Thursday, March 4, 2010

Is Hard Surface Flooring Growth Just a Click Away?

Observing and analyzing flooring covering trends is my business and this year as I walked through Surfaces, the U.S. flooring show,  I couldn’t help but wonder how the proliferation of click flooring across all hard surface categories would affect the industry.

After almost two decades of steady gains, hard surface flooring’s inroads in the U.S. floor coverings market hit a wall during this recession.  In 2009, hard surface flooring’s share of total U.S. square feet floor coverings sales declined to 37.9% from 38.1% in 2008.  This may not seem significant, however, it is the first time carpet and area rugs gained share in almost two decades.  Hard surface’s share would have fallen even more dramatically, if not for consumers growing interest in lower cost resilient flooring.  The drop in U.S. floor covering sales in 2009 was led by the sharp cut in demand for higher-priced laminate flooring, ceramic tile, wood, and stone flooring. 

So how do manufacturers and marketers respond to the adverse affects of this recession? Is the consumer shift to lower priced flooring products just a sign of the times or is there a permanent change in taste?  Are consumers going to use different flooring in the smaller, less costly single-family homes and apartments they are purchasing?

I went to Surfaces to see if any of these questions could be answered from the products showcased in Las Vegas.  What I saw was a widening array of hard surface flooring incorporating click technology.  I noticed more clickable bamboo and cork floors and more laminate flooring with ceramic and stone looks.  Valinge was even displaying a new technology, where a powder based solid layer replaces decor paper and thin gray overlay paper that will initially be used to manufacture ceramic and stone type clickable tiles.  I also noticed a new type of clickable plank that has a vinyl surface with a HDF core and a cork backing.  I call this a hybrid plank, and wonder which category the industry will classify this type of flooring.

As I walked the floor at Surfaces, I began to think about how these new products will change the prospects for the hard surface flooring market and wondered.... 

•    Will manufacturers and marketers just wait for stronger consumer spending gains in 2011 and 2012 or will the industry take action now to stimulate consumer demand? 

•    Will a strategy towards click-able flooring products make it simpler and easier to design and install hard surfaces? 

•    Will retailers target these products to the do-it-yourself first time home buyers, who are driving the current upturn in existing home sales? 

•    Will the combination of touch economic times and consumer’s desire for low prices create a greater need for a low cost retail model? 

We know the low cost strategy is already driving hard surface flooring sales to Home Depot, Lowe’s and Lumber Liquidators. What is your strategy to take advantage of the trend towards click-able hard surface flooring? 

I’d really like to hear your opinions and insights; it’s valuable feedback as I work on Catalina’s flooring reports.


Stuart Hirschhorn is a member of the Floor Covering Institute and Director of Research of Catalina Research, Inc. which provides in-depth market research on the floor covering industry.

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