting change on our behaviors but to what extent those changes remain permanent is anyone’s guess. It’s likely a pendulum that has been forced to swing to an extreme,” shared Chris O’Connor, chief executive officer for Congoleum. O’Connor noted as the world gets somewhat back to normal, he anticipates “a greater reliance on remote and flexible work arrangements, online shopping behavior and business travel.”
However, some expect that as restrictions ease, consumers will be eager to go back to shopping in person. “Some protocols will probably remain but for the most part, the desire to return to business as normal is deeply held especially when it comes to human contact and relationships. Consumers miss being free to shop in a retail setting where they can touch and feel the products before they decide what to purchase,” noted Barron Frith, president of CFL North America. Because of this, he said, retail displays will be important in a post-COVID market.
One positive change this year was the increased emphasis on and acceptance of digital tools by retailers. While navigating the pandemic, many retailers were forced to embrace a digital way of doing things in order to stay in business, a trend that is expected to continue for both retailers and manufacturers alike.
“Digital is the biggest trend that has significantly accelerated. Whether its related to delivering inspiration or the actual product, consumers have become very comfortable with researching and ordering product over the web,” said MSI president Raj Shah.
Online purchases have increased during the course of the pandemic, agreed Wellmade’s vice president of sales and marketing, Dick Quinlan. “Much of this has been driven by the ‘stay at home’ workforce mounting home renovation projects. Wellmade has made substantial investments to support online sales as we believe the trend will continue into 2021 and beyond,” he noted.
Echoed Ana Torrence, hard surface category manager with Engineered Floors, “Consumers have been forced to shop online and the trend will continue to grow as more digital tools become available to improve the online shopping experience when it comes to flooring.” However, she said there will be those who will prefer to return to in store shopping when it is available again.
Added director of sales for Swiff-Train Company Cole Hood, “Dealers are investing in digital and virtual marketing and sales more than ever to capture the consumer that would have normally shopped in person. Planning and execution had to be more precise and efficient to limit the amount of face-to-face time and contact with customers from selections all the way through the install.” Innovations that came from necessity will likely remain in place into the future, he added.
Agreed Karndean Designflooring’s director of marketing, Jenne Ross, “This pandemic emphasized how important a digital presence is for specialty flooring retailers, from offering virtual consultations to updating customers on showroom hours or appointment availability. Expanding and strengthening their digital footprint will continue to boost traffic and sales even after life returns to normal.”
Novalis is also investing in the digital frontier. Explained Kimberly Hill, director of marketing and creative design for the company, “We are looking to make any and all changes needed in order to meet our customers where they are. As we have seen the world of consumers swing heavily to online shopping, we too are making changes and spending more of those marketing dollars on digital assets.” A new visualizer on the NovaFloor website helps customers see how a product will look in their home. “In addition, we will be launching a major update to our website, we are also creating more photography and videography than ever before along with inspirational digital assets like look-books,” Hill shared.
“It’s encouraging to know that, even under unforeseen circumstances, our industry can live up to its name to both endure and succeed.”
— Jenne Ross, Karndean Designflooring
As we move into the new year, resilient flooring is poised to continue its success in the market. Innovations in rigid core, print technology and in resilient flooring’s cleanability all make it a top contender for post-pandemic installs.
Going forward, said Ed Sanchez, vice president of product management for resilient with Mohawk, consumers might be wary of having installers in the home, giving DIY-friendly options in resilient flooring an edge. Also top of mind, he noted, will be “being able to keep flooring clean … [this plus] waterproof capability and ease of install all make resilient a perfect product as we look at it through the lens of the pandemic.” To be able to accomplish all these performance benefits without sacrificing the look of the product is another of resilient’s positives, Sanchez added.
Advancements in technology are also propelling the category forward. Noted Jamann Stepp, vice president hard surfaces, The Dixie Group (TDG), digital printing is one example. “We’ll be introducing a digital print SPC called Trucor 3DP.” There are other digital print products in the market, Stepp noted, and said in TDG’s digital print SPC there will be 30-plus planks before a pattern repeat. This helps create more realism than what can be achieved with a PVC film, he said.
And resilient’s capabilities, such as waterproof performance, will continue to resonate with consumers. “In hard surfaces, waterproof rigid core products will remain in high-demand and Shaw has invested heavily in bringing more domestic SPC production online to support this growing category. Similarly, we’re evaluating our global supply chains to ensure we maintain a robust portfolio of both domestic and sourced offerings,” explained Drew Hash, vice president of category and channel management, Shaw Residential.
“There is no shortage of innovation in this category,” asserted Brian Parker, AHF Products’ director, product management, adding, “Resilient continues to evolve in terms of realistic looks, of course, but also in terms of features and benefits, whether that means durability, ease of installation or waterproofing. Given today’s focus on cleanability, attributes such as anti-microbial capabilities will become even more important to the residential and light commercial customer.”
MSI’s Shah expects SPC will continue to grow exponentially. “Despite all of the growth rigid core LVT has seen the past few years it still has not matured. With SPC becoming an option, consumers continue to see that they can have their dream floor at an affordable total installed price. Due to this we will continue to see SPC disproportionately grow,” he predicted.
Said Eli Shuat, president, Republic Floor, “The steady increase in the resilient segment means that America has embraced this segment and wants more of it. Many have chosen to join us in the resilient arena as they have come to appreciate the ease and simplicity involved.”
Biophilic design, which has been gaining traction for years, is also increasing in popularity due to the pandemic and stay at home orders. “The pandemic will accelerate the focus on biophilic design in all spaces for 2021 because it’s proven to have the ability to reduce stress and anxiety for inhabitants of the space,” said Michel Vermette, president and CEO at Armstrong Flooring.
Keeping resilient top of mind for biophilic design spaces is all about marketing, explained Tami Stahl, Beauflor’s senior marketing manager. “There has to be a focus on the advancements that have been made in resilient manufacturing to enhance the emboss and textures that really help to make resilient flooring mimic nature. Also, focusing on and marketing the recycle and sustainability story of resilient products to educate the RSA and end user who may hold untrue beliefs.”