Resilient flooring has come a long way. It remains the second-largest U.S. floor covering category after carpet. Yet there's confusion among consumers about just what "resilient" flooring really is, and the terms "vinyl flooring" and "linoleum" may conjure negative images left over from cheaper, earlier versions. The entrance of laminate flooring hasn't done the resilient market any good, either.
In truth, today's resilient flooring has an impressive story to tell and a long list of benefits that customers should know about. In both durability and fashion, and certainly in affordability, today's resilient floors compete formidably and need not take a back seat to anything.
What Is It?
Don't assume that the average consumer clearly understands the term "resilient flooring." The Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI) defines it this way: "Resilient flooring refers to flooring materials which have a relatively firm surface, yet characteristically have 'give' and bounce back to their original surface profile from the weight of objects that compress the surface”. It's worth adding that resilient flooring may be made of natural materials, like cork, linoleum and rubber, or synthetic materials like the vinyl variations that dominate today.
While it all sounds very modern, the first rubber floor tiles debuted sometime in the 12th or 13th century, according to the RFCI. The first U.S. linoleum plant was built in 1872. Asphalt tile was the most widely used floor tile from the '20s to the '50s, but vinyl flooring took over the market after World War II because of its durability and easy maintenance. During the '60s, cushioned vinyl floors and "no wax" resilient floors improved upon these qualities. Throughout the past 20 years, specialty resilient floors which prevent slippage and resist static conductivity - increasingly important in this computer age - have grown their niches, as have environmentally friendly products.
Main Selling Points
Its long list of benefits helps resilient flooring to sell itself. Resilient flooring is affordable, durable, easy to install, warm, comfortable underfoot and can be environmentally friendly. In the quest to become fashion-forward, some of today's vinyl tiles mimic the look of stone or ceramic so well that they are easily confused with the real thing.
If you want to replace or even repair a damaged ceramic or stone tile floor, you may have to get out the jackhammer, and you may have to re-grout the whole floor to get a perfect grout match. If you damage a vinyl tile, you just heat it up, pull it off and put a new one down. Even tearing out a whole vinyl floor is not a big ordeal.
Ceramic and stone are hard, cold and tough on the things which get dropped. Resilient is warm, comfortable, forgiving and very easy to maintain.
The new resilient floors are so durable; they out-perform laminates even in scratch tests. They're so attractive; they provide a real alternative to other materials.
Tools for Overcoming Objections
So with all these selling points, why are resilient flooring sales flat to slightly down? As every rock star knows, it's all about perception. Few flooring categories have seen as much technological improvement the past few years in both style and durability, but that doesn't mean consumers perceptions have caught up with reality. The manufacturer relies heavily upon local retail sales staff to bridge that gap.
Retailers should distance themselves from the term 'vinyl,' which may conjure images of that old base-grade vinyl of years ago that didn't perform well. There's not a trade-off any more, but they may not know that until they take a real hands-on look at the new products.
In dollars and numbers, vinyl still draws an older crowd and this crowd prefers higher gloss, shinier resilient floors. But vinyl also is drawing a new, younger crowd that prefers less shine and likes all the new trendy patterns there are to choose from. This young crowd knows high-fashion resilient is the best deal on the market. It's the people aged 35 to 65 that are more difficult to judge. They have very mixed preferences.
When it comes to commercial units, quality commercial flooring contractors will prefer other solutions such as epoxy and urethane for their clients but small retail shops may still benefit from resilient flooring.
A Little Respect
The degree of respect shown for new resilient flooring by salespeople will be echoed by customers. Perhaps the first goal is simply to get the new product samples into peoples' hands to judge for themselves.
Admittedly, there was a time when vinyl flooring looked really plasticky and you certainly didn't want it to be in focal points of your home, like the front foyer. But those days are gone and the selection of high-quality product in this category really is impressive. When people handle these new products, they sell themselves.