Surfaces trend watch

SURFACES 2007 The annual Surfaces flooring show will feature around 1,100 exhibitors this year. Special exhibits will include a new product pavilion, a special display on decorative concrete and a pavilion highlighting trends in handcrafted tile.

At this year’s annual Surfaces flooring show in January, home channel buyers will be watching trends across the flooring spectrum—from the short-term color trends to long-term shifts in technology to produce DIY-friendlier products.

Jeff Griffiths, CEO of hardwood flooring retailer Lumber Liquidators, said the options for hardwood finishes have continued to expand, and he expects that trend to continue this year.

“Certainly the long-term trend has been towards finished hardwood flooring. Historically, the vast majority of hard-wood flooring sold in the U.S. was unfinished,” Griffiths said. “In the early ‘90s, pre - finished was a pretty small percentage of our hardwood flooring business. Last year it was about 50 percent.”

New technology in finishing techniques, Griffiths explained, helped the market for hardwoods expand greatly.

“The process for installing and finishing certainly required a pretty significant investment in equipment and skill,” he said.

New technology also has helped expand the market for a wide variety of synthetic hard surfaces, including vinyl, laminates, tile and ceramics. For example, DuPont recently launched a hard surface line with underlayments attached, reducing the DIY floor-laying experience by one sometimes hard-to-navigate step.

And it is technology like this that will catch the eye of merchants attending Surfaces, said Tony Castellano, Home Depot’s divisional merchandise manager for hard flooring.

“One of the fastest growing trends in porcelain, for instance, is the ability for porcelain to be used indoor and outdoor, adding flexibility,” Castellano said. “Consumers are becoming a lot more educated about the products out there—the kinds of stone available, the installation process.”

Expanded technology in laminates also has led to more exotic finishes and some surprising hot sellers, he said.

“We tried a Brazilian Cherry, a high-gloss laminate,” he said. “We thought it would have a very limited appeal. It’s a very exotic look and a high shine. But it did very well for us.”

Unlike many of the hard surfaces products that have catered to DIYers, carpet products have lagged behind in ease of installation, still typically requiring professional help. For that reason, there is significant room for new innovation in carpeting, said Randy Brown, divisional merchandise manager for soft flooring at Home Depot.

“We always look for innovation first—always looking for things that make the installation easier,” Brown said. He used the example of carpet tiles, which he characterized as doing “ok,” but with specific room for improvement.

Installed carpet, he explained, runs about $2 to $4 per square foot, about the same price as DIY carpet tiles after all installation materials are purchased. Lowering the price could make for a significant jump in the market, he said.

“A carpet tile that looked decent at 99 cents a square foot? It would be a home run,” he said.

Further trends in carpet have been driven, in fact, by the rising popularity of hard surfaces, he added. Brown said he planned to eye darker color carpet at the Surfaces show later this month.

“I see a trend towards pattern ed goods,” he said. “With color trends towards golds, browns, rusts. Definitely they‘re more popular now when you look at color palettes—colors that complement hard surfaces.”

In the end, it’s consumers on a budget who still rule the surfaces market. According to a 2007 study by the Home Improvement Research Institute, of consumers who purchased items from the window, wall coverings, carpet and flooring categories, vinyl products topped all. Twenty-six percent of those consumers (some of whom made multiple purchases) chose vinyl floor tiles or sheets, while 25 percent chose carpeting, 24 percent chose ceramic tile, 22 percent opted for laminates and 21 percent purchased area rugs. Vinyl remains the lowest-cost flooring product—the higher cost items saw a lower purchase rate, with 8 percent of those consumers choosing natural hardwoods and 3 percent choosing natural stone.

“The hottest thing is LVT (luxury vinyl tile),” Brown said. “The look is stone, ceramic. It’s become so realistic-looking. Popular brands are Armstrong, Tarkett, Halstead, Veritex.”

The LVT products, like many laminates, use high-resolution photography combined with texture to create realistic looking faux surfaces. Vinyl plank products are popular as well, he said, “It’s extremely easy to install—all you really need is a utility knife and a straight edge.”

The annual Surfaces show is slated to include around 1,100 exhibitors of hardwood, synthetic, stone, carpet and related flooring products, and will take place Jan. 29 through Feb. 1 at the Sands Convention Center in Las Vegas. Special exhibits will include a new product pavilion, a special display on decorative concrete and a pavilion highlighting trends in handcrafted tile.

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