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Salesmanship: The lost carpet fiber

by Warren Tyler

What I don’t know about the manufacturing process would fill a book. What I do know is that carpet is one of the best consumer values on the market. No home improvement will change so much in so little time for so little money. Why then has carpet dropped to 40% of the flooring market from 80% just a few decades ago? Conventional wisdom has it consumers tastes have changed. I don’t believe it.

How many consumers start their conversation with, “Don’t show me carpet. I hate what I have.” This is happening more and more. What is different now? I know one major factor has to be the introduction of FHA-approved carpet in new homes. A 25-ounce plush can’t look good for more than a year. Don’t believe it? According to statistics, more than 35% of new home buyers change the carpet in less than three years. Why? Synthetics don’t wear out; they ugly out.

No less a carpet man than Bob Shaw once stated in front of over 200 retailers: “My 28-ounce Stainmaster carpet is guaranteed to walk out in four weeks.” Why did he say this? Because cheap carpet can’t look good for very long—it may never wear out, which is why those warrantees are so useless, but after a few years (maybe less) consumers wish it would wear out so they could purchase new carpet.

I ask my audiences whether they would sell the carpet Bob Shaw was referencing to their mother if they knew what he said was true. If you wouldn’t then why would you sell something of such low quality to your customers? After a time of embarrassing silence, I would blurt out the answer: “Because you can’t sell!” Consumers are sick and tired of low quality carpet.

Another reason is the fiber producers’ obsession with soft fiber. I have experienced many fiber fiascoes in my time starting with rayon/viscose through Kodel to cut pile olefins and soft yarns. Fiber producers know women shop carpet with their fingers and have no faith that salespeople can explain why the soft fiber of the past didn’t perform as well. But new technology should improve performance. As usual, I will give it a chance.

As a boy, most of my friends’ homes were decorated with wool oriental design rugs. We bought an inexpensive rose wool rug that looked new for years. There is no doubt that good wool is, by far, the most superior fiber. It is naturally stain resistant through the virtue of natural oils, and by the same token, it cleans beautifully. Carpet cleaners who have never cleaned wool are missing something. Although it is not as strong as nylon, it looks better far longer.

In the UK, carpeting still has a 80% share of the flooring market and that is because wool is still the predominant fiber. UK carpet dealers sell better quality and as a result consumers are greatly satisfied with their purchases. They sell real friezes (friezes are not shags, but in reality, they are low tight twists with a high TPI which wear like iron). Years ago, they were called the carpetman’s carpet because of their superior performance. A 60-ounce wool frieze or even an 80/20 blend retails for under $4 a square foot, which if we could sell means less than $2,400 for an average living room, dining room and hall completely installed. When their customers want new flooring they replace it with carpet.

The problem with carpet is that cheap carpet doesn’t perform, and the quicker we train our salespeople to sell quality is when carpet will regain its rightful share.