Modular Carpet Report: Manufacturers continue to design and innovate despite challenges presented by the past year - Feb 2021

The commercial sector is seeing negative longer-term effects from the pandemic as offi ce employees continue to work from home, travel and hospitality businesses struggle, and consumers avoid retail stores. Much like the rest of the commercial flooring business, uncertainty remains about how this year will stack up for modular carpet. For the most part, manufacturers expect business to remain slow in retail and hospitality with education and workplace seeing activity gradually build, and they believe that while business might be slow, modular fl ooring’s attributes are well-suited for the changing commercial landscape.

Mark Oliver, vice president of product management for Mohawk Group, says, “For a while, people were thinking they would be working from home or going to school at home the whole time, and that’s not what has happened. We are seeing people get excited about returning to the office.” He believes there are two contributing factors: one is that many people have what he calls “Zoom fatigue” from having so many virtual meetings; the other is that many people just want to connect with their friends and coworkers again. He says, “We are find-ing ways to [return] safely and effectively, and in a way, flooring can help. For example, there are patterns that can help you understand what six feet of separation looks like.”

Lisa King, Interface’s vice president and chief innovation officer, adds, “Modular carpet plays a big role in the design con-cept for adaptive use. Flooring can help to designate the flow of traffic and can give cues to help maintain social distancing within indoor spaces. In the future, the flexible flooring can be modified in response to changing social, economic and physical events.”

Modular carpet is almost entirely a commercial product. Over the last 20 years a handful of manufacturers have at-tempted to make headway in the residential market. Milliken tried its hand in both the home center and independent retailer channels for a few years. Interface’s Flor found a niche for itself in the residential market, though it ended up closing its 20 brick-and-mortar stores and now focuses entirely on Internet and catalogue sales. Stanton threw its hat in the ring in 2014 with Rug Revolution. And just in the last couple of years, Engineered Floors and Shaw have both introduced substantial residential carpet tile programs. While residential carpet tile volumes are not yet big enough to move the needle, retailers noted in-creased traction with Shaw’s Floorigami and Engineered Floors’ Smart Squares last year.

In recent months, retailers and manufacturers have reported rebounds in residentially styled flooring sales, mainly bolstered by those seeking out easy flooring solutions. “We saw our modular flooring explode when Covid first hit,” says Kurt Paulson, vice president of Shaw’s Floorigami, “and we do not see those projects going away anytime soon.” He also predicts a continued strengthening in DIY.

Robb Myer, vice president of business development for Mohawk’s Aladdin mainstreet brand, says, “Where soft surface flooring in the past didn’t necessarily lend itself to DIY projects, improvements in installation systems and the introduction of planks means more people can.”

To understand the DIY movement and changing consumer preferences, Shaw began conducting research last year, Paulson says. But he said it was shifting at a breakneck pace. “If it was August and we were looking at data from July, we felt like we were outdated. It was literally changing so quickly. Consumers and how they are buying is forever changed.” Paulson adds that already existing shifts in consumers’ online habits were accelerated in terms of years.

Acknowledging the new landscape, James Pope, director of marketing and sales operations for Interface’s Flor brand, says, “The global pandemic has really allowed customers to re-engage in the home. People are really saying, ‘If I’m going to be at home and I’m going to spend so much time in the home, I really want it to be a special, beautiful, comfortable space.’ And what we’re trying to do now, more than ever, is really help them with that and really support that experience. We are coming out with a variety of styles that help customers create a unique space.”

Some manufacturers say there’s possibly another factor influencing DIY: a shortage of skilled labor. Quentin Quathamer, director of Shaw’s mainstreet commercial channel, says that could be what gives modular and other easy-to-install flooring a competitive edge, “Skilled labor will continue to be a challenge as we move forward. These modular solutions provide an ease of installation compared to the skill needed for broadloom. You combine that with a market that says, ‘Boy, I would love to have design, flexibility of that design, flexibility of selective replacing damaged areas or updating the design.’ Those are all things modular gives you. It’s a nice marriage when those come together.”

Even before Covid, modular was starting to flip the script on what it could be. There was a time that carpet tile was nothing more than a product of function, driven solely by its ability to stand up to tough conditions. Recalls Richard French, vice president of global sales and marketing for Bentley Mills, “Those of us who sold modular going back to the ’80s and early ’90s, we sold it with the back facing the client. We talked about flexibility, we talked about moving tiles around, and we talked about staining and selective replacement. We talked about the functionality of the carpet. And then we slowly turned it over … and it was ugly. We all had ugly carpet tile.”

Says David Hood, division vice president for Tarkett North America, “Early in my career, when you walked in, you knew it was modular immediately,” adding that it was a pure functional solution. “With tufting technology at the time, you could not put much pattern on carpet tile because you couldn’t join the tile. It was quite a bit of solids.”

Despite the look, or lack there-of, it came with long-term advan-tages in commercial settings that broadloom couldn’t touch, such as not having seams that would split, not ripping, tearing or rip-pling, no delamination of the back-ing and the ease of shipping and handling. And if you needed to replace a piece, you didn’t have to remove an entire office full of furniture.

As tufting technologies, design developments and sizing options evolved over the years, it boosted the once-bland modular carpet in-dustry. Driven by a new approach to both function and form, carpet tile gained new momentum and marketshare over broadloom in the soft surface arena.

Says King, “Modular carpet is inherently more flexible when compared to broadloom as it is easy to install, facilitates selective replacement of tiles and results in lower waste dur-ing product installation and over lifetime maintenance. Most segments have areas that lend themselves to soft surface, and modular carpet is a smart solution for any designer or end-user that is looking for flooring that delivers high performance, easy maintenance and sophisticated design.

And as Jason McKee, vice president of commercial carpet at Mannington Commercial, points out, technology has improved, “Advancements in tufting technology with a machine like ColorPoint can allow you an almost Axminster look and very specific placement of color and texture.”

Also, with the advancements in construction and range of fiber options over the years, carpet tile is becoming a more affordable option that it previously was when compared to broadloom.

The emergence of different sizes other than squares, like rectangles, planks and hexagons, have further boosted carpet tile business and injected enthusiasm into the category.

Says Hood, “We operated for so many years with 18” squares and 24” squares and 36” squares, and now we’re go-ing to rectangles and planks. It’s creating design flexibility and it allows a design team to design for a different format. It really allows end users and designers to customize a space using pattern, color and texture to focus the space on the needs of those within it and the organizational goals.”

Some companies have started designing products across categories, like LVT and carpet tile, in an effort to create designs that can be installed adjacent to each other without transitions. According to Oliver, “Our design team and product team purposefully design products to be interchangeable, whether it’s the size, color or pattern. All of them should have a coor-dinate, so if someone walks through a space, there’s no disjoint between the hard surface and soft surface. I think that’s going to be really fun to watch.”

Adds Myer, “Success is going to be when carpet tile, broadloom and hard surface are designed together, and you have a good design sense behind it that you can really create a one-stop-shop to move forward. Those are the trends you are going to see.”

Interface is one of only a handful of modular producers that makes products for both residential and commercial settings. Its U.S.-produced carpet tile is made in LaGrange, Georgia.

On the commercial side, it has products designed to work across virtually every market segment, including office, educa-tion, healthcare, government, industrial, retail and hospitality, with more than 300 styles in a variety of colorways for more than 3,000 options.

In October 2020, Interface launched the world’s first carbon negative carpet tile styles as part of its new Embodied Beauty collection. The line as a whole features seven styles in 12 colorways. Of those, three are carbon neutral-Shishu Stitch, Tokyo Texture and Zen Stitch.

Interface also recently launched its CQuest backings line, which includes three carbon negative backings: CQuestGB, which serves as the next evolution of the GlasBac backing and includes a construction of post-consumer recycled content from carpet tiles, bio-based additives and pre-consumer re-cycled materials; CQuestBio, a non-vinyl, bio-composite back-ing made with bio-based and recycled fillers; and CQuestBioX, which features the same material make-up as CQuestBio with a higher concentration of carbon negative materials.

Flor, Interface’s upscale residential modular program, was launched in 2003. As Pope describes it, “We sell area rugs that are made of carpet tiles.” He says that’s typically how custom-ers are applying the product, although some do choose to go wall to wall. Flor currently has about 130 styles and 640 SKUs, according to Pope.

The investments in sustainability extend to Flor, Pope says, and the modular line will be transitioning to the CQuestGB backing this spring. A vast majority of Flor’s yarn is 100% re-cycled nylon produced by Aquafil.

Through its ReEntry reclamation and recycling program, the company has collected and recycled vinyl-backed carpet tiles for more than 25 years. Says King, “To do this, we cleanly separate the face from the backing of carpet tiles. We use the carpet backing for our manufacturing processes and find other streams of use for the face fibers, so nothing goes to waste.

Shaw Industries also produces carpet tile for residential and commercial applications. Floorigami Shaw’s residential modular line, which launched last year, offers 9”x36” peel-and-stick planks in 11 styles in a mix of nylon and polyester fibers.

Looking ahead, Paulson says he has several things he’s excited about for the coming year, including the rise of DIY projects that are going on in the home. Secondly, he adds, the firm launched last year. And thirdly, there has been a focus on what he calls the BOPIS strategy-buy online and pick up in-store. “We have 1,500 traditional retailers that we consider Floorigami service providers, where a consumer can purchase from Shaw directly and then have it picked up at a local retailer,” he explains. “We believe that strategy and tim-ing is a way to engage traditional retailers with DIY customers that they are not seeing today, unless they have a DIY business. We’re trying to make our Floorgiami service providers part of a transaction, not just a lead. And we are excited about what that could mean in the future for us.”

Paulson says it will be important for the Floorigami brand that they are present with where DIY consumers are looking-on-line, big box, etc. As part of that effort, Shaw has announced that Floorigami started going into Walmart in January.

Shaw’s commercial and mainstreet brands are Shaw Con-tract, Patcraft and Philadelphia Commercial. Philadelphia of-fers more than 100 styles in the mainstreet line, covering the spectrum of cost, application and performance. Quathamer says what sets that program apart is the availability of consul-tants and their connection to experts in those areas of sound, moisture and so on, who can work together to find solutions for a consumer’s particular challenge.

Its two PVC-free modular backing systems are StrataWorx and EcoWorx. While EcoWorx has been in the market since 1999, StrataWorx was introduced into the market about three years ago as a lightweight backing option. Quathamer says its arrival has given end users a more affordable solution that also provides performance.

Tarkett is a producer of a range of hard and soft surface flooring, and its commercial carpet is made up of broadloom, carpet tile and Powerbond six-foot goods. It’s been a few years since the firm acquired Lexmark Carpet Mills. All of its brands-Tandus Centiva, Johnsonite, Desso and Lexmark-have been unified under one unified Tarkett label. Currently, one of the firm’s main areas of focus is on its Ethos backing, says Hood.

Ethos is one of three backings the firm offers. It was intro-duced in 2004 as a PVC alternative reclaimed mostly from post-consumer automobile glass-the polyvinyl butyral layer is what holds the glass together when it shatters. Ethos is coated with Tarkett’s Omnicoat, a moisture-mitigating layer, and when paired with TarkettTape, no moisture testing is required and there’s no risk of failure. Says Hood, “From an environmental and performance standpoint, Ethos stands out. And that’s the foundation for our modular offering.” He adds that the majority of Tarkett’s carpet has Ethos backing.

The other Tarkett backings are ER3, made from 100% recycled material, and ER3 FlexAire, the cushion option for acoustic and underfoot comfort.

Hood says many of Tarkett’s modular offerings are also available in a Powerbond 6-foot wide rolled good format for high-performance situations. He said it’s just part of the com-pany’s growing efforts to design and introduce products that can be paired across flooring categories to better meet end users’ specific needs with spaces.

Mohawk Group makes broadloom for both the com-mercial and residential markets, while its carpet tile are only marketed to the commercial market.

Oliver says there’s been a lot of energy around the Personal Studio platform, which launched at the tail end of 2020. It allows users to create their own carpet tile for the contract market. “You can select from thousands of patterns and colors to go out there and make something that’s truly unique to you and your job,” he adds. Digital simulations can be generated within an hour and samples can be delivered within five days. He adds that the minimum per order is 50 yards and includes both planks and squares. Ultimately, he says, it gives users hundreds of thousands of options from which to choose. Op-tic Reset, one of Mohawk’s latest Living Product carpet plank collections, was recolored using the Personal Studio tool to coordinate the firm’s yarns with Pantone’s Colors of the Year: Ultimate Gray and Illuminating.

Aladdin Commercial is a mainstreet brand under Mohawk that sells both hard and soft surface products. Myer says Aladdin’s modular program uses both Colorstrand, a solution-dyed nylon, and EnviroStrand, a PET. He adds that most of its modular products are backed with Matrix PET backing.

Oliver says there’s currently excitement about the com-pany’s sustainability story and that production of PVC carpet tile has ceased as of the end of 2020. “It was a huge win for us,” he says, adding that it had been a project they’d been working on for years.

Mohawk recycles more than six billion bottles a year as part of its Continuum program, and those bottles go back into the EverStrand fiber and Matrix backing, according to Myer. To date, the company says it has recycled more than 50 billion bottles.

Bentley Mills is a producer of both broadloom and carpet tile for the commercial market, and it also has an LVT program. Its production is located at a 300,000-square-foot facility in City of Industry, California.

Bentley’s carpet tile is made using Invista’s Antron nylon 6,6. Says French, “We believe that to be the best fiber in terms of longevity and all of the things an end user needs.” The firm offers three backing options: Afirma, a hardback used on most carpet tile products; NexStep, a cushion backing; and Affixx hardback, a Velcro-like mechanical system that is non-adhesive. He says the benefit for a product like Affixx is that once adhe-sive collects dust, dirt or moisture, it loses its efficacy, but the Velcro-like technology does not. He adds that direct gluedown with releasable adhesive remains the most popular option and that 50% of what Bentley sells is cushion back.

The company’s largest area of growth has been in the higher education market. French says the company will continue to focus its efforts on soft surface, especially in the upper end of the market. While it participates in LVT, it has not yet started designing soft surface and hard surface products together, French says.

Bentley’s mill is LEED-certified facility, and it is also Cradle to Cradle certified, which requires that there be no PVC in its products.

French says that, moving forward, the company will continue to lean heavily on performance while also focusing on aesthet-ics, “To be sustainable and long-performing doesn’t mean it has to be ugly.”

Mannington’s commercial carpet tile is manufactured in Calhoun, Georgia. In the spring of 2020, the firm launched a new express shipping program for carpet tile that had seven collections, 24 patterns and about 180 SKUs, according to McKee. “Heading into this year,” McKee says, “we stalled some of our product development at the back end of the year, but we are going to crank that back up. We have a lot of new launches, specifically for the workplace. We think the work-place market will still be slow, but new launches in 2021 means that when recovery happens, we will be well-positioned.”

Mannington uses Antron nylon 6,6 fiber in most of its prod-ucts. The backing system is Infinity 2, which is an extruded PVC carpet tile backing. Says McKee, “We have a couple of variants of that. One is Infinity 2 MG (moisture guard) where we apply an eight-ounce polyester fleece backing onto the PVC backing, which gives you minimum moisture tolerances of 95% and up. We have a second variant, Infinity 2 MG Cushion; it is also a heavier polyester fleece cushion, which provides moisture protection and a true cushion for comfort underfoot.”

The firm also has a non-vinyl backing called Revolve 2 and urethane cushion option for that called Revolve 2 Cushion. Adds McKee, “We are hearing from the marketplace that they want simplicity, so we spent a lot of 2019 and 2020 simplifying our line.” McKee says the firm is currently prototyping a new backing system, and while he would not share details around it, he says Mannington aims to have it to market in 2023.

While Mannington’s current modular program is only for commercial use, McKee says the purchase of Phenix in 2019 could help launch them into the residential market in the future, “We really spent 2020 integrating that into our line, but we are certainly beginning discussions about residential carpet tile production.”

Engineered Floors offers modular flooring for both residential and commercial applications.
Pentz Commercial is EF’s brand targeting the mainstreet and tenant improvement sectors. It has more than 60 products across the broadloom, modular, hard surface and specialty categories, according to Eric Ruppert, Pentz’s category man-ager. The brand offers both a nylon Encore SD fiber system and Apex SDP, a PET, in various sizes-12”x48” planks and 24”x24” tiles-as well as coordinating products in both modu-lar and broadloom.

Ruppert says the most recent introductions include Amplify and Magnify, available in both tile and plank. “These products were designed to bring the geometric shapes from nature to the floor to complement the natural shapes inside. The random placement of the shapes blends perfectly with various walls and moldings.”

Engineered Floors’ Commercial Division includes J+J Flooring and EF Contract. J+J Flooring joined the EF family of compa-nies in 2016. It offers a wide array of styles and colorways in 12”x48”, 18”x36” and 24”x24” formats.

This year, J+J is launching Obsidian, a new 24”x24” carpet tile style that the firm says captures the “enigmatic beauty and opulence of molten crystals.” The collection is manufactured with 100% Encore SD Ultima solution-dyed nylon and features the Nexus Modular backing system.

EF Contract serves the specified contract market as well as hospitality. In June, it released Simple Weave, a new carpet style available in broadloom and 18”x36” carpet planks. It’s available in 11 colorways and is manufactured from 100% solution-dyed Encore SD Ultima nylon.

Smart Squares is Engineered’s residential modular program and offers 18”x18” tiles in peel-and-stick styles: Easy Street, In a Snap, Piece of Cake and A Walk in the Park. Each is available in a variety of colorways.

Engineered Floors’ modular programs offer a unique instal-lation system that can be used on various projects. The high-tack Nexus TileTabs allow the installation and replacement of flooring without the use of spread adhesives. The tabs are odorless, VOC-free and eliminate drying time. It makes all of its own carpet fibers, which includes a mix of nylon 6,6, nylon 6 and PET.

Milliken’s modular carpet all goes to the commercial market. Among its newer offerings are Color Thesis and Edge Lit, which are considered modular rug collections.

Color Thesis is available in 18 colors and is constructed with nylon 6,6 using Milliken’s PrintWorks print dye technology. It’s backed with the firm’s PVC-free WellBAC Comfort Cushion or TractionBack.

Edge Lit was released in 2019. Bold geometric shapes are a signature of this collection, which comes in 12 colors and is available in both planks and square tiles. It’s constructed with nylon 6,6 and comes with Milliken’s WellBac, a PVC-free cushion product.

In 2020, Milliken finalized its acquisition of Borchers, a spe-cialty chemicals company that makes additives for coatings, inks and adhesives.

AtlasMasland is the result of a rebranding effort an-nounced in May 2020, aimed at combining two legacy brands under The Dixie Group. Masland had been a part of Dixie for 25 years, but Atlas was a newer brand, acquired in 2014. The brands were united in 2018 under one name but maintained separate identities. Moving forward as AtlasMasland, the com-pany hopes to present a unified voice.

The company is currently in the process of making a major change to its backing system with a goal to move 100% away from PVC, according to Don Dolan, executive vice president of sales. The program is called Sustaina and does not contain PVC, polyurethane or red list chemicals, and the total recycled content of the product, when face fiber is counted, can be up to 82%-a combination of post-consumer and pre-consumer. Dolan adds, “It is breathable, there’s less floor preparation for a contractor, and the floor doesn’t have to be sealed.” Any product that is backed with Sustaina will be third-party certified platinum to the NSF/ANSI 140 Sustainability Assessment for carpet. When initially launched, Sustaina was a cushion-only product, but Dolan says it’s been expanded to cover all prod-ucts, and the rollout is underway.

Most of the firm’s products are installed using a pressure-sensitive adhesive, but Dolan says they do have tabs that a flooring contractor can use, though most tend to go with adhesive.

He predicts that for 2021 multifamily and senior living will be the primary growth markets for AtlasMasland, adding that despite challenges in the market, “we’re still involved in the workplace and retail and hospitality. We’re going to continue to introduce products, even with the marketplace struggling. We feel we need to continue to introduce prod-ucts to keep interest of the designer and end-use clients. However, we do feel the backing change is significant be-cause its sustainability story helps put us in a different place than we’ve been in the past.”

Copyright 2021 Floor Focus 

Related Topics:Interface, Tarkett, Engineered Floors, LLC, Lumber Liquidators, Masland Carpets & Rugs, Shaw Industries Group, Inc., Mannington Mills, Lexmark Carpet Mills, The Dixie Group, Mohawk Industries