Trends in Hospitality Flooring: Business remains strong - Nov 2016

By Jessica Chevalier

When we last reported on the hospitality market in May 2015, the sector was mid-boom, rippling with renovation business pent up during the recession’s down years. Today, that pent-up demand is nearly satisfied; however, flooring manufacturers that serve the sector report that, though business has leveled off a bit, it continues to be strong. 

This strength may come as a surprise to some, considering the abounding social uncertainty—with relation to the U.S. election, Brexit, terrorism, zika and extreme weather—each of which, and certainly all combined, have the power to encourage individuals to stay close to home and breast their cash, but the impact of those factors has been fairly minimal by all reports and any pull-back that is taking place may simply equate to an extra bump in business in early 2017. 

“There is some ebb in the market due to social events,” says Steve Hillis, president of flooring for Beaulieu. “Some owners are holding back on some projects because of the election year, the economy and interest rates, but the impact hasn’t been huge. There is certainly some, which will open up at the first of year to create a stronger 2017. Any time you have an election year, it tends to cause developers and owners to be more conservative. With concerns around interest rates and the national debt, we’ll see how it plays out. If interest rates spike after the election, it will impact the economy and the hospitality business. People may be holding onto their money for projects they would normally be doing to see what general economy looks like after the election. We’re hearing a lot of that.”

According to Jan Frietag of STR Global, both 2017 and the remaining months of 2016 will be relatively healthy for the hospitality industry. In fact, Frietag explains, “Every month, on an annualized basis, we are breaking room demand records.” Demand measures the number of rooms sold. “The demand right now is higher than we have ever seen in this industry and exactly even with room supply,” he continues. That stasis should break next year when the additional 170,000 rooms currently under construction come on line, according to STR. Of course, all of these will need flooring.

As a result of Airbnb and similar sites, the lodgings industry is losing an estimated $450 million annually, according to NREI Online, and by the year 2018, the number of rooms booked through the site is expected to reach five million. 

Airbnb, Vacation Rentals by Owner, Home Away, Uber, WeWork and Lyft represent the Millennial’s preference for what is called a sharing economy, a “socio-economic ecosystem built around the sharing of human, physical and intellectual resources,” as defined by The People Who Share. In addition, Millennials value experience and see unique properties, such as those available on Airbnb, as offering a more differentiated experience than a hotel room. 

In response, hotels are launching Millennial-focused brands, like Marriott’s Moxy, Radisson Red and Tru by Hilton, which cater to the Millennials’ love of travel, albeit on a budget, and offer both styling and amenities catering to Millennial preferences. 

Moxy, for instance, is described on its website as “a boutique hotel with the social heart of a hostel. A free-spirited place where you can do all that crazy fun stuff you’d never thinking of doing at home, together with likeminded spirits you’d otherwise never have met.” And Radison Red’s website states, “We connect with that ageless Millennial mindset and believe that hotels can enhance their world via art, music, fashion and a distinctive connection.”

These facilities are catering to Millennials’ not-so-discreet nature in not-so-discreet ways, offering an experience that isn’t Airbnb but certainly isn’t your grandmother’s hotel room either. “The hotel industry is watching Airbnb, but I think it is also trying to innovate in its own right,” explains Duncan. “Millennials are 75 million strong, as big or bigger than the Baby Boomer generation. They are digital from birth, and they want a different experience, a more social experience.”

Riley adds, “Traditional design has evolved quite a bit with the advent of boutique properties and lifestyle properties. The hotel experience is king today, and all of the brands are targeting specific travelers with specific needs looking for experiences that fit their personalities. Lobbies have changed to gathering areas; there are hotels with no front desk, and ‘dudes’ checking you in on iPads. It is the advent of a new world in hospitality. While many of us 50- and 60-somethings stick with the old tried and true brands, the focus is on the younger generations who are looking for that experience that fits their lifestyles.”

Last year, the U.S. hospitality market closed with a reported $142.5 billion in room revenue, a 7.25% increase from 2014’s $132.8 billion. And in 2016, the market is anticipated to finish at $149 billion, a year-over-year increase of just over 4.5%. 

There are several measures of activity in the hospitality market that play a role in that figure, and one is occupancy. Occupancy rates hit an all-time high in July of this year, and though they remain high at present, they are not growing and are expected to decline. 

Paul Cleary, CEO of Lexmark Carpet Mills, reflects on the dynamics of the overall market at present. “This stronger economy has people traveling for business,” he says. “People have more money in their pockets. Gas prices are low, so people are vacationing. For business and pleasure, people are staying in hotel rooms more, and occupancy rates are high.”

The average daily rate (ADR)—which is the average rental income per paid occupied room in a certain timeframe—is another indicator of hospitality market strength. Following a low of $97.82 in 2010, ADR has been steadily on the rise, averaging $120.45 in 2015 and increasing to a $124.18 average for January through August 2016. Though ADR is consistently rising, with demand and occupancy as high as they are the figure remains lower than some might expect. Frietag explains, “We are selling more rooms than ever before, and occupancies are at almost an all time high. As such, you would expect more pricing power, but these increases aren’t as strong as expected. There is a lot of uncertainty in the market, and uncertainty leads to lack of pricing. Owners think, let me build my occupancy but not increase my room rates.” But occupancy growth comes with costs—including cleaning, maintenance and wear-and-tear of finishes—whereas room rate growth is top line growth. 

RevPAR, which is revenue per available room, is expected to increase over the next year. RevPAR is the product of occupancy and ADR. With no increase in occupancy forecasted, ADR will be the sole driver of RevPAR, which STR predicts will increase 3.2% in 2016 and another 3.1% in 2017. 

It isn’t only the U.S. hospitality market that is faring well right now, according to Mike Riley, president of OW Hospitality. “The trends in travel across the globe have been the biggest contributing factor [to market growth],” says Riley. “Globalization is considered one of the key factors in the amazing growth trends in the business: the ease of travel, tourism and the trends from both business and holiday travelers of the new generations. The amount of renovation continues to grow here in the U.S. along with the hurried development of new brands targeting Millennials. Globally, the new build growth continues to flourish from the Middle East and Africa to the Far East with no real end in sight; even with concerns about apparent oversupply in Asia, they keep building. We have jobs going right now everywhere from the U.S. to London to Kazakhstan to Russia and down to Saudi Arabia, over to Dubai and the Emirates with an amazing effort from major chains in Egypt and Africa. It is just happening everywhere on the face of the earth. While we do not focus on Asia and the Far East in general, the same growth is still being experienced there.”

David Duncan, senior vice president of Durkan, Mohawk’s hospitality brand, reports on what exactly is expected to generate activity in the hospitality market over the next year. He says, “What has been fueling a lot of growth over the last few years has been new construction, and that will really slow down. Whatever has been planned is planned, but the rate of growth in new construction won’t continue to grow. If you look at the hotel market specifically, renovation is actually down, but that’s because occupancy rates are at an all-time high. As new supply of hotels comes online, occupancy rates will, by default, start to decline, which will be the impetus to get properties to renovate. The amount of spend in hospitality over next couple of years should be pretty good.”

Price pressure is impacting manufacturers at all levels of the market. Elizabeth Moore, vice president of Masland Hospitality, says she doesn’t expect that to change as long as there is so much manufacturing capacity at the mill level—though she notes that fluctuations in the costs of raw materials can always make a difference.

Riley expands on the extent of the pricing struggle at the upper end of the market, adding, “Price points are coming down due to, one, competition from other woven players in a shrinking market and, two, fighting the other biggest competitor to Axminster—CYP and some tufted and print products. We are having our Axminster specifications undercut by CYP, and we are actually challenging the price range of CYP by selling Axminster in the low to mid $20s range in corridors. Given some of the competing products, our pricing today on 80/20 Axminster and our speed to delivery can compete with many domestic tufted products on the market.”

While the hospitality industry has certainly experienced ups and downs, it proves to be an enticing business for many. Contemporary furniture retailer West Elm recently announced its foray into the business with an initial five hotel locations that will open in late 2018. In addition, Equinox gyms, which will open its initial luxury hotel location in Manhattan’s Hudson Yards in early 2019, and Restoration Hardware, which will open a 14-room hospitality location in New York City’s meatpacking district, are both looking to hospitality as an avenue to reinforce their brands. It can be assumed that both West Elm and Restoration Hardware also hope to bolster product sales by promoting experiential engagement with the products. 

While the incentives for each of these brands to enter the hospitality market are clearly built on synergies that may allow for a lower barrier of entry into the market—namely that West Elm, for instance, will outfit its rooms with furniture and fixtures that it stocks as inventory—it remains to be seen whether success in one arena, such as retail, translates into success in a service-driven environment such as hospitality. 

And certainly it stands to reason that extended exposure to a company’s product offering will yield an increase in sales of those products, but whether those sales will amount to specific gains on the bottom line has yet to be seen.

With strength, of course, comes building and renovation. Floors have long played a significant role in the hospitality aesthetic, and though flooring design preferences may have changed, the floor’s significance remains. Today, the bright, large-scale patterns that once stood as the hallmark of hospitality design are often relegated to resorts and casinos, with the hotel market looking to enhance the experience of the hotel stay with aesthetics that are more refined. 

Although the idea of creating or offering an experience has long been the goal of the hospitality industry, that concept has evolved over recent years as a result of the Airbnb effect, which hinges on the idea of offering travelers the opportunity to live like a local. This notion has challenged the hospitality industry to think more about the nature and quality of the experience it is providing, says Frietag.

To that end, brands are now making a concerted effort to differentiate their properties. No longer does Hotel X want its locations in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Austin to look identical. In the spirit of “going local,” hotels now often reflect the culture in which they exist rather than their corporate culture, which means that, instead of dictated finish specs, a brand is now more likely to offer a portfolio of specs—in a branded color scheme, perhaps—from which owners can make selections that best suit their location and clientele. 

What’s more, hotels are now looking at the function of their lobby spaces, considering them not just ornate walk-through areas but also social spaces in which travelers can be “alone-together,” says Frietag, adding an abundance of seating—which can be reconfigured according to guest needs—Wi-Fi, coffee and maybe even a bar to elevate the lobby space into something more experiential and inviting. 

By nature, the gravitation toward “inviting” goes hand-in-hand with styling that is more residential, but hotels must walk a careful line as they go more home-like, being sure to preserve the getaway experience that makes a hotel stay truly special, especially because the technological novelties that hotels once offered—such as large televisions, subscription movie channels and even on-demand ice—are now standard in many American homes.

With regard to flooring, there has been a significant amount of discussion over the past few years about brands trading out soft surface specs in guest rooms for hard surface flooring, specifically LVT. Moore recounts her recent experience of attending the Marriott owners conference, “Nearly all the prototypes had neutral LVT on the floor,” she says. “It was a shock to the system for a carpet person.”

LVT is on the tip of everyone’s tongue, it seems, when the discussion turns to hospitality environment flooring, but primarily because it’s a new spec and a drastic turn from tradition, not because its use is prolific—at least not yet. Many in the industry, however, expect that figure to rise dramatically, including Duncan, who reports that at the recent Lodging Conference many of the brand prototypes were built around a 50/50 mix of hard and soft surface flooring, indicating that a significant shift may take place as those prototypes become brick-and-mortar hotel rooms. Moore says that LVT use is often endorsed by the brands but resisted by franchisee owners—those who actually have to deal with the day-to-day impact of the changes. 

That transition hasn’t come without a learning curve. “Historically, where you would find some type of carpeting in guestrooms, for example, many brands now have approved variations of products including the market monster, LVT,” says Riley. “Carpeting is losing share to LVT and other hard surfaces. As mainstream brands look to LVT to maximize their room spend and tweak their styling, all carpet categories continue to lose share. While LVT does seem to be the end-all, we have seen challenges already from scuffing to noise issues to moisture issues and housekeeping challenges. Nobody is knocking it, but the thought is that the market is still proving this product in the hotel room application.”

Noise, perhaps, offers the most significant challenge with regard to hard surface flooring, as hotels inherently offer the promise of peace and rest. While one can only assume that hoteliers consider the impact of hard surface flooring on facility acoustics, the impact may simply be greater than they expected—both within rooms outfitted with hard surface flooring and the hotel as a whole. Brands are now seeking rug options to soften the acoustics within these rooms, rugs that are easily cleaned—even machine washable—yet a safe option with regard to tripping hazards, and theft-proof. Carpet tile, while obviously not machine washable, is frequently being utilized as an area rug in these applications, and hoteliers are looking beyond the floor to deal with acoustic challenges as well. Beaulieu will soon launch a sound barrier material for use on either floor or walls; the company reports that it has already seen demand for the product. 

Hard surface flooring in hotel guest rooms has also posed a challenge with regard to cleaning. Whereas a maintenance staff caring for carpeted rooms has to focus primarily on vacuuming the walking paths, the dust bunny effect means that they need to do a more thorough wall-to-wall cleaning in hard surface rooms, using cleaning tools like Swiffers, brooms and mops—as well as have a vacuum to clean the area rug. In fact, Hilton’s new experiential midscale Tru by Hilton brand, which caters to Millennial-driven trends and features hard surface flooring in the guest rooms, has an alliance with Swiffer Professional. 

Of course, as anyone who has hard surface flooring in their home knows, this means strategically edging around area rugs so as not to get them wet, which may result in fading by cleaning agents or may simply attract dirt. 

“There was a push three or four years ago by brands to make LVT standard for rooms,” Cleary says. “At this point, some brands have told us that they will only use LVT on the ground floor, or where pets are allowed, and that the floors above will be carpet. With the use of LVT (in addition to carpet), the brands have to handle two maintenance regimes. People think it’s easier to maintain, but with hard surface flooring, dirt is more transferable. If a guest’s white socks look dirty after walking around on it, they will complain.”

Those brands that have forked out the cost for LVT, which is certainly steeper on the front end than broadloom, are hoping that their investment pays off in the long run because of LVT’s longer lifecycle. Says Charley Knight, vice president of Interface Hospitality, “There is a significantly larger capital outlay for LVT. However, the expectation is that hotels are going to get two or three renovation cycles out of it.” 

Robert Stuckey, director of hospitality and retail at Shaw Contract Group, says that brands are hoping to net ten to 14 years from the flooring. With that sort of lifespan expected, they are certainly seeking timeless looks that will suit a variety of decors. Of course, as we are essentially in the first generation of LVT in guest room use, several manufacturers point out that it remains to be seen whether the product will stand up and look good for a decade and whether the style-driven hospitality industry will be willing to live with a flooring product for that duration. 

By the account of the manufacturers we spoke with, LVT is used primarily in the mid-level region of the market. It has not made headway in the upper-end of the market, where guests expect a five-star experience, which typically equates to luxurious carpet underfoot. Nor are low-end brands investing in the product, since it comes at a higher price point. 

Regardless of any challenges that the introduction of the category presents, its use is, without a doubt, on the rise in the lodgings market. “LVT is our fastest growing segment, and the predominant growth engine for Shaw in the guest room environment,” says Stuckey. “LVT is where we see the strongest growth from a percentage basis. We see this product growing in all areas of the hotels—but specifically within the guest room environment. We hear from our major brand partners that the guests are really enjoying the new fresh look of hard surface in the guest room.”

Matt Cooper, senior director of hospitality and healthcare for Milliken’s floorcovering division, points out that, in his view, LVT use—as well as carpet tile use—in guest rooms is not a trend but the new norm. “LVT is making a considerable advance in hospitality environments, making its way into guest rooms in both focused-service and full-service brands, while also marrying design and function in dining areas and fitness centers,” he says. “LVT is taking share from ceramic tile and hardwood, as well as sheet vinyl, typically used in extended stay formats.”

To improve acoustics, designers ideally specify thick LVT products with sturdy underlayment for guest room environments.

With the burst of activity in the senior living market to serve the aging Baby Boomer population, that market has become an active add-on business for hospitality flooring manufacturers, and that is for manufacturers serving all parts of the market—even the high end. For example, Cody reports that Bloomsburg sells its Axminster and other soft surface flooring products into the independent living segment of the high-end senior living market, for use in clubhouse, ballroom and other amenity spaces. 

“Hospitality design and product offerings certainly cross over into senior living, particularly in the high end,” notes Moore. “Senior living properties have the same challenges as hotels: attracting people who want a comfortable, clean, appealing home away from home. The only difference really is how long the guest plans to stay.” However, both sectors have to present their properties as well designed, up-to-date, interesting and comfortable in order to compete for clients.

Besides lodgings, which comprise 80% of the hospitality market, and senior living, manufacturers report that they also sell hospitality flooring products into restaurants, gaming facilities, convention/public use space, cruise liners, theaters and country clubs.

All the changes in the hospitality market have not only brought about changes with regard to what products are being utilized, but also the design nature of the products themselves. “Hospitality is definitely design-forward, and a major inspiration source is the design client,” says Moore, “When working with clients on cutting-edge concepts, I think of the custom strike-off process as a design conversation where ideas are exchanged. This is where strong working relationships, great service and close communication ensure that the client’s vision is realized.” 

At the upper-end of the market, where Axminster still reigns and design is typically custom, styling has not changed drastically, though it has been modernized in some properties over the years, says Jim Cody, vice president of sales for Bloomsburg Carpet, which services the luxury end of the hospitality market with Axminster, Wilton and velvet products. “We’re not competing with carpet tile because they don’t buy that in nicer properties,” he explains. “But there is some segmentation. Some places are going more modern. The question they ask is, how do we look modern but not cheap? Some are using hardwood and stone and mixing those materials in with carpet.” Of course, there is a portion of the high-end market that values old style, such as historic properties. These will never change design-wise. 

Cody reports that business in the high end of the market is good—but that is typical, he reports, “No one wants to walk into a run-down five-star hotel, so there is always business.” Because high-quality carpets, like Axminsters and Wiltons, are incredibly durable and because high-end properties often have sophisticated maintenance systems, the lifecycle of these products is longer than what is traditional in even the mid-tier of the market, often stretching ten years or longer in public space areas.

Johnny Massey of Brintons is a designer by trade and served in that capacity at Brintons before switching to the business side of flooring more than a decade ago. Today, he is the company’s vice president of operations for the Americas. 

“How has flooring industry design changed over the last ten decades?” Massey asks. “Tremendously. I was a designer by trade. When I started in design 18 years ago, ballroom carpet was comprised of a small field pattern with a border and then an outfield pattern. We were creating rugs of sorts. Today, ballroom floors are treated as a canvas: textural patterns with no visual breaks. People like patterns to flow through a space today, and texture is big right now. Ten years ago, we would have a medallion with flat color. Now, it’s more about texture created with color.” These designs are not only appealing, but are also more functional for spaces that are multi-use, allowing hoteliers to close off part of a larger room without noticeably segmenting the pattern on the floor. 

Make no mistake, however, style reigns as the driving differentiator in the hospitality market. “Design is what we sell,” says Massey. “We make carpet, but we sell design.”

Cleary at Lexmark—which serves the entirety of the hospitality market but has the bulk of its business in the middle to higher level—seconds Massey’s view on the important role that texture plays today, “Texture is really important, both color and dimensional texture,” says Cleary. “One of the joys of hospitality is that comfort still really matters, and the only way you can achieve that is through face weight. We’re still making 30 and 32 ounce products for hotels. With 32 ounces, there is a lot you can do with heights, loops and cuts.”

Riley explains how the market’s preference for neutrals—and away from bold color—has, in a sense, driven the texture trend, adding, “In our specific product categories of Axminster woven, hand-tufted and machine-tufted guest room carpeting, which is largely utilized in four- to five-star hotels and gaming, we continue to push the envelope with color and, maybe more importantly today, texture. We try to create that fashion-forward look and feel in many ways from the design side, utilizing texture, depth and layers. The trends today have moved a great deal to neutrals, and we are fighting to create that fashion through non-color design tactics.”

Knight believes that the texture trend is also driven by the market’s turn toward more residential aesthetics. “Aesthetically, over the last decade, there is a trend towards a more residential look and feel, which means the patterns and colors have been toned down,” Knight says. “Today’s designs are more about a tactile experience with texture and the right color, versus large patterns that may not contribute to guest experience.”

With thick, dense broadloom long the standard in hospitality, carpet tile has had to fight for its place in the market. But carpet tile also faces a hospitality design dilemma. Unlike what we see in the corporate arena, hoteliers do not typically appreciate the modularity of carpet tile. If they are to use the product, they want it to look, for all intents and purposes, like broadloom. 

Knight explains, “We [at Interface] have been trying to demonstrate that modular carpet can be a relevant solution to the design dilemmas that hospitality faces. We have gone from trying to convince people that it’s relevant—carpet tile solves problems—to evolving in the number of places that carpet tile is now accepted. For the last two years, we’ve seen a transition taking place. At both BDNY and HD Expo, we have been in our booth, standing on our products, and show attendees won’t realize it is carpet tile, which is great because a lot of people would object to tile. People realize after the fact that it comes in a box, rather than on a roll. When that happens, we can have a conversation: Does the delivery method matter if you love aesthetic? Our textured, tactile products really do enhance the space, especially in a guest room.”

One way that carpet tile is establishing its place in the hospitality market is through use as an area rug atop LVT. By nature, carpet tile is more dimensionally stable than a standard area rug, which reduces trip hazards significantly. 

Interface, which, according to Knight, has the mission of solving problems, not simply launching products, recently introduced its new Integrated Modular Flooring, a system that combines LVT and carpet tile modules—which have identical backings and connect via TacTiles—to form a single floor comprised of two different flooring types with no difference in material height. Interface believes its new system solves several of the hospitality industry’s flooring challenges by eliminating the need for transition strips, minimizing tripping hazards and essentially ensuring that travelers won’t pick the floorcovering up and stuff it into their suitcase. 

Carpet tile is making inroads in more standard applications as well. “Carpet tile is definitely used more often these days in guest rooms, particularly in limited service brands, but it sometimes is used in corridors or lobby areas as well,” says Moore. “Generally, the full-service brands are not as often substituting carpet tile for broadloom in the guest rooms.” Masland sells carpet tile into the hospitality sector as well as rugs and, of course, broadloom. The company is poised to work in all sectors of the hospitality market.

Another of carpet tile’s challenges in the hospitality market comes with its price tag, but that is typically a matter of overcoming perception. “When people talk about price, they often talk about unit price,” explains Knight. “We have to take that conversation to another level, because carpet tile might be more per yard, but if you are buying 1,000 yards less of carpet tile than, say, Axminster or broadloom, you have to look at the total price for the product.” Knight encourages customers to look at the bottom line with regard to product cost and installation, noting that carpet tile often requires 25% less product because installers are not having to deal with trim waste. That waste percentage grows with pattern designs that have larger repeats. 

“All industries have overcome the perception that carpet tile is more expensive, and now see that it offers incredible lifetime value,” says Milliken’s Cooper. “Less waste and installation costs make the initial investment of carpet tile minimal, if not cost neutral. Ease of maintenance and the ability to replace individual carpet tiles, instead of entire spaces, only confirms carpet tile as the smart budget choice. Carpet tile is gaining in popularity in the focus service brands in both public spaces and guest rooms. Full-service brands are still selecting broadloom for guest rooms, but carpet tile is used in public spaces.”

According to Stuckey, low 20 ounce face weights are the most commonly used type of carpet tile in the hospitality market, and a variety of formats and sizes are being utilized.

Will carpet tile continue to see growth in the hospitality market? The concession among the manufacturers with whom we spoke is that it certainly will. “Carpet tile opens the door for a whole new approach to the guest room with the ability to incorporate inset rugs and various patterns,” says Cooper.

The manufacturers with whom we spoke offered differing responses with regard to the importance of sustainability in hospitality specifications, but they did agree on one significant point: the carpet industry, in particular, has established something of a base line with regard to sustainability, creating the expectation that choosing soft surface flooring is, to some degree, making a green choice. 

Going green will likely become a more significant factor for the hospitality market in the coming years, as hotels increasingly align their agendas to Millennial values. 

“Marriott and others have done studies that show that environmental sustainability is important to the younger generation, the Millennial traveler: recycled content, post consumer, cradle to cradle,” says Hillis. “[Hotels] have seen a surge in interest in sustainability. The younger generation is rekindling that. How does that translate into product? Well, that’s one reason carpet tile has taken off. Hotel owners wouldn’t have considered carpet tile three or four years ago, but after Marriott did its story, the other brands started paying attention to the story. Carpet tile is easier to make green than broadloom. After they started using it, they saw the other advantages, and it became a cool new design element.”

Copyright 2016 Floor Focus 

Related Topics:Beaulieu International Group, Masland Carpets & Rugs, Interface, The Dixie Group, Lexmark Carpet Mills, HD Expo, Mohawk Industries, Shaw Industries Group, Inc.