Modular Carpet Report: Rewriting the script on sector-specific and product-specific plans - Feb 2019

By Beth Miller

An elevated end-use focus by manufacturers is transforming the production and marketing of carpet tile, not simply influencing design, performance and maintenance considerations, but also breaking down traditional notions about designing and producing flooring products for specific end-use segments. Also, now more than ever, manufactures are co-producing hard and soft products to work in tandem across a range of applications.

Several trends have influenced these shifts. Manufacturers have a greater understanding of the range of environments within projects and their varying needs-magnified by a movement toward mixed use at every scale, from offices with zones for everything from recreation to collaboration to cozy retreat to mixed-use buildings with applications for retail, hospitality corporate, multifamily, fitness and more. And LVT’s meteoric rise has led to a market dominated by two categories, making it unavoidable for LVT and carpet tile development to be drawn together, particularly now that all the carpet mills also produce LVT-either outsourced or in-house.

BLURRED LINES: SEGMENT BREAKDOWN
While the commercial carpet industry has historically concentrated on sector-specific products, today we see more fluidity, both in manufacturers designing products that can be used across multiple sectors and in the sectors utilizing products that they hadn’t previously. Segments that have historically used broadloom, like hospitality, are specifying more carpet tile, for instance. Not too long ago, design teams relied on a market specific focus for product development, but these days it’s more common to see design teams create products with a focus on applications, not sectors. And they’re coordinating multiple product types and creating patterns and color palettes that allow them to work together in a space.

Matt Miller, president of Interface, says, “There is absolutely crossover between some of the market segments and the design aesthetics that are prevalent there,” such as the resimercial trend that brings residential elements into commercial environments. Interface has supported this crossover by bringing its residential Flor brand to the commercial market. Miller says, “There will continue to be a blurring of design across sectors.”

Michel Vermette, president of Mohawk Group, says, “Mohawk Group’s design team works to design all product types in a coordinated effort. We look at the different surfaces and design the products jointly to provide a solution to a problem.” Worth noting is that each collection is designed with a primary and secondary segment in mind. For instance, Mohawk Group recently launched a collection in education that has performance attributes that fulfill requirements for retail and hospitality as well. Vermette says it is not uncommon to see SKUs from five different collections in one project.

Mannington Commercial has a different approach entirely with its institutional versus non-institutional segment categorization. Jack Ganley, president of Mannington Commercial, says, “Workplace and higher education, and to a lesser degree retail, work more closely together, meaning that products you introduce for one of those segments apply across both; the same thing applies to healthcare and education.” Ganley feels that designers do not necessarily expect flooring manufacturers to develop products that are segment-specific, with the exception of segments like senior living where certain performance requirements and certain visual and textural parameters must be met.

Companies with a heavy focus on a single market sector, such as Masland Contract, are able to maintain a streamlined development process. In Masland’s case, it works primarily in high-end corporate, offering 177 carpet tile, LVT, broadloom, rug and plank products; however, 79 of those products also target the hospitality market, along with 48 in senior living and 31 in multifamily, based on the performance and design requirements for those segments.

Jim McCallum, president of Milliken, says, “We have a two-pronged approach. We will develop products that are specific to a segment and products we think will go across multiple segments. We position those differently.” According to McCallum, hospitality is in a class of its own when it comes to product development. “There’s no doubt when we make hospitality products, it is focused on the hospitality segment,” he adds. However, with healthcare, education, government and corporate segments, he notes that “there is a similarity in the design aspect and the channel management, not necessarily an absolute sameness.”

COORDINATING PRODUCTS
Companies like Shaw and Mohawk have been offering coordinating carpet tile and LVT products for several years. The numerous design options that are available provide designers and specifiers with solutions for a multitude of issues. Today, all flooring manufacturers are heavily focusing their efforts on offering a variety of coordinating products in carpet tile, LVT, broadloom, rubber and some hybrid products.

Some companies were slow adopters and are now having to play catch-up in order to meet the demands and remain relevant. Others are taking product coordination to the next level by offering specifiers tools to simplify the coordinating process. For example, Mannington offers a “what works with this product” link on each product page that takes designers straight to other coordinating products without having to try to locate them on their own. And Milliken has a grouping of color palettes to choose from.

Tarkett’s Solution Spectrum helps customers compile a product palette that centers around the project’s needs. The comprehensive design program allows customers to choose from resilient, soft surface products and Tarkett accessories like wall base. Colors, patterns and textures are then coordinated to create a total design solution.

PRODUCER OVERVIEW
The top specified carpet mills in the U.S. have substantial carpet tile programs that continue to see growth. For most of these mills, their carpet tile programs dwarf their broadloom.

Interface has a global manufacturing footprint, though its carpet tile business in the Americas is all produced in Troup County, Georgia. In December 2017, the firm broke ground on the first phase of its Kyle 2 carpet tile facility in LaGrange, Georgia. Phase one, a 50,000-square-foot expansion of its production space, cost over $50 million. The second phase will consist of expanding the same facility another 100,000 square feet and is slated to be completed by the end of 2019.

The majority of Interface’s carpet tile uses a PVC hardback. Interface’s ReEntry program takes back any product, irrespective of manufacturer, as long as the company can determine the product breakdown. The components are then separated and recycled. At the end of 2017, the firm reports that, in the Americas, 72% of its raw materials were recycled or bio-based.

Moving forward into 2019, the firm will continue to focus on its sustainability efforts, key growth segments and the Nora acquisition. As a result of the acquisition, Interface’s product portfolio has expanded from carpet tile and LVT to now include rubber. Its portfolio functions as an integrated system where all three products can work together to provide design solutions.

Shaw Industries is the number one carpet tile producer in the U.S. market. Its carpet tile products are sold through its Shaw Contract, Patcraft and Philadelphia Commercial brands with the majority of production taking place in Georgia. All of the products come out three primary locations in Georgia: Plant X and Plant 13 in Cartersville and T1 in Adairsville. The T1 facility is the newest carpet tile plant, beginning operations in 2016. Early in 2018, Shaw purchased the 45-year-old, Scotland-based Sanquhar Tile Services facility, allowing it to expand into the European market. Shaw also produces carpet tile in its Nantong, China facility.

All of the modular products developed for each brand come out of all three facilities. The only difference is that one plant produces StrataWorx, Shaw’s fast-growing, lighter backing, and EcoWorx, Shaw’s biggest selling PVC-free backing system, is produced in the other two facilities.

EcoWorx was introduced in 1999 and is used on 95% of Shaw’s carpet tiles as well as Patcraft’s broadloom. It is used for both Patcraft and Shaw Contract brands. A modified version is used for broadloom, called Ecoworx Performance Broadloom. The polyolefin backing is cradle-to-cradle certified, fully recyclable and has low VOCs. StrataWorx, introduced in spring 2017, is a lightweight version of EcoWorx that is designed to hit lower price points.

When it comes to coordinating carpet tile and LVT, Jeff West, Patcraft’s vice president of marketing, says it began with its Mixed Materials line in 2013. It was the first grouping of products to be launched in a 5mm thickness.

The large variety of carpet tile shapes spanning all three brands adds to the continued innovation that Shaw feels makes it unique when it comes to design. Through the addition of new CNC carpet cutting technology, based in the U.S., the firm can now explore new design options through the range of tile shapes: hexagons, squares, rectangles, semi-circles and triangles.

Philadelphia Commercial is introducing two art-inspired carpet tile collections for 2019 as well as a new proprietary solution dyed PET fiber, branded Pivotal, to be used in its commercial tile collections. Additionally, Philadelphia Commercial will launch two LVT products that feature its proprietary Advantium Core SPC. It is a direct glue, non-pad SPC, offering dent resistance up to 2,000 PSI.

In October 2018, Tarkett completed its acquisition of Lexmark Carpet Mills, positioning it as the third largest hospitality player, according to Floor Focus estimates. In addition to hospitality, Tarkett develops product for the corporate, education and healthcare segments. At the end of last year, Tarkett absorbed all four product brands-Tandus Centiva, Johnsonite, Desso and Lexmark-under its flagship Tarkett brand.

The company feels that its design leadership combined with its wide spectrum of product lines in resilient, soft surface, hardwood, ceramic and sports flooring alongside the performance attributes of its backing and sustainability efforts are what define Tarkett. Christian Kuswita, director of product management with Tarkett, says the company used to rely heavily on market research and surveys; however, in order to be competitive and remain relevant, Tarkett has ditched the old methods in favor of going straight to the source. Its product development group reaches out to customers to understand their needs.

Tarkett offers four carpet tile backings: Ethos, made of PVB (polyvinyl butyral); ER3, made of PVC; Conserv, also made of PVC; and Flex-Aire, its cushion backing. Ethos, its most widely used backing, is coated with Omnicoat, Tarkett’s proprietary moisture mitigating coating, and if used in conjunction with TarkettTape, no moisture testing is required as long as there are no liquids or evidence of staining present.

The company operates a carpet tile and Powerbond facility in Dalton, Georgia; a woven and tufted broadloom facility in Truro, Nova Scotia; and an Axminster broadloom and carpet tile facility in the Netherlands.

Tarkett has been coordinating LVT and carpet tile for several years, and recently has been amping up its mix-and-match game between products. The firm recently launched AirSpace, a Jhane Barnes design, in its modular and Powerbond products that pairs with its ColorPlay LVT digitally printed, 32-mil wearlayer products. And launched at NeoCon 2018, Tailored Twist offers four patterns that can be ordered individually or combined; it is a collection that can be used in a variety of segments. Garden Walk is designed specifically for senior living and offers 12 designs in tile, broadloom and Powerbond. The collection coordinates with other broadloom products aimed at the healthcare segment.

Mohawk Group recently opened its newest carpet tile and LVT facility in Belgium, for a total of three facilities. The company produces carpet tile and broadloom in Australia and carpet tile and LVT in Asia. In the U.S., it produces woven and aviation products in Eden, North Carolina; carpet tile in Glasgow, Virginia; and broadloom in its Dalton, Georgia facility. Mohawk plans to add more capacity to its Glasgow plant and expand its NXT carpet tile platform. Mohawk’s FlexLok tabs can be used on all non-cushion back tile, including its NXT products. Its line of NXT backing products, among its best sellers, are non-PVC products that can be installed with tabs to allow for a floating floor, making it ideal for a moisture mitigation issue.

About a year ago, the Mohawk Group developed segment-specific teams for education, workplace/retail and healthcare/senior living. According to Vermette, this structure gives Mohawk Group a competitive advantage when it comes to all of the nuances of specific segments so they can speak the end-user/specifier language.

When Mohawk moved into the LVT market, the same studio designed all of the products. Hot and Heavy LVT was launched five years ago and was the same height as its carpet tile. As it continues to develop LVT in both 2.5mm and 5mm thicknesses, it is developing matching carpet tile.

Bentley Mills, located in City of Industry, California, makes both carpet tile and broadloom, with tile accounting for 75% of sales. Jim Harley, Bentley’s president, reports that carpet tile has grown significantly over the last four to five years. A third of its business is cushion products.
There are several factors that have contributed to the company’s growth. Harley points to service as the biggest factor impacting carpet sales currently, and Bentley is also seeing growth from the addition of lower price point products to its quick ship options. Bentley’s quick ship program guarantees delivery in ten days or less.

All of Bentley’s products come from its 330,000 square-foot facility that is capable of handling all aspects of the carpet tile process from tufting to finishing to dyeing. Bentley produces piece-dyed carpet tile using Invista nylon 6,6 fiber and some from Universal and Ascend, and is always looking at ways to improve the process. “Technology is allowing for easier combination of better aesthetics and performance, and finer denier yarn allows for lighter faced products but still provides high design options,” says Harley. It recently purchased a second ColorPoint machine and an Infinity attachment from CMC.

Bentley’s carpet tile has three backing options: Afirma hardback, which is used on most carpet tile products; NexStep cushion; and Affixx hardback-a floating floor installation system that uses a hook and loop system (much like Velcro) to enable installations over high-moisture subfloors.

The corporate segment is Bentley’s biggest sector; however, its products also go to higher education, government, healthcare and hospitality. It is focused on growing its healthcare and hospitality offerings going forward. Harley says, “A lot of the products are moving into different end-use segments. Corporate products are fitting into higher education, government and some will fit into hospitality and healthcare.” Thirty percent of Bentley’s business is custom work like airports.

Bentley is starting to market its LVT and carpet together. Its 5mm LVT coordinates with its carpet tile seamlessly and is being used primarily in the hospitality and retail segments-not so much in corporate.

Mannington Commercial has a carpet tile program that is now double the size of its broadloom business. With J+J’s exit from the joint venture it had with Mannington, the company stands to grow even more, with the majority of its investments going into tufting technology.

The company manufactures all of its products in its Calhoun, Georgia plant. The facility has three lines: pre-coat, laminating that does PVC backings, and an extrusion line that does both PVC and polyolefin backings.

New carpet tile sizes are trending. Traditionally, carpet tile comes in 24”x24” tiles. Now, it is moving toward 18”x36” and 12”x48”. Ganley points to the influence hard surface products have had on carpet tile sizing options. He also notes that there is much discussion surrounding the 2.5mm thickness versus 5mm when it comes to coordinating carpet tile and LVT. Ganley says, “We offer 5mm [LVT], but we point out to the customer that you don’t need it. It doesn’t contribute to additional performance. In fact, under heavy rolling loads, the 2.5mm actually performs better.” He also points out a potential issue that hasn’t gotten much attention yet: when carpet tile and LVT are installed side by side with no transition strip between, it’s difficult to wet-clean the LVT without also getting the carpet tile wet, which can lead to increased soiling.

With a heavy focus on performance, Mannington uses fibers and designs backing to support its standards. Antron nylon 6,6 is used in most of its carpet tile products for its long-term performance attributes and appearance retention, along with some Econyl and Ultron nylon 6. Infinity Modular backing is designed for dimensional stability and comes with a moisture barrier. It is fully recyclable through the company’s Loop reclamation program. Infinity RE is Mannington’s recycled backing. Revolve and Revolve Cushion contain recycled content and are non-PVC alternatives.

As the result of feedback from the installation community and end-users, high moisture in concrete continues to be an issue, pushing carpet tile manufacturers to seek a remedy. Mannington recently launched products with moisture resistance properties.

In 2018, Engineered Floors experienced its first full year with J+J as part of the Engineered Floors family of companies. It was also the first year of its new carpet tile facility in Dalton, Georgia. The new facility makes carpet tile and Kinetex, a hybrid soft and hard surface product. The firm has three facilities in total, all located within minutes of each other.

At the end of 2017, Engineered Floors acquired Beaulieu and its commercial brand Bolyu, which is now part of EF Contract. The firm has plans to reintroduce some of the older, better-selling Bolyu lines, refresh a few color lines and launch new products in 2019. EF decided to discontinue Bolyu’s Aqua hospitality business and focus solely on EF Contract and J+J. The firm still participates in the hospitality market as EF Hospitality. Carpet tile is also sold through EF’s mainstreet division, Pentz.

EF makes all of its fiber in Dalton, Georgia. Its carpet tile products make use of nylon, with some PET used in Pentz mainstreet carpet tile, and now the firm has a new fiber, Teraplex, which took 18 months to develop and is designed to withstand a high-impact, rigorous commercial environment. The fiber is made of a modified polyester polymer, resulting in a super stain-resistant PET fiber. EF currently has two yarn processing patents that alter the fiber, providing a different look. EF Contract will launch its Spilled Ink collection in February using this new fiber technology, while J+J will offer it on its Bouclé collection.

The firm offers two backing types, Nexus PVC hardback and cushion. Going forward with its newest plant, EF has been able to optimize its Nexus hardback product to create a lighter-weight construction with the same polymer technology, which has helped reduce the load factor, ultimately saving money on shipping costs. The Nexus PVC cushion back is primarily used in retail. Nexus backing is 100% recyclable.

Kinetex is a soft surface modular product that goes to market under both brands and coordinates with other carpet tile and LVT collections. Kinetex is widely used in the education segment where performance and durability are imperative. EF and J+J products primarily serve the corporate segment, but the firm is also selling some hospitality products for use in guest rooms and corridors.

James Lesslie, president of Beaulieu Commercial, sees plank as the fastest growing format and points to Kinetex as the firm’s fastest-growing product.

Milliken is known for its Millitron digital dye injection printing on carpet. Paired with the latest tufting technology, designs are possible that could not be achieved with solution-dyed fiber. There is more flexibility when it comes to color, and it is a quicker service model.

While Milliken does dabble a bit in the residential market with some broadloom and LVT products, it is more than 95% commercial. And within this sector, it has noted that the number one problem with carpet tile installation is moisture mitigation. This is where its breathable cushion back system comes into play.

Milliken has five design studios around the world in addition to numerous manufacturing facilities. It has facilities located within the U.S.-Spartanburg, North Carolina and LaGrange, Georgia. Another facility is located in Wigan, U.K., with one more in Shanghai, China and another in Sydney, Australia. There are a total of three manufacturing facilities in Georgia, and with a few exceptions, all of these plants have similar capabilities.

This year, Milliken has plans to grow its existing plants with machinery and space. Last year, the company purchased a 260,000-square-foot warehouse in Hogansville, Georgia. This is the first time Milliken has purchased a facility solely for warehousing and distribution purposes.

Milliken introduced the LVT category into its portfolio in 2015, making a strategic associate acquisition in 2018. Steve DeCarlo, formerly vice president of business development with Shaw, was the architect on Shaw’s LVT program. Now, VP of business development Floorcovering Division, DeCarlo is accelerating Milliken’s relevance in the marketplace, according to McCallum.

Masland Contract, part of the Dixie Group, recently merged its Masland and Atlas sales teams, and is in the process of consolidating Atlas’ manufacturing equipment, shifting its production lines from California to its Alabama facility. Piece dyeing will continue on the West Coast; however, the Alabama facility has enough capacity to take on the additional workload and will continue to tuft and finish solution-dyed broadloom and carpet tile.

At the end of 2018, the firm began placing more emphasis on carpet tile. Masland introduced its first carpet tiles in 2007, and they were available in only one size, 24”x24”. Now its plank, in a 12”x36”, is becoming more popular. While the firm will be introducing new broadloom products, it will produce carpet tile at a faster rate. Its goal for specified carpet tile versus broadloom is 50/50 over the next two years.

Masland has worked to improve service through its quick ship program and has added more products. It has also placed a renewed focus on its non-quick ship product service.

Masland’s carpet tiles are available with a PVC backing made with high-recycled content. It continues to see growth in its cushion backing, a needlepunched polyester with high post-consumer content. In fall of 2018, it introduced a 100% PVC cushion backing, and it also now offers a non-PVC product that is mostly going into high end corporate. While the firm primarily designs for high-end corporate, it also manufactures product for hospitality, senior living and multifamily.

The firm reports that design has shifted to high-texture looks with luster differences and a blend of warm and cool tones versus a distinct pattern. Subtle patterns are more popular. “Style and design always have to set it apart-that’s the market,” Don Dolan, executive VP of Masland Contract, says, “If you don’t have style and design, you can’t talk to the major design firms. Masland and Atlas have always been known for that. Now, we have to get back on track to be that leader.”

Its LVT comes in several sizes. While its 3mm thick LVT is thinner than carpet tile, its 5mm product transitions perfectly, precluding the need for transition strips between LVT and carpet tile. And an 8.5mm LVT comes with an attached cushion, solid core, and is a click product that is mostly used in multifamily, high-end hospitality and some senior living.

SHAW'S NEW RESIDENTIAL CARPET TILE LINE
Shaw launched its first formal residential carpet tile introduction called Floorigami at the Shaw Flooring Convention in January. The new soft, modular residential line will match up to residential hard surface offerings. It is aimed at the DIY-er with its peel-and-stick easy installation, and with the installation labor shortage, the company feels it is perfect timing. It is designed for wall-to-wall coverage or for use as an area rug. Shaw sees this introduction as an opportunity to learn as it moves forward with the portfolio expansion. Early targets for this product are bonus rooms and dorm rooms. The minimum advertised price (MAP) for this product is $2.99 a foot.

Floorigami, which comes in 9”x36” plank formats, is a solution-dyed PET product, available in one cut pile texture in five colors. It features Shaw’s StrataWorx polyethylene backing with a peel-and-stick adhesive installation system. The carpet tile line goes to retailers but, like Interface’s Flor before it, can also be purchased by consumers online.

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