FUTURE OF FLOORING

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What's trending in Hawaii’s flooring industry?

Among all the components of a home or office building, floors have the lowest self-esteem. After all, they let people walk all over them.

All joking aside, floors are often taken for granted, but next to paint they are the greatest square-foot-quantity material that goes into a building project, whether it’s a house, high-rise, hospital or classroom. As T&A Supply’s Chris Edmonds says, “Floors are used and abused, and they’re integral to every single facility through our Islands. Everybody steps on a floor on a daily basis.”

We talked to several industry insiders to learn about the latest trends in flooring products in Hawaii. Here’s what we found:

BIGGER IS BETTER

Kevin Yi, General Manager at Maka Construction LLC, offers some big news: The hot new trend is large- format porcelain tiling.

“People don’t want the itty-bitty tiles anymore,” Yi reports. “The smaller the tile, the more grout lines you have. And those are the parts that get dirty. So larger tiles are much easier to maintain. Also, compared to wood, tile floors will last longer.”

Large format tiles (any tile that has at least one side measuring 16 inches or more) offer a number of advantages: They provide a greater sense of spaciousness, reduce installation time, create a continuity effect and, with fewer grout lines, are more hygienic.

Because they are still new to the market, large-format porcelain tiles are quite expensive and usually used for commercial projects. But Yi says it will only be a matter of time before prices become more competitive. When that happens, he expects to see these tiles being used for residential projects as well.

Maka Construction recently installed large-format tiles at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport’s central concourse. The 3-and-1/2-year endeavor was completed in May and included replacing the restroom tiles with large 5-by-10-foot tiles.

STAIN GAINS

A trendy and striking alternative to floor coverings is concrete staining, a method that penetrates into the concrete’s surface and is sealed with a polyurethane coating.

“I’m trying to get this into hospitals and hotels, and people are excited about it,” says Ronnie Corpuz, owner of Honolulu Premier Flooring LLC. “It’s a bit costly—probably $8 to $10 per square foot—but it gives you a different look. You can stain it to your liking, using a wide array of designs and color schemes. You can make it look like terrazzo or granite, for example.”

Stained concrete is also easy to maintain. Adds Corpuz, “It’s like doing bodywork on an automobile. You can patch and repair any dents or holes.”

JUST LIKE STONE

Roy Tokuhama, owner of Abbey Carpet & Floor of Hawaii, says that the latest trend in flooring has to be seen to be believed. And even then, you might do a double take.

“They’ve got vinyl and laminate now that looks like real stone,” Tokuhama reports. “It has a real shiny finish, and it’s hard to tell between laminate flooring and real stone. This flooring is mainly used for kitchens and bathrooms, and it’s cheaper [than real stone] and easier to maintain.”

This product is so new that Tokuhama has yet to use it in a project. “But it’s coming,” he says.

Waterproof laminate floors are another rising trend. Because they’re harder than vinyl, laminates are harder to dent or scratch.

Tokuhama says vinyl remains more popular in Hawaii because of the Island lifestyle.

“People here walk around barefoot in their homes, and vinyl is just softer and has a better feel.”

UPPING THE ANTE

Edmonds, who is the Hawaii territory manager for T&A Supply Company Inc., sees an increasing need for high-quality vinyl flooring.

“Over the past few years, it was kind of a race to the bottom as far as quality vinyl goes,” he says. “Luxury vinyl kept getting cheaper and cheaper. Unfortunately, now that we’re at the three- or four-year mark of some of these installations, we’ve seen the lower-quality luxury vinyl has significant issues with moisture and Hawaii’s climate. 

“At Hawaii T&A, we’ve never taken a deep dive into the bottom-of-the-barrel stuff. We pride ourselves on finding a balance between quality and affordability. I think there’s a need for reeducation as to what types of luxury vinyl are out there. Just like with real hardwood, there is an array of different grades and qualities.”

STATE OF THE INDUSTRY

Tim Lyons, executive director of the Hawaii Flooring Association, says that Hawaii’s flooring companies emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic relatively unscathed.

“We were one of the associations that pressed [Gov. David Ige] to declare construction, including flooring, to be an essential industry during COVID-19,” explains Lyons. “So, most of our members were able to keep working, although sometimes they had to do limited crews or shortened hours.

“With flooring, we’re typically on the tail end of the project. That can be bad because the client might go over budget on many things and decide to cut from the flooring budget. But it’s also good because when the economy starts to slow, our guys stay busy because they’re finishing up old jobs.”

Business-wise, Lyons predicts the industry to remain stable over the next year. 

“No huge growth, no huge decline,” he says. “As the world outside gets crazier, the home today becomes more and more important,” Lyons says. “People will invest more in their homes. On the other hand, interest rates are going up. We’ve been so spoiled with the 3% to 4% interest rates. People are not going to want to borrow at 6%.”

Tokuhama and Corpuz are optimistic, as well.

Adds Corpuz, “During the pandemic, business was slow but steady. But now I see people spending money. I think we’re going to be super busy.”

Yi says Maka Construction has a lot of projects, but supply chain issues have caused a lengthy backlog. He points to the company’s installation work at the Hawaii State Veterans Home in Kapolei.

“We just started that last month,” he says. “We were supposed to have started in October of last year.”

Finally, Edmonds sees a slowing economy as a chance to get back to basics.

“For us, it’s an opportunity to get back to old-school customer outreach,” he says. “That includes in-person meetings and really finding out what our customers want to have here on a local level. We have to be more focused in terms of the products we stock. So, maybe we’ll be leaner with our options but stock more heavily within those options. We’re going to make sure our products are readily available for our customers.” 

Caption:

Sparta Premium Luxury Vinyl flooring dresses up this spacious living room.

PHOTO COURTESY: T&A SUPPLY CO.

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