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Surfaces Carpet Coverage: Despite hard surface surge, mills double down on soft

February 5/12, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 17

By Ken Ryan

 

Traditional carpet mills invariably face this decision: Do we ride the hard surface tide and introduce our own products, or do we stick to our knitting and stay soft?

Surprisingly many are choosing the latter, and they are not apologizing for it. While Dixie Group, Phenix Flooring and Marquis Industries expanded their hard surface assortments at Surfaces—while Engineered Floors officially entered the category—many are passing on the opportunity to jump on the bandwagon.

“We make no bones about it, we are soft flooring,” said Brian Warren, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Foss Flooring, which showcased carpet tile and indoor/outdoor broadloom under a “carpet reinvented” theme.

The way Warren sees it, Foss’ business is good, so why disrupt the flow? “Our tile business has grown double digits each year for the past six years. Our tile business is through the roof. We have some unique technologies and have found a way to position these technologies in such a way that retailers get the advantages.”

Foss introduced DuraKnit, a broadloom line that can be installed over pad. “We’re selling $40 looks for less than $6 with a great performance story, a product that won’t fray, wrinkle or unravel. We’re pushing the attributes that only we have. We’re screaming that it is carpet reinvented. Bottom line—we love giving retailers a selling story they can position against competitors.”

Stanton is another mill sticking to soft surface. “Not now. You can’t do it just to do it,” Jonathan Cohen, CEO, said when asked if the company was contemplating a move into hard surfaces. “We are way too protective of the brand to do that.”

Stanton, which is introducing 125 soft surface products in 2018, is entering the commercial Main Street market through Stanton St. Decorative Commercial. Stanton Street is located in the Soho section of Manhattan, near the location where company founder, Sy Cohen, grew up. “We always liked the idea of getting into commercial but it had to match our identity,” Jonathan Cohen explained. “This fits for us. We can be competitive with price, and as long as we stay decorative we feel like we can have a place within the market.”

Couristan has been a soft surface company for 92 years and has no plans to deviate from that course. That’s according to Len Andolino, executive vice president–residential division, who rejoined the company last fall. “We are a soft surface company, that is who we are. The hard surface [surge] has actually helped our business. For example, our broadloom business is heavily fabricated. More than 50% of our business will be fabricated rugs. We’re pushing the envelope with the fabricated rug business.”

Southwind, a carpet and hard surface supplier, focused more of its efforts on soft at Surfaces with six new LCL patterns and six new colorpoints using its soft yarn system. “People are starting to talk about carpet again,” said Tim Gilmore, Southeast regional vice president. “With this new line we wanted to give dealers some options over the typical beiges and grays.”

Prestige Mills is another tried-and-true soft surface company with no plans to make the leap to hard surfaces. But like so many other mills Prestige is looking to leverage the growth of hard surfaces. Peter Feldman, president, said a good deal of its broadloom business ends up as rugs, in some cases cut by their dealers after shipping. “While cutting broadloom carpet into rugs is good for the rug business, you are only using part of the room with rugs, so more carpet is required if you are going to go that way,” he explained. “It is a challenge, but we are up for it.”

Surfaces 2018 marked the return of Gulistan, which went under in 2012 but has been resurrected by Lonesome Oak. John Sheffield, recently of Godfrey Hirst, has taken over as vice president of sales. Tom Mathis, most recently with Lexmark, serves as strategic sales director. The strategy going forward, Mathis said, is to focus strictly on broadloom and to be selective with retail distribution. Its lineup of 20 products is divided equally between Stainmaster offerings and solution-dyed PET. “We are pretty careful who we are partnering with,” Sheffield said. “We are looking for meaningful partners who can grow the business.”

The return of this venerable brand was well received at Surfaces, Mathis said. “Not a single person said, ‘Oh, I don’t want these guys again.’ The Gulistan brand has more equity than we ever imagined. It’s pretty synonymous with Stainmaster, so that is a plus. And despite the fact carpet is losing share, we are a breath of fresh air and we are starting with a clean slate.”

Crossover continues
Long-established carpet mills that have ventured into hard surfaces and, in some cases, expanded their offerings, have not given up on soft surfaces. Quite the contrary. Phenix, for example, introduced 25 new residential carpet products–PetProtect and polyester—and announced its entry into the area rug business under the Cleaner Home Rugs banner. “We all know carpet is the largest category, and we are expecting carpet to lose share again,” said Mark Clayton, president and CEO. “Our challenge is to keep producing unique stories around the products. The business we are serving—what we call the belly of the country, states like Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Utah—is still very strong in carpet.”

Clayton said the jump into rugs is a nod to the explosive growth of hard surfaces. “With so many beautiful patterns in our line this is just a natural addition to what we are doing for hard surfaces.”

The bedroom remains one of the last bastions for carpet in the residential sector, and consumers have shown a willingness to spend more for higher-end goods. To address that trend, Dixie Home launched several Stainmaster offerings with differentiated PetProtect loops and patterns as well as some multi-colored textures. “We think the consumer is buying carpet by the room, not by the whole house, and that leads to better opportunity for better goods,” said T.M. Nuckols, president, residential division, The Dixie Group. “The market is looking for better goods and products that work well with hard surfaces.”

The Masland brand showed new PetProtect collections as well as Masland Energy, a broadloom and tile program for the commercial segment for retailers targeting the upper end of Main Street.

Mills agree Main Street commercial is hot these days. Engineered Floors’ Pentz brand of broadloom and modular tile is keeping pace with several new products, including some from the former Beaulieu’s commercial division. EF’s new 500,000-square-foot carpet tile plant will be in full production in the next few weeks and has already been graded for expansion.

At Surfaces EF touted PureBac, its premium, no-latex backing system. “The dealers say they can get more money on it,” said Will Young, director of national accounts. “PureBac offers a complete story on cleanability, with no latex and a hypo-allergenic face fiber. It is a very installation-friendly product.”