Flooring Forensics: Lew Migliore discusses what we expect from the LVT category - Dec 2018
By Lew Migliore
Everyone in the flooring industry knows, or should, that luxury vinyl tile and plank, in its variety of forms and evolving iterations, is the hottest flooring product in the market today with no signs of cooling. With growth continuing at a rapid pace, there is no U.S. manufacturer that can meet the market’s demand any time soon, so, tariffs or no tariffs, the majority of these products are still going to be sourced from overseas, with China leading production.
The consensus among several flooring dealers participating in a business strategies meeting for LVT is that two things drive the sale of this product-price and color. No matter what, that’s the criteria for selling both residential and commercial product. Additionally, the group reported that the buyer doesn’t care where the product is made if it meets the first two criteria.
Q: What’s driving the growth of LVT in the residential and commercial market?
A: The simple answer is that the product is affordable and easy to maintain, can look like wood or stone, is touted as having performance characteristics of Herculean proportions (whether it does or not), and is the trendiest flooring product on the market. Watch any of the home shows on TV, and you’ll see homeowners who want a hard surface floor that looks like wood. LVT fills that want. From a marketing perspective, one of the objectives for building a successful business is to find a need and fill it-and that’s exactly what LVT products do. The demand in the commercial market-especially healthcare and hospitality-is much the same, and these products create a homey, residential feel where they’re installed, a trend for these environments.
Q: What are some of the shortfalls of LVT from a performance standpoint?
A: The greatest failure in relation to LVT is overselling the product. Because it comes in such a variety of qualities, with such a variety of performance characteristics, and because people choose it based on what they’re seeing on the face, a lot of product gets installed in places where it can’t perform. A good understanding of what is being purchased and for what application is paramount to getting a product that will fit the performance criteria for the location it’s installed. Unlike carpet, which has construction characteristics such as stitch rate, gauge, yarn twist, pile height variation, etc.-all of which can be measured-LVT’s construction is less quantifiable. With this product, a consumer-and often even a seller-doesn’t know what they don’t know.
Q: In your role at LGM & Associates, what is the biggest claim issue you see with LVT?
A: No question, it is dimensional and planar stability, which is the potential for these products, especially the cheaper ones, to suffer dimensional issues such as shrinking and expanding and planar issues such as curling, cupping and doming. Everyone in the flooring industry wants to jump on the bandwagon and sell these products without understanding the details of them. In addition, almost everyone, big and small, is sourcing all or most of the material from overseas and has little to no control over what they’re getting when it comes to quality. When a problem exists, the installer gets the blame, and the supplier is left perplexed, assuming the failure can’t be product-related.
Q: What should the end user look for to ensure they are buying a quality LVT product that will last?
A: A well-known, large domestic manufacturer that puts the name of their brand on the product and backs it up with customer service and a no B.S. warranty. Whether they make the product or not, an identifiable brand name instills consumer confidence. The bottom line is, buy from a manufacturer you can trust and one that will stand behind the product.
Q: LVT is taking share from carpet in apartment and hotel room applications because the building owner has been told the product will last twice as long. Do you think that is a wise investment decision?
A: In apartment applications, carpet uglies out and gets dirty. LVT won’t ugly out or look dirty, so that alone makes a huge difference. In hotels, there is a trend to make spaces homier, which LVT can, and, again, the ugly/dirty factor comes into play.
On the other hand, LVT is louder than carpet, as it resonates sound rather than absorbing it. In an apartment, the occupant can cover the LVT with rugs to achieve warmth underfoot. That’s not done so much in hotel rooms; therefore, the use of LVT presents some cold-case consequences. I wouldn’t count carpet out yet in hotel applications. Its warmth and sound factors may yet outweigh the ugly/dirty factors.
Q: Rigid LVT is being sold as waterproof flooring. Is that misleading?
A: What does the term “waterproof” really mean on each particular product? Some warranties promise the product will be waterproof as long as the liquid stays atop the material and does not seep down through the edges. Tell that to the water, which naturally flows along the paths of least resistance. As long as there’s space between the tile, water will get in.
As an industry, why are we promoting the “waterproof” concept at all? We can say that carpet is waterproof too-especially polypropylene, which is hydrophobic-but that doesn’t mean the material doesn’t get wet. From a marketing standpoint, I believe that promoting waterproof LVT is problematic, as it’s a disputable aspect and therefore has the potential to alienate consumers. The focus should be on the true benefits and performance of the product, but the flooring industry has never been great at marketing-manufacturing, yes, but not marketing.
Q: What issues are U.S. producers having as they ramp up production of LVT?
A: First off, everyone selling LVT is not a producer-in fact, most aren’t-so most U.S. manufacturers aren’t going to be building anything that makes this product. As for those that are-such as Mannington and Armstrong-there simply isn’t enough money, time or capacity for them to supply the demand. As long as this product consumes marketshare and feeds demand, it will have to come from sources already geared to make it.
Q: What do laminate producers have to do to effectively compete against LVT?
A: We’re back to price and color here. Laminate can certainly compete on style and color, but it may not when it comes to waterproofing and sound abatement. Laminate has to overcome many of the issues that slowed its growth with the advent of LVT, such as core integrity and susceptibility to moisture. Noise is another factor in that the hard, plastic surface can be louder than vinyl depending on the product and backing. The use of a sound absorbing underlayment can mitigate this to an extent; even with underlayment, in the space within which it’s installed, it still may be louder than LVT, but, below that space, it may be quieter.
Laminate is actually very hard to scratch compared to LVT, and I can say this: LGM & Associates get no claims on laminate flooring in the commercial market, which can’t be said for LVT.
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