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Executive interview: Phenix rises under Clayton’s leadership

January 16/23, 2017: Volume 31, Number 16

Mark Clayton

Industry veteran Mark Clayton has been at the helm of Phenix Flooring for the past five years. In that time the company has evolved into a significant player by introducing innovative products, turning its attention to a better product mix and merging with its yarn suppler Pharr Yarns. Many retailers who have sought alternatives to the big two have turned to Phenix. FCNews recently spoke to Clayton about the past, present and future.

You have been at Phenix for almost five years now. How has the company evolved?
When I first arrived, we were very focused on attacking the commodity and volume portions of the market whereas we’ve evolved into one of the leading producers of fashion-forward products. We still participate in these markets but our shift has been toward mid to upper-end products that leverage our unique design aesthetics. Our product design team, led by Susan Curtis, has transformed our product offering and focused on building differentiated products that speak directly to what the consumer wants.

Our sales and marketing efforts have also experienced an evolution. We’ve placed a tremendous amount of effort into building our sales force while making initial efforts into expanding our marketing reach; these remain two areas of focus for us.

We also completed our merger with Pharr last year, which has allowed us to evolve to a point where we have greater breadth of resources and talent.

How has the merger with Pharr changed/helped the Phenix business model?
We were once two completely separate organizations that had very similar objectives, capabilities and cultures. Phenix is now able to operate more effectively as a vertically integrated manufacturer, but it has also provided the ability for both companies to expand our product development efforts and bring more stylistic products to the market, quicker. Pharr also has a 77-year heritage of adapting to market demands, and they’ve been very supportive of our growth requirements. Like Phenix, Pharr had been committed to investing in and developing state-of-the-art manufacturing processes, and those combined result in a better product for the consumer.

Talk a little about Pharr Yarns and the strength it provides Phenix.
As I mentioned, Pharr Yarns has a 77-year history of meeting and exceeding the needs of its yarn customers. However, most don’t realize Pharr Yarns is part of a very diverse organization that actually supports five separate business units. Pharr not only participates in the flooring (Phenix Flooring) and yarn (Pharr Yarns) industries, but also has business units that service the high performance yarn industry (Pharr HP) as well as a land development group (Belmont Land) and hotel management group (Strand Hospitality Services).

Regarding the strength that Pharr provides Phenix, they allow us to be more competitive, enhance our product development cycle, provide resources for continued expansion and growth, and provide an additional level of support to help us continue our path forward.

How do you view Phenix’s competitive advantages compared to other carpet mills?
Our competitive advantages are that within the category we participate, which is residential carpet products mostly consisting of solution dyed yarn systems, we bring differentiated, style conscious, innovative styling to the consumer. We are committed to being highly responsive to the needs of our customers, bringing them reliable on-time performance in what can be an otherwise challenging product category to service effectively.

I mentioned Pharr and Phenix had very similar cultures as individual organizations and now as one company we’ve further strengthened our commitment to our core values, which is who we are FIRST: Family, Innovation, Responsiveness, Strong Relationships and Trustworthy.

Is the focus today more on PET or nylon? Why?
Both of these categories play a big role in what we do. I believe within the residential carpet market we participate in two of the hottest sectors: solution-dyed polyester and Stainmaster Pet Protect solution-dyed nylon. You could say we are more focused on PET as this is where the majority of our SKUs reside, but we are just as much committed to the growth and expansion of the nylon category. In fact, many don’t realize Phenix is the largest volume manufacturer of products featuring the Stainmaster Pet Protect badge.

What would you say is the sweet spot in terms of retail price point for Phenix?
Our product offering has evolved over the past five years to the point that our average face weight and subsequently price points are higher today. I would say our “sweet spot” in terms of retail prices would be in the mid to upper $20s per square yard.

With the growth of hard surface dominating headlines, particularly LVT/WPC, and many other mills getting in that game, any plans for Phenix to start marketing the product?
Yes. Phenix actually soft launched into the category in 2016 at Surfaces and has since been building on the success of that initial rollout. We now feel we are ready to support a more comprehensive rollout and will be introducing four new hard surface products at Surfaces we’re really excited about. We’ve also recently announced the hiring of Jason Hair, a hard surface industry veteran, to support and execute our hard surface strategy.

You all have talked about a desire to reach the consumer, maybe create some brand awareness. How do you plan on accomplishing this?
We’ve also recently made a strategic hire in the marketing area, further solidifying our commitment here. Industry veteran Merrie Barnett came on board earlier this year as our new VP of marketing to provide the focus and resources needed to take our marketing and business efforts to the next level. Our marketing group will be executing a strategy focused on leveraging our relation to the overall Pharr organization, we will be expanding our reach in both digital and social platforms, and we will continue to expand our penetration in traditional marketing outlets.

What’s the big story heading into Surfaces?
We are really excited about Surfaces. In fact, this will represent the most dynamic rollout of new programs in Phenix’s history. Phenix will introduce the new Cleaner Home collection, which will target those consumers looking to simplify the cleaning process while protecting their family. This collection will feature 10 new styles manufactured with our new Opulence HD 100% solution-dyed PET fiber, creating a luxuriously soft and refined appearance. The Cleaner Home collection also features exclusive Microban technology, which works continuously to prevent the growth of stain- and odor-causing bacteria and mold, providing a new level of cleanliness and peace of mind. Microban is the most recognized consumer brand in the growing antimicrobial segment, and its products are featured on a wide array of home products.

In addition, products within the collection feature SureFresh Odor Capture Technology, which actively freshens the air in the home by capturing and neutralizing a broad range of household odors. All of these unique technologies have been brought together to meet the needs of the consumer who wants to create a healthy, clean home and expects products to proactively help her achieve this.

Next, Phenix will be introducing the first ever Stainmaster Pet Protect luxury vinyl product. Free Expression will feature both stone tile and wood plank on an oversized, loose lay LVT platform. The most unique feature of this new introduction will be how Phenix has chosen to merchandise it. Phenix’s new display mechanism will feature not only luxury vinyl but also Stainmaster Pet Protect carpet options, offering consumers flooring solutions for their entire home in a single point destination, one-stop-shop display.

We’ve taken it one step further with this display by simplifying the design process for the consumer. Phenix created seven custom lifestyle palettes featuring both our new Stainmaster Pet Protect luxury vinyl with our Stainmaster Pet Protect carpet effortlessly coordinated together, helping take the guesswork out of flooring design for the consumer. Phenix will be the first in the industry to offer a coordinated soft and hard surface display with the added protection of Stainmaster Pet Protect.

Phenix will also be making a statement in hard surface with a new rigid core luxury plank and new water-resistant laminate. These products will each offer unique, industry-leading technologies which address the needs of today’s consumer.