Evolution By Surface Type: Industry Association Leaders share what their categories have accomplished and where they’re headed - Aug/Sept 2022
By Joe Yarbrough-Carpet and Rug Institute
We’ve seen growth and maturation throughout the carpet industry since the early 1990s. In my time within the industry and with the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI), the number of manufacturers has consolidated to a few remaining major firms.
Along with this consolidation, new developments and technologies have entered the marketplace, including the increasing diversity of products with tufting-patterning sophistication that rivals weaving technology; polymer and face fiber advancements that have changed the industry through backward integration; dyeing technologies in both continuous wet processes and solution dyeing within the extruded polymers for stain and soiling advances; and advances in backing and other construction design to allow for more straightforward opportunities to recycle the carpet products. These are highlights in areas of sophistication within the product category to meet the needs and demands of the modern consumer.
As with any industry the size of flooring, there are always challenges-the shifting market effects from the recent pandemic with supply chains now getting back to their prior strength; legislation focused on extended producer responsibility; new products and technology entering the marketplace at an increasing rate. However, I am confident that all of these challenges will be solved through the work ethic, ingenuity and strength of the individuals who make up our industry.
I’m extremely positive about the next five years and beyond. I believe the market will continue to be highly competitive between the flooring sectors, with growing range in product types and offerings. The industry will continue to create high-quality products for both the residential and consumer environments. The carpet and rug markets continue to provide great value in many varied applications, and I see this category maintaining that relevance. As I mentioned before, our industry is full of bright individuals and strong leaders, which is why I am so hopeful for our industry and its future.
By Bill Blackstock-Resilient Floor Covering Institute
Since its inception, the Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI) has played an essential role in the flooring industry by leading many initiatives in the resilient product category. Our space is quite large, including products like vinyl composition tile (VCT), rigid and flexible luxury vinyl tile (LVT), solid vinyl tile, homogeneous and heterogeneous sheet vinyl, rubber tile and sheet, linoleum, cork and other polymeric and specialty flooring types.
During our journey over the last 30 years, resilient has grown significantly to become the second-largest flooring category, with the highest multi-year growth rate. Resilient flooring is chosen extensively in the residential and commercial sectors, with applications in almost every sub-segment.
Our category’s biggest challenge recently was keeping up with the higher-than-normal demand for residential flooring during the Covid lockdown, as homeowners invested significantly in living space renovations. While the commercial sector was slowed during this period, it has been surging forward in recent months with demand for resilient products in almost every segment-education, multifamily, healthcare and others.
Over the next five years, we anticipate robust and continued growth for resilient flooring. RFCI’s leadership has long been strategic and focused on its “Industry Growth and Well-Being” mission. This strategic focus has also included horizon and over-the-horizon thinking, an essential element for a product category experiencing so much innovation and growth. We continually engage thought leaders, economists and subject-matter experts to provide valuable perspectives to our membership. This has been particularly important in recent years with the emergence of pandemic-related issues, supply chain challenges, labor shortages and more.
By Eric Astrachan-Tile Council of North America
By 1992, although domestic tile production was increasing, its share of total domestic consumption had been declining steadily for decades. This trend continued through the boom of 2006, with imports climbing to 82.4% of the market, but has now reversed thanks to companies from Mexico, Italy, Brazil and China building factories in the United States, with the promise of more to come.
The early ’90s also saw the resurgence of the use of decorative tile, and a thriving art tile community grew to meet that demand. Its success spawned a tidal wave of decorative imports-especially from China, until the intellectual property tariffs of 2018/2019, followed by the anti-dumping and anti-subsidy tariffs of 2020, went into effect. Imports from China that were negligible in 2000 grew to dominate all imports by 2018 and are now negligible again.
Turning to standards, in 1992 the TCA (now TCNA since 2003) Handbook was 35 pages. In 1997, a new section was introduced titled “Bonding Large Size Tile for Coverage and Support” that categorized large tiles as 8”x8”. It’s hard to believe that just a few years later, in 2002, tiles over 3’x10’ were being made, and by 2012, tiles 5’x15’ were feasible. Today, they are common. In the meantime, the TCNA Handbook grew to 295 pages after a major revision in 2011, and today it is 475 pages, reflecting a tremendous expansion in setting methods and the addition of stone and glass tiles.
It was also in 2011 that the industry came together to write ANSI A138.1, known as the Green Squared standard. This was a first-of-its-kind, multi-attribute sustainability standard for tile, mortars, grouts and substrates. Environmental product declarations quickly followed in 2014 and 2016, and in 2021, an industry-wide Material Ingredient Guide was published.
In 2012, the ceramic tile industry introduced the use of the dynamic coefficient of friction for ceramic tiles, which proved so successful that it was adopted for hard surfaces by 2017 in the standard ANSI A326.3. In 2021, product-use criteria were incorporated that revolutionized communicating where hard surfaces should be considered, with floor use safety information required from manufacturers.
Also in 2012, the first glass tile standard was released (ANSI A137.2). Five years later, the first standard for gauged porcelain tiles and panels/slabs was released, and in 2022, criteria for 2cm products were added. With all these new tile standards, numerous new installation materials and practices were also standardized. These were important additions, specifying the properties and installation methodology of a wide range of materials.
Turning to marketing, in 2017 the ceramic tile industry launched WhyTile.com, premised on four main tenets: design, easy care, healthy spaces, and heritage. With input from all of the Coverings partners, the WhyTile site serves as an educational and inspirational resource.
In closing, let us remember the formation of the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) in 1996, marking the beginning of a historic partnership between the NTCA and TCNA, and subsequently TCAA, IMI and IUBAC, to develop education, training programs and certification for tile installers. Then, as now, qualified labor remains the backbone of all tile installations, and we look forward to continuing to work with our colleagues in the installation community on developing opportunities for future tile installation professionals.
By Michael Martin-National Wood Floors Association
Thirty years ago, wood flooring was in the middle stages of making a comeback. Carpet was king from the 1950s up until the mid- to late 1980s. But a strange thing started to happen as people began renovating homes built 20 to 30 years prior: when the carpet was pulled out, homeowners often found a hardwood floor underneath in perfect condition.
This happened as the U.S. grew in a post-war economy with mass homebuilding projects into suburbia. At that time, strip hardwood flooring was being used as subfloor with carpet installed over it, as plywood and other pressed wood products had not yet become mainstream as subfloors.
For many, it was like finding a buried treasure, and hardwoods began having a renaissance. After the original owners sold, buyers who found wood subfloors under their carpet started refinishing them, thinking they were original hardwood floors, and around the same time, people building new homes started putting wood floors back into foyers, dining rooms and family rooms.
Many new trends emerged with the growing hardwood sector-waterborne finishes and the advancement of engineered wood floors, for example. Today, everything from oils to waterborne to wax gives wood a different finish, with new developments in scratch and water resistance. Over the last 30 years, you could also say that wood floors went from traditional strip flooring to longer and wider planks as technologies advanced. Thirty years ago, no one would have dreamed of putting down an 8’- to 12’-long plank that’s more than 12” wide.
The wood look is in such high demand today that other categories imitate it, spend millions in product development to make plastic and photos look more like it, and in some cases, even trick the consumer into buying fake wood-look products with clever wood-like names.
It’s hard to predict, but I would imagine wood will still be the aspirational flooring for consumers as we see better technologies in scratch and water resistance. The next generation of homeowners is far more concerned with sustainable and natural choices that are respectful of the planet than current decision-makers are. Speaking of, I just learned today that even when wood floors go into a landfill, they continue to store carbon as they degrade naturally. Unfortunately, plastic floors only continue to release toxins for hundreds of years after their single use is over and they stay mostly intact in a landfill.
By Barbara Ellenberg June-North American Laminate Flooring Association
The idea for laminate to be used as flooring was originally conceived in 1977 by the Swedish company Perstorp (now known as Pergo), and the first laminate flooring was sold in Sweden in 1980. Laminate hit the U.S. market in 1994 as a category and was a wild success. I remember when it came out, standing in Home Depot, saying, “I wonder if this stuff is that good.” Manufacturer after manufacturer began copying Pergo and coming up with their own claims-which got wilder and crazier, wilder and crazier.
The North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA) was founded in 1997 by a group of U.S. and Canadian manufacturers and importers that sought to legitimize the product through established standards. All the while, manufacturers were experimenting with locking systems and different types of overlays to improve the installation and durability of the product. At the same time, designers were working on “how do we get away from this square edge, three-strip, manufactured-wood-looking floor?” Laminate quickly started evolving into more of what the consumer wanted in his or her home, and that has never stopped.
When wider wood flooring became fashionable, the industry made its laminate planks look wider. When hardwood went to more individual planks with beveled edges, laminate did the same. Now, the industry has moved to wider, longer boards; variable-length boards; and herringbone installations. The technology advances to meet the design needs to keep the product fresh.
Laminate has always had a DIY element to it, but Välinge’s 5G locking system was a game-changer. It held the planks together well but was still easy to install. It actually made it easier to install than before. That fold-down technology and drop and lock systems totally changed the consumer’s view of laminate.
Laminate innovated again when new LVT formats started confusing the marketplace by using the word “plank,” coupled with claims of being waterproof. That made all the hardwood, engineered wood and laminate people perk up: real wood and water don’t mix, and all our products are made from wood. The various industries had to innovate. In laminate’s case, while the top layer was inherently waterproof, the seams were not. Today, through a combination of innovative new approaches, laminate has achieved water resistance for the category.
Laminate will continue to evolve, and it will hold its marketshare. The products are tried and true, and the visuals improve every season. Laminate is here to stay, and laminate is not a commodity floor.
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