Vinyl: State of the Industry - February 2010

By Darius Helm

Over the last several years, the vinyl flooring category has been incredibly dynamic. On the product side, luxury vinyl and glass-backed sheet goods have helped boost the industry while other vinyl categories have lost ground. In terms of vinyl companies, several new players with overseas production have entered the mix. And just in the last couple of years, vinyl producers have embraced sustainability and made measurable strides toward greening their products and processes.

Then there’s the recession, which has been tough on all floorcovering companies. However, vinyl producers have generally fared better than most. Even though the vinyl industry was down perhaps 20% last year, the category has been taking share from hardwood, laminate and ceramic. When all the numbers are added up, this recession may turn out to be the best thing to happen to vinyl in years.  Or at least the best opportunity—after all, as the economy comes back, those hard surface categories could easily take back the share they lost to vinyl, so the long-term success of the category is based in what vinyl players are doing right now, today and tomorrow. 

Another piece of good fortune for some vinyl categories also emanates from the economic climate—the state of the commercial market. The strongest sector, and what appears to be the most recession-proof sector, is healthcare, where sheet vinyl is a dominant player. Education, another huge vinyl market, has also been stronger than most of the sectors. K-12 relies heavily on VCT.

Both of those sectors are buffered by population pressures, with Baby Boomers hitting retirement, boosting both the acute care and assisted living segments, and the children of Baby Boomers, along with immigrants, putting pressure on the education markets. Both markets have to grow, even in tough times, and those tough times are yet another competitive advantage for vinyl, since its affordability makes it even more attractive when budgets are tight.

The toughest sectors have been corporate, retail and hospitality, and that’s a mixed bag for vinyl flooring. Vinyl doesn’t have a strong position in the corporate market, other than break rooms, cafeterias and other utilitarian applications. However, some vinyl producers have substantial business in the hospitality sector, where vinyl’s durability, high performance and affordability make it a natural choice for back-of-house applications. And the slowdown in retail has significantly impacted the vinyl industry, particularly the VCT category, but it’s a category that cannot afford to look too bad for too long, so as soon as a few more indicators point to a recovery, pent-up demand in that sector will likely be released. 

Glass-backed flooring, which has been in the market for a long time but has exploded in the last eight years or so, is quickly becoming a staple among all the big players. Some firms, like Armstrong and Congoleum, have come up with felt-backed constructions designed to offer everything glass-backed flooring offers—the product lies flat, has increased cushioning and is dimensionally stable.

Glass-backed sheet vinyl is also gaining wide acceptance in the commercial market, in sectors like healthcare. According to Santo Torcivia of Market Insights/Torcivia, glass-backed sheet vinyl has grown to account for about 15% of the U.S. sheet vinyl business.

However, the biggest growth category is luxury vinyl tile and plank. In the commercial market, it is increasingly specified in retail, healthcare, education and hospitality, in large part because it offers stone and wood looks with the added benefits of affordability, high performance and low maintenance. Commercial luxury vinyl seems to take share whether the economy is weak or strong. When the economy’s healthy, LVT with its much stronger design capacity is a good alternative to VCT in retail, and where possible it will take share from sheet vinyl as well. And when the economy is weak, it’s an affordable alternative to pricier hardwood and ceramic.

Residentially, luxury vinyl has been taking share not only from sheet vinyl but also from laminate and hardwood. Back in the 1990s, laminate was the faux wood of choice, but over the last few years that business has been shifting to luxury vinyl, due to excellent design capabilities, high performance, durability, and even acoustical factors. It’s also becoming the faux ceramic of choice.

Manufacturers of only luxury vinyl or glass-backed flooring have generally fared much better than those with significant felt-backed or VCT business, which tend to be the larger players.

According to Market Insights/Torcivia, Armstrong controls 40% of the U.S. market, followed by Mannington at 15%, Tarkett at 12% and Congoleum, which is largely residential, at 10%.

GREEN PVC
The last few years have seen an acceleration in the greening of the vinyl industry. Indoor air quality certifications are becoming commonplace, and a more comprehensive standard, NSF 332, is in draft form, soon to become a national standard for assessment of resilient floorcovering sustainability.

At the same time, PVC has become a target among some in the environmental movement, focusing on specific stages in the lifecycle of the product. The argument about toxic emissions relates to the early stages of the product’s life—the polymerization of vinyl chloride—as well as the toxic potential at the end of its life, should it be incinerated.

The argument about phthalates largely relates to the functional life of vinyl flooring, when it’s on the floor, and the issue is whether the plasticizers blended into the vinyl to give it flexibility are leaching out, and whether the leaching chemicals pose hazards to human health.

When it comes to the validity of these arguments, only one thing can be said for certain: there is no scientific consensus. And any proponents or opponents of PVC who claim otherwise probably do not have all the facts at their disposal. A truth is that there is not enough data to say anything definitively.

However, available data strongly suggests that dioxin issues will probably not play a relevant role in vinyl’s sustainability profile. PVC production has soared in the last few decades, while dioxin deposits in humans have plummeted, and production facilities in the U.S. have for decades operated closed-loop processes for PVC production, eliminating dangerous emissions. 

In terms of incineration, more modern processes combust materials at higher temperatures, destroying dioxins, so backyard burning and accidental fires are the only real threat, and that’s probably not enough dioxin, compared to dioxin release from natural events like forest fires, to bring down PVC.

The phthalate issue is much more compelling, and the scientific community takes it much more seriously. It relates to a broader family of chemicals that can theoretically disrupt endocrine functions. Some of these chemicals, though not the ones used to plasticize vinyl flooring, have been detected in vast numbers of people. The question is, what does it mean? And the answer is still being worked on.

In the meantime, many vinyl flooring producers are doing their best to eliminate the issues entirely. Reclamation and reuse got a big boost last year with Mannington’s VCT program, which will recapture about 20 million pounds of VCT a year and use it to make new VCT. That’s over three million pounds of PVC (the rest is largely limestone). Azrock also has a VCT reclamation program. And a whole host of other players, big and small, offer post-consumer recycled vinyl content in their flooring. The list includes Centiva, Gerflor, LG Hausys Floors, Metroflor and CBC Flooring. LG is coming out with a bio-based PVC free alternative, and Armstrong’s Migrations tile uses a small amount of bio-based material and is also PVC free.

The more PVC is diverted from landfills and reclaimed, the less there is to produce and the less there is that can be incinerated. So it’s a natural solution to that set of issues, as long as reclamation ramps up to a significant level.

On the plasticizer side, firms like Centiva are researching alternative chemistries that don’t rely on phthalates, but that movement is still in its infancy. Nevertheless, simply because some environmentalists have declared phthalates an issue, whether or not they’re right, you can bet that new plasticizers will be introduced long before the scientific community reaches conclusions about various phthalates. And as long as the new chemicals are exposed to at least the same degree of scrutiny, the PVC industry may well find itself freed from that issue as well. 

RFCI UPDATE

The Resilient Floor Covering Institute has recently been reworking its focus and its mission to maximize its effectiveness. The organization has developed five overarching goals: to promote the resilient flooring category, which also includes linoleum, cork and rubber; to guide the industry toward environmental responsibility and sustainability; to engage in advocacy with both governmental and nongovernmental entities; to establish and maintain effective membership; and to educate interested parties in all aspects of resilient flooring.

As part of its mission as an aggregator of information, the RFCI is also redesigning its website. Among other things, it will contain a knowledge center rich with information and a sustainability center. The RFCI is also supporting the Floor Covering Business to Business initiative.

The FloorScore indoor air quality program, developed by the RFCI in conjunction with Scientific Certification Systems, has continued to gain traction among resilient producers, and more recently among producers of ceramic tile, marble, cork, bamboo and wood flooring. The organization is also actively promoting the upcoming NSF 332 standard, currently in draft stage.


MANUFACTURER HIGHLIGHTS
One of the most positive developments last year was IVC’s announcement in September that it was building a U.S. manufacturing facility at a cost of $70 million. The Dalton, Georgia facility should be up and running by this time next year. The Belgian firm’s distribution center and U.S. headquarters will also be located there.

At the same time, IVC has ramped up its distribution network, adding distributors like Swiff-Train, Hughes Western, Wanke Cascade, All Tile, Western Carpets and others, enabling the firm to achieve nationwide distribution for its Flexitec glass backed sheet vinyl. The firm also covers all of Canada through Stevens Omni and National.

IVC, which has only been in business here in the U.S. for a handful of years, is still small enough and young enough to buck the trend and actually experience sales growth. Last year the firm was up by double digits—and in fact it showed growth in every channel. IVC also sells direct to CCA Global’s retailer groups, and that channel has grown hugely.

Next for IVC is a luxury vinyl called Moduleo for residential and light commercial applications, as well as Itec Contract Floors—60 SKUs of glass backed sheet goods for the specified commercial market.

Another well established vinyl producer still fairly new to the U.S. market is France’s Gerflor, the third biggest vinyl producer in the world. Gerflor makes a wide range of vinyl flooring, including sheet goods and luxury vinyl, safety flooring, ESD tile and its Taralay ‘comfort-backed’ sheet vinyl.

At last summer’s NeoCon, Gerflor came out with Saga2, a 20”x20” loose lay product with cork in the backing. Though the product is fully recyclable through AgPR in Germany, here in the U.S. the firm is looking for other methods of reclaiming the Saga2 waste stream, and is considering working with a Dalton recycling firm. Saga2’s 4.6mm height is designed to transition with carpet tiles.

Gerflor’s biggest brand is Taralay, its vinyl sheet line with cushioning from closed cell expanded vinyl. The commercial sheet features Protecsol, the firm’s no wax treatment that has been around for 22 years.

Last year Gerflor had a number of its products FloorScore certified for indoor air quality. Sales in the U.S. were up last year, in part due to the strength of its Taralay sales. Gerflor also has a large sports flooring division under the Taraflex brand. Its best selling sports flooring is M+, a 7mm thick sheet vinyl.

Alabama based Centiva makes vinyl tile and plank for the commercial market, though some of its products make their way into the high end residential market as well. The firm is best known for its Victory series of products, characterized by their fluid pearlescent metallic surfaces that seem so strangely organic, considering that they’re made from PVC.

Over the last year, Centiva has rebranded its entire offering. Rather than going to market with the Victory, Contour and Event series, wood looks are now in one book, stone looks in another, and World Options (which equates to Victory and a little Contour) in a third.

Centiva’s biggest market is retail store planning, though hospitality and healthcare are two rapidly growing categories. Two other significant categories are higher education and healthcare. Last year business slowed but the firm gained some territories, and in the end sales were close to flat. 

The firm has become a leading player in the march toward PVC sustainability, offering both post-consumer and post-industrial content on all of its products. In another positive sign, the firm has ramped up recycled content levels over the last year as part of its mission, defined through 24-month increments, to steadily increase recycled content.

In the Contour products, post-industrial content is now 70% of the backing by weight, with post-consumer content adding another 5%—and the backing accounts for 55% of the product’s total weight. Post-consumer content in Victory is closing in on 10%, and one Victory product introduced last year, Stria, has 51% total recycled content (46.5% post-industrial and 4.5% post-consumer).

Centiva’s products are all FloorScore certified, and the firm is working on making its production process greener, including efforts like recapturing trim waste. The firm is also working on the development of phthalate-free plasticizers that offer equal or better performance characteristics than its current formulations.

One of the biggest resilient players in the U.S. market is Tarkett, which makes vinyl, linoleum and rubber through a range of residential and commercial brands. Last year, however, the firm simplified its offering by eliminating the Domco residential brand and shifting its offering to Tarkett. It’s part of the French firm’s overall worldwide strategy to focus its time, money and resources on the Tarkett brand. Management felt that Domco didn’t go to market sufficiently differently from Tarkett to warrant hanging onto the brand, and too often they were competing with each other. The two residential brands were produced in the same place—Farnham, Quebec.

Now that the transition is complete, a range of efficiencies should emerge. Another residential brand is Nafco, which makes luxury vinyl, but that brand, which has more trade equity, is being retained, though the Tarkett name will feature more prominently in its marketing.

Tarkett’s residential business was down by double digits last year, though the firm anticipates a better performance this year. Its FiberFloor glass backed line has continued to outpace its felt backed offering, and luxury vinyl business has also been strong.

Tarkett Commercial comprises three entities: Johnsonite, Azrock by Tarkett and Expressions by Tarkett. Expressions is a VCT brand, and it includes the Premium line of Stoneworks VCT, True Step slip retardant VCT and accent tile and strip, along with a Standard line in a range of colors and 3/32” gauge VCT.

The Azrock brand is made up of premium VCT, VET and solid vinyl tile, as well as Spray Smart Adhesive, a VOC free spray-on adhesive that, according to the firm, reduces installation time by up to 70% and eliminates down-time. Azrock’s biggest markets are retail, education and healthcare. 

Its solid vinyl tile, which has been strong in healthcare and education, is increasingly gaining traction in retail store planning, a sector that the firm is actively targeting. Business was down from 2008 to 2009 by single digits.

Azrock is making inroads in sustainability with its VCT reclamation program. Standard VCT features 10% post-consumer recycled content in the form of reclaimed vinyl from VCT, along with 10% post-industrial content.

Tarkett’s Johnsonite division was originally a rubber producer, but following its acquisition four years ago Tarkett began to channel its commercial sheet vinyl through Johnsonite. In addition to sheet flooring, Johnsonite’s vinyl offering includes cove base, accessories, stair treads and transitions. Tarkett’s Harmonium xf linoleum is also channeled through the Johnsonite division.

This year, Johnsonite is offering its homogeneous sheet vinyl, which is manufactured in Europe, in vinyl tile form. The new program should broaden the scope of Johnsonite applications to include usage in the healthcare and education markets both in traditional sheet vinyl applications and beyond where sheet vinyl is ordinarily specified.

The firm’s Granit Complete sheet vinyl program, introduced last year with static dissipative and static conductive sheet goods, as well as an acoustic product and a wet room product, has been expanded to include safety sheet flooring.

Johnsonite’s vinyl business was up a hair last year, in part because it has only been marketing and promoting vinyl for a couple of years, and in part because of the relative strength of its core markets—education and healthcare. Johnsonite is one of the few commercial flooring businesses to have an enduring presence at Surfaces, the residential flooring show. The firm uses the show to maintain its strong relationship with its distributors, through which the firm’s products move.

Another flooring producer that used to only sell rubber flooring is Ohio based Roppe, which saw sales fall by low single digits last year. Roppe’s vinyl products account for about 20% of the firm’s business, and it includes products like wood look solid vinyl tile, SafeTCork, ESD tiles and accessories, and along with its substantial rubber offering, its products go to market through a unique set of hybrid distributors, many of whom have morphed from selling accessories like adhesive or carpet pad to selling commercial rubber and vinyl lines.

Roppe’s rubber recycling program was introduced at last year’s NeoCon, and by the end of the year the firm had reclaimed 1.3 million pounds of material. This translated into 646 tons of reclaimed Roppe rubber, which is repurposed into mulch, pavers, fillers and other products. It’s a national program with, so far, two locations to receive product—in Minnesota and Wisconsin—and the firm is working on adding locations.

Roppe is already looking at the next step, recycling vinyl or blended product, so that it can say that all of its products are recyclable. Roppe was one of the first flooring firms to offer EcoScorecard, the online software program that vastly simplifies the “green tape” of environmental standards.

The biggest player in the North American vinyl market is Armstrong, which also sells linoleum, hardwood and laminates. The firm has about a 40% share of the domestic vinyl market. Combined commercial and residential vinyl sales for last year were down an estimated 18% to 19%.

On the commercial side, Armstrong makes VCT, homogeneous and heterogeneous sheet vinyl, inlaid glass-backed sheet, slip resistant sheet, luxury vinyl and Migrations, the firm’s bio-based tile. The firm also makes linoleum.

Armstrong’s commercial focus last year was on its color offering, Color Continuum, a broad palette of colorways, with each color in three tonal steps. The program was launched in the firm’s linoleum offering, then in VCT, and then in sheet goods. The firm also expanded its Stonetex VCT offering from 12”x12” tiles to 18”x18” tiles.

The firm’s Migrations bio-based tile, which is essentially a PVC-free VCT alternative, replaces the PVC component with a polyester that includes corn polyols for a total bio-based content of about 2%. Migrations has been doing well in the education sector, as well as applications like banks and post offices. All of Armstrong’s commercial resilient products are FloorScore certified for indoor air quality.

On the residential side, one of the biggest events of the last year was the launch of Alterna, a 16”x16” rounded edge groutable luxury vinyl tile with a ceramic look. Alterna has grown faster than the firm expected, and there are already more than 2,000 retail displays out there. Alterna, a glue-down product, comes with 16 unique designs per box and it retails for $5 to $6 a square foot. 

In the second half of the year the firm launched a floating luxury vinyl called Luxe Plank with a releasable pressure-sensitive adhesive.

In October 2008, Armstrong announced a $25 million investment to convert its Lancaster, Pennsylvania sheet vinyl facility to make glass-backed Cushion Step product, and that plant came on line last month. Previously, Armstrong’s glass-backed vinyl was made in its facility in England. The facility used to produced stenciled inlaid sheet flooring, while the surface technology for the converted facility is rotogravure.

However, the biggest news came last month, with the announcement that Armstrong will begin selling its products direct to CCA Global’s retail members, including Carpet One and Flooring America retailers. The program was two years in the making, and was widely anticipated. However, many challenges remain, including the logistics of putting together a direct sales force.

Another major player in both commercial and residential vinyl is Mannington, which makes residential sheet goods, both felt-backed and glass-backed, and luxury vinyl, and on the commercial side offers VCT, luxury vinyl, and sheet goods, also both felt-backed and glass-backed. Sales were down last year by low double digits, though the firm anticipates a stronger 2010.

On the residential side, sluggish felt-backed sales were at least in part neutralized by strong Adura luxury tile business and Sobella glass-backed business. Felt-backed sheet vinyl continues to account for the bulk of Mannington’s residential vinyl revenues, but Adura and Sobella are steadily chipping away at its share. This year the firm anticipates double digit growth in Sobella and Adura and modest single digit growth overall.

Mannington’s fastest growing category is Adura luxury vinyl, which grew by about 5% last year. Felt-backed sheet vinyl had the toughest time, in large part because of its strong position in the multi-family and builder businesses. That’s a bread and butter business to the larger vinyl players.

Mannington Commercial made a big splash this year on the environmental front with its VCT reclamation program. The program was launched in June and by the end of the year had reclaimed nearly nine million pounds of VCT. The VCT is harvested from the Northeast for reprocessing at the firm’s Salem, New Jersey facility, at a rate of about 20 million pounds a year. And that rate is based on how much the firm can currently process, not how much is out there to be recaptured, so the expectation is that the program will expand briskly.

Right now, the reclaimed product is going into Mannington’s premium VCT lines—ColorPoint, Solidpoint and Brushwork—with a minimum post-consumer recycled content of 25%, and excess content has been channeled into the standard VCT lines, though in variable levels. 

The program is so far a huge success, and it’s likely that it will be expanded into new VCT lines. Recycled content is also expected to be channeled into other resilient product categories.

LVT’s growth has not been limited to the residential market. Mannington’s commercial luxury vinyl business grew by double digits last year, largely taking share from sheet goods. The firm’s homogeneous flooring is strongest in healthcare, with products like BioSpec, and last year the firm came out with BioSpec MD, with an antimicrobial built into the product and a high performance aluminum oxide UV cured wearlayer called Quantum Guard HP.

On the heterogeneous side, the firm’s glass-backed offering goes to higher performance applications, largely in healthcare, while felt-backed products are strong in residential hybrid applications like military housing. The firm also now offers rubber flooring through its acquisition of Burke Industries a year and a half ago, and that has further rounded out its offering. Mannington now offers hardwood, a range of PVC products, laminate, rubber, commercial carpet and porcelain.

Amtico, which makes luxury vinyl and Stratica flooring in Madison, Georgia, does most of its business in the commercial market, though the residential market accounts for more than $10 million of its $70 million U.S. business. While the bulk of the firm’s products are made in Madison, a small amount is shipped in from Amtico’s U.K. facility.

Amtico goes to market with three brands—Amtico, Spacia and Stratica. While Stratica is a polyolefin with a Surlyn top layer, Amtico and Spacia are PVC products. The newest line is Spacia, which is about three years old and is Amtico’s most affordable brand. The Spacia line includes wood, ceramic and stone looks, the Spacia XL collection of oversized wood looks (71/4”x48”), and two year old Spacia Access, which is installed with pressure sensitive adhesive and is ideal for semi-permanent spaces or other applications, like promotional installations, that are temporary in nature.

The flagship Amtico brand of wood, stone and abstract designs also features specialty collections like its oversized Amtico XL, Amtico Marine and Amtico Auto.

Amtico’s vinyl is strongest in the retail and healthcare sectors, and Stratica also has a strong position in healthcare. The government sector is also a significant market. The Spacia brand has been performing best over the last year.

Flexco’s vinyl business accounts for about 40% of its revenues, and its vinyl offerings include solid vinyl tiles and its new Health Design Wallbase, a product made of a rubber-vinyl blend that can be welded to any manufacturer’s sheet vinyl or sheet rubber for a seamless coving. The line comes with a corner system that is rounded for easy cleaning. The wallbase transitions at an angle to accommodate a range of product gauges, including 0.080” all the way to 1/8”.

Last year, Flexco added to its offering with a sports flooring line, Tuflex Force, featuring 85% post-consumer recycled rubber tires. The tires are reduced to a powder form, which allows them to be revulcanized into new Flexco products through a patented process. Flexco also signed up last year with EcoScorecard, the online software program for green standard calculations.

One of the biggest players on the residential side is Congoleum, which has been mired in asbestos litigation for years, and last year was no exception, with reorganization plans rejected and bankruptcy reinstated on more than one occasion. And it looks like it’ll be a while longer before Congoleum can finally put all this behind it.

On the more positive side, last year also saw Congoleum get its patent for DuraCeramic technology. The patent covers the contoured edge of the product, which helps it look like ceramic tile when installed. Wood looks are offered in DuraPlank. 

DuraCeramic has been Congoleum’s superstar since it was first launched in 2003. Not only has it steadily grown over the years, to the point where it accounts for a sizeable portion of the firm’s total sales, but it has also been a source of envy for several other vinyl producers. The product has proven to be a durable alternative to real ceramic or porcelain.

However, another reason that DuraCeramic has grown so much is because other products have not fared so well. Congoleum is a market leader in vinyl flooring for manufactured housing, and that market has tanked over the last decade. Back in 1998, 370,000 manufactured housing units were built. Last year, that number was down to 50,000. Thanks in part to DuraCeramic, Congoleum has not suffered a crisis of such epic proportions, though 2009 sales were down over 20% to an estimated $125 million or less.

Since 2001, Mohawk has been Congoleum’s national wholesaler, and approximately 40% of Congoleum’s sales are through Mohawk.

AirStep, launched two years ago as a glass-backed product, has since been retooled into Evolution, with the fiberglass layer replaced with felt and a polymer added to the back of the product for dimensional stability and to ensure that it lies flat. The end result is a sheet vinyl with the same performance characteristics as glass-backed vinyl but with the advantage of expansion and contraction.

Some of Congoleum’s vinyl is sold through big boxes, but most of it goes through distribution to independent flooring specialists. Congoleum also produces VCT, though not in large quantity, and it is largely channeled to mainstreet through residential channels.

One overseas producer that’s extremely well established in the U.S. market is CBC Flooring, which has been offering its Toli products to the North American commercial market for over two decades. The firm offers a range of vinyl products under the Toli brand, and last year added a second vinyl brand—Salto—to its offering. CBC also offers the PVC-free Ceres brand and Indelval, the firm’s new rubber line from Argentina.

Toli makes luxury vinyl tile and plank, heterogeneous sheet vinyl, and a homogeneous vinyl tile akin to VCT. Its luxury vinyl brands include Lightstone, Lightwood, Lightwood RE (register embossed) and LL300, an extra thick 50cm x 50cm tile with high recycled content in the backing and a releasable adhesive, ideal for use with raised access flooring. Its commercial heterogeneous sheet vinyl, Mature, has been in the U.S. market for 21 years. Fasol Plus, Linotesta and Viale are the firm’s vinyl tile brands.

Toli’s biggest market is healthcare, followed by education, then retail. Healthcare continues to be its strongest sector, while retail business was slowest last year. Overall, CBC’s sales were down by single digits.

The firm’s major focus last year was in bringing together its brands, both new and well established, under the CBC Flooring brand, as well as improving its distribution channels. In fact, new agents and distributors in select markets have helped the firm weather the economic downturn.

The Salto brand currently offers one collection, Unica, which is essentially a vinyl enhanced tile. The product has a strong green story, with its entire 70% limestone contribution from post-industrial sources and one third of its vinyl from post-consumer sources. Another plus for Unica is a sophisticated travertine look on 18”x18” tiles.

Another well established foreign producer is Lonseal, which, like Toli, produces its flooring in Japan. Lonseal specializes in sheet goods to the commercial market, and over the years the firm has gained a reputation for its color offering as well as some of its innovative designs, like Lonbead and Lonpearl. 

Most of the firm’s business is in the healthcare, education and corporate markets. It also has a division called Manufacturing Specialty that caters to temporary and specialty flooring, including trade show applications and marine flooring. The firm warehouses its products in Carson, California.

Most of Lonseal’s products feature approximately 20% post-industrial recycled content, though it goes as high as 50% in the Loneco line. 

The firm had its best year ever in 2008, so by contrast 2009 was weak—down by low double digits. However, this year is already showing more signs of life. One interesting feature of Lonseal’s floors is that they meet coefficient of friction standards for slip resistance. And later this year, at NeoCon, the firm is coming out with a no-wax finish.

A relatively new player in the U.S. market is LG Hausys Floors, which is headquartered in South Korea. The firm offers an impressive range of products, including LVT, homogeneous and heterogeneous sheet vinyl, vinyl enhanced tile (VET), ESD tile and cushioned sports flooring. And this year it’s adding to that offering with a residential line as well as a commercial bio-based tile, akin to a VCT.

The 18”x18” tile product replaces the entire PVC contribution (about 17%) with PLA—polylactic acid. PLA is also replacing PVC in the firm’s entire Impression line of VET, so 25% to 30% of that product will be bio-based. In addition, LG is coming out with a new LVT in 28 wood and tile patterns with PLA replacing the PVC content, which accounts for about half the weight of the product. 

The firm has been putting a lot of effort into the development of its residential business, working with BlueLinx, an Atlanta, Georgia based distribution company with 75 warehouses around the country, largely as a logistics providers, as well as with several regional distributors—so far they have signed on with six of them.

Residentially, the firm is targeting the multi-family market with two grades of LVT—Deco Essentials and Deco Advantage—as well as with its mainstreet VCT. Deco Essentials is a base grade product while Deco Advantage is a glass-backed LVT.

On the commercial side, the firm is updating its NatureLife line of heterogeneous sheet in wood and organic patterns, and it’s also redesigning its Deco Stone luxury vinyl line. And to compete in the homogeneous sheet arena, LG is coming out with a new sheet vinyl with a fiberglass backing for added stability.

LG Hausys Floors is part of LG Hausys, a public company that spun off from LG Chem. LG’s flooring sales were up last year and growth is also anticipated for this year. LG is one of the few vinyl producers with post-consumer vinyl reclaimed from flooring in its products. The product is reclaimed in South Korea, where spot glued installation allows for more straightforward reclamation.

Forbo Flooring, known in the U.S. for its linoleum, also manufactures vinyl in its Eurpoean facilities. Though the firm doesn’t actively market its vinyl in the U.S., it has all the sampling vehicles and the firm’s reps present it to clients as part of the firm’s product offering, so it’s on the shelves of A&D firms.

Most of Forbo’s U.S. vinyl business is in the healthcare sector. The firm offers two standard sheet vinyl collections, Smaragd for overall designs like speckles and marbleized patterns, and Eternal for wood looks. Forbo also offers a slip resistant sheet vinyl called Tractionstep. The only tile product the firm sells in the U.S. is ColoRex, an electrostatic dissipative tile.

Karndean, which makes its products in the Far East and is headquartered in the U.K., has also been in the U.S. market for a long time, and it specializes in luxury vinyl tile and plank. According to the family owned firm, it is the world’s largest LVT producer, by volume. The firm’s U.S. operation is based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where the firm’s main warehouse is located. Though the firm has had the warehouse for less than four years, business has grown to the extent that Karndean also uses third party warehouses around the country.

Karndean’s luxury vinyl offering goes to both the residential and commercial markets, and all of its products were recently Greenguard certified for indoor air quality. As a luxury vinyl specialist, the firm was buffeted from market slowdowns by LVT’s growing share of the resilient and hard surface market, and sales were up last year. Another reason for the strong year came from successful efforts to build retailer partners. All of the firm’s residential business is through independent flooring retailers.

On the commercial side, Karndean is moving away from relying on its residential sales reps and has instead developed a dedicated sales force to reach out to the A&D community. All told, the firm has nine distributors nationwide, 20 direct sales reps and five dedicated commercial sales reps. 

The firm’s commercial business is dominated by healthcare and retail, and a lot of that retail business is from Karndean’s hefty Walmart account. The firm also does a substantial hospitality business.

Halo Floors is only five years old, but it’s headed up by Mary Docker, who ran Amtico International for several years. The Atlanta based firm makes its luxury vinyl in Taiwan, and in addition to North America sells its products in South America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

From the beginning the firm put a lot of attention on the healthcare market, and that strategy has served it well in the current economic climate. Halo also serves the retail store planning sector, along with higher education and even some hospitality. Last year sales were about flat but growth is anticipated for this year.

Halo’s products feature high post-industrial content—63% of the total weight of the product, all from the filler layer. The firm has a recycling program in place in the U.S. to reclaim and repurpose its vinyl flooring.

Connecticut based Metroflor goes to market with a handful of brands, including Konecto, a luxury vinyl for both the residential and commercial markets that has received a lot of attention over the last three years because of its unique installation method that locks tiles to each other with notches and contact adhesive. Sales were down by single digits last year but this year the firm anticipates growth.

About a year ago, Metroflor came out with a sister brand, Starloc, which goes through different distribution but ultimately competes with Konecto. The firm also offers a higher end product with the same installation system: M9 Floors targets the commercial market with metal and concrete looks.

The firm also offers glue-down LVT in its Metroflor and Artistek brands, which were the firm’s original brands before the arrival of Konecto. On the commercial side, Metroflor offers Teknoflor, a heterogeneous sheet vinyl primarily targeting the healthcare market. And new this year is Tekstone, a groutable floating resilient tile that attaches like Konecto, leaving a natural groove around the product for grouting.

Metroflor says that Konecto products offer a range of post-consumer and post-industrial recycled content, with total recycled content ranging from 13% to 55%. Konecto Prestige wood look planks, for instance, have post-consumer content of 15.2%. And all Konecto tile lines have approximately 7% post industrial content and 38% post consumer content. Teknoflor has products with recycled content as high as 52%, according to the firm.

Copyright 2010 Floor Focus 


Related Topics:Armstrong Flooring, Carpet One, Mannington Mills, Mohawk Industries, Tarkett, Roppe, Metroflor Luxury Vinyl Tile