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Fiber update: Nylon remains the major player

Volume 27/Number 24; March 31/April 7, 2014

By Louis Iannaco

Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 11.03.03 AMThe last few years have seen words like PET, polyester and triexta dominating the fiber headlines. But that does not mean nylon is any less relevant. In fact, as the economy continues to improve, more manufacturers are stepping up their nylon introductions.

The consensus among carpet mill executives is that nylon’s most dominant value proposition continues to be its durability. And with the trend toward soft carpet showing no signs of slowing down, nylon’s attributes offer a strong selling story.

Mike Sanderson, Shaw’s manager of residential nylon product marketing, said while different carpet fibers have gained popularity over the past few years, nylon continues to be the most commonly used, as it has for more than 50 years. There are a number of reasons, he said, particularly its strength and resiliency, that contribute to what he estimates to be a 60% market share.

“Nylon has the advantage [of familiarity],” agreed Matt Johnson, senior director, product management, Beaulieu America. People tend to trust and are comfortable with the familiar more than the unfamiliar, particularly in a major home improvement purchase like floor covering.

In terms of performance, Steve Griffith, Invista’s CMO, Surfaces division, said nylon remains the most durable fiber in any carpet construction. “You can change broadloom’s Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 11.03.24 AMconstruction by adding twist or cramming a lot of fiber into it to offset the durability disadvantages of other polymers, but nylon remains the most durable fiber, which is why it retains the majority of market share and dominates in segments where durability is a primary need, including commercial specified.”

According to Jeff Hudson, vice president of sales and marketing for Royalty, nylon is considered the better-end fiber in today’s market. “It costs more to manufacture. However, in terms of value to the end user, it is not necessarily more expensive. The value proposition with type 6,6 nylon is that it’s a better long-term investment.”

Styling-wise, he noted, manufacturers can produce larger color lines with nylon where PET tends to have short, blended color palettes. “Triexta is mostly solids, and to produce a fleck product you have to add a PET. To date, we haven’t seen PET or triexta produce a heavy cable style carpet.”

Seth Arnold, Mohawk’s residential brand director, agreed with Hudson in that nylon’s primary feature has always been its resiliency, and due to its durability can “stand the test of time. This trait has made nylon a popular choice for decades. For example, Wear-Dated was the first premium nylon and was built specifically around this inherent strength.”

Sanderson added that nylon is the most versatile of all fibers, providing flexibility in creating a variety of carpet styles. Its versatility is most apparent when tufted into various patterns, such as LCL and PCU styles. “Nylon offers sharp, clean and detailed visuals and can be found in a wide range of both cut pile and loop pile styles. It’s durable and receptive to dyeing for color versatility and uniformity. Many new nylon yarn systems are also exceptionally soft.”

Soft sells

As many of the executives noted, the recent innovation of premium soft nylon has made resiliency all the more relevant. “As we developed Wear-Dated Embrace, our goal was to create a soft feel without sacrificing performance,” Arnold said. “Amazingly, it meets and, in some cases, exceeds performance results of ordinary soft nylon carpets.”

Nylon’s advantages include a combination of performance and softness, according to Beaulieu’s Johnson. “For example, with Bliss Indulgence you get super softness and easy vacuuming. With this year’s Bliss Perfection, you get a mixture of softness, durability and affordability.”

Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 11.04.04 AMDan Phelan, Dixie’s vice president of marketing, residential, also noted the combination of appealing qualities offered by nylon products. “The advent of offerings like TruSoft, which competes very well with other soft fibers, features a compelling warranty from Invista.”

Color flexibility is another popular feature of nylon as a result of the wide range of dye methods that can be used. The fiber’s dye-ability allows for both variety and depth of color. Royalty’s Hudson noted that mills can produce larger color lines with nylon where PET lines tend to have short, blended color palettes. Phelan agreed, noting that manufacturers are “painted into a corner with polyester and other similar polymers where color palettes may get the job done but are generally very short.”

For the Dixie brands—Dixie Home, Masland and Fabrica—which are in the high-end portiont of the business, “we need to have color differentiation,” Phelan added, “and nylon gives us that along with luster, which helps tremendously when we’re creating the unique, different patterns and solid textures we’re known for.”

While choosing from fibers in today’s market is a challenge for many retailers, “nylon has stood the test of time and continues to outperform the rest,” Sanderson said. “While other fibers may represent a particular attribute the consumer may find appealing, such as price or stain resistance, they’re always compared to nylon.”

Because Mohawk is in the unique position of offering three fiber types, Arnold noted, the mill has put much thought into how its retail partners should market each one. As a result, the company has extended an easy-to-understand marketing tool to help communicate the benefits of each fiber. “We call it Stain-Free, Wear-Free and Worry-Free. A Stain-Free Gallery features PET products with a stain-resistant focus, a Wear-Free Gallery showcases nylon products with a durability focus, and a Worry-Free Gallery spotlights Triexta/SmartStrand products emphasizing long lasting wear and stain resistance.”

What the future holds

Looking forward, carpet mill executives have varying opinions on the fiber landscape. Mike Amburgey, Beaulieu America’s CMO, residential, said while nylon still comprises the majority of carpet, especially on the commercial side, polyester is catching up. “We predict more of a balance between the two over the next several years.”

Meanwhile, Shaw’s Sanderson is seeing a resurgence in nylon compared to previous years. “We continue to be committed to [nylon] by offering the most comprehensive marketed Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 11.04.23 AMprograms in the industry, such as Anso Colorwall, Caress and Originals.”

According to Hudson, price has driven the market for a long time and is helping boost PET and triexta’s share. “The value of nylon will be appreciated as the difference in durability and wear become evident. As the housing market rebounds, builders will appreciate the dependability and durability of nylon and it will be reflected in their survey and market scores.”

Conversely, Arnold sees two trends in the industry: the growth of triexta and PET as “the nylon category continues to be put under pressure.”

Like Hudson, Griffith believes much of nylon’s future depends on the economy, as well as technology, noting today’s equipment is capable of making nylon, polyester and polypropylene. “Mills have the latitude to shift easily among those three. And depending on the price of raw materials and the economy, things can shift a lot. If things pick up and people go back to work, they’ll buy more expensive goods and nylon shares could grow.”

However, he concluded, if the economy stays where it is with consumers concerned about jobs, “they’re going to be more value oriented and looking for lower-priced products. That’s why things are flat for nylon now.”