The flooring market, like most other building products categories, has experienced periods where one product is vastly more popular than another. In 2017, carpet has become less popular in the main living area of homes. Idealistic, minimalist interior designs fostered by today’s leading influencers like HGTV’s Chip and Joanna Gaines, have reframed what residential flooring looks like today. Designers and homeowners are focusing on the use of products such as solid wood, engineered wood, laminate, vinyl, linoleum, and ceramic tile to achieve this design aesthetic.
The luxury vinyl tile (LVT) segment within resilient flooring has benefited from this trend and is largely responsible for the growth of resilient flooring segment. According to a recent article posted by the Floor Covering News, LVT sales have increased by over 50% in the last three years from $948 million in 2013 to $1,451 billion in 2015.
Vinyl’s Rise and Fall
Vinyl was an ideal choice for the modern American family in the post-war housing boom of the 1950s and 1960s – right through to the 1970s. The product was known for its versatility and flame resistance and easy cleanup for the busy family. Vinyl took over kitchens across the market, as well as bathrooms and laundry rooms even entryways and foyers.
Every generation has its own take on the latest, most popular design trends. We can see a product go from “what’s hot” to “what’s not” almost overnight. Over time, the geometric patterns and bright colors of vinyl flooring lost homeowner appeal and didn’t offer the warm look that was becoming increasingly more popular. Vinyl also didn’t wear particularly well, became a target for purported health risks due to its chemical composition, and was viewed as “cheap” rather than “inexpensive” or “value” – and gave way to hardwoods and laminates in many areas of the home.
Hardwoods and great real wood lookalikes such as faux hardwoods and laminates together with a minimalist design gained significant share at the expense of vinyl in the 1990s. The rapid growth of carpet further accelerated the decline of vinyl as a preferred material of choice in flooring.
Other flooring design trends also took over the 1990s, including beige and white carpet, Japanese influenced clean hardwood floors, and blond wood floors. The elegant sophistication of these trends gave homes new appeal and moved away from the look and feel of a modestly appointed middle-class home – again, at the expense of vinyl flooring.
Resurgence through LVT
The decline of vinyl had vinyl flooring manufacturers searching to find a way to keep the product alive. Out of this necessity to survive, a new and innovative vinyl flooring product was born. Luxury vinyl tile (LVT) – featuring design authenticity to replicate wood, stone and tile – propelled vinyl flooring back into the mainstream market to former users as well as to an entire new set of homeowners. The product addressed some of the past performance issues of vinyl flooring while providing more design friendly features.
Also, key to LVT’s repositioning strategy was taking the product’s versatility to the next level. Today, LVT is desirable because of added value attributes, including waterproof, scratch resistant, slip resistant and eco-friendly. In addition to these features, LVT is also cost-effective compared to hardwoods and various types of engineered wood.
Three Lessons Learned
A few lessons that can be gleaned from examining the growth and decline of vinyl flooring, followed by its resurgence.
- Monitor market demand. One of the most important lessons is that product preference and usage trends and resulting market demand change over time. Staying abreast of these demand shifts – by product type, new construction vs. remodel & repair, single family vs. multifamily and region – is critical to managing your business direction.
- Listen to the customer. Another key takeaway from the up and down and up again fluctuation in vinyl flooring demand is to know how well your product fits with the needs of different customer types. Product positioning can assess the product against what the customer values most, and whether changes to your current product or introducing a new product will be well received.
- Innovate, don’t stagnate. Competitive survivability and product innovation go hand in hand to ensure a product’s longevity. Flooring products don’t generally introduce new products year after year like the consumer electronics industry. But effectively responding to market changes can help protect or even extend the life cycle of a product. Customer-driven new product development that ties to usage and preference trends can let you stay ahead of competition.
LVT exemplifies how these lessons can breathe new life into a product or market segment of an industry. Knowing your market, understanding your customer, and developing products that meet evolving consumer preferences ensure that you’re delivering value to the customer.