October 28/November 4, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 9
By Steven Feldman
Kennesaw, Ga.—Stainmaster, arguably the flooring industry’s most recognized brand, has been a popular topic amongst retailers lately by virtue of its decision to allow Lowe’s to attach the Stainmaster brand to every carpet on its floor regardless of fiber type—provided those fibers meet Invista’s rigorous testing and quality standards. How? The process begins by understanding Stainmaster is both a brand and an ingredient (nylon fiber) producer.
A bit of history: DuPont launched the Stainmaster brand in 1986 backed by a $26 million advertising blitz. The media was not fragmented back then, and penetration was fast and furious. Ironically it quickly became synonymous with carpet, even though Stainmaster was not carpet. Rather, it was at that time solely a supplier of nylon 6,6. While that’s still the case today, Stainmaster, now a division of Invista, is also licensed to other carpet fibers, such as PET (most notably through Lowe’s) and LVT (PetProtect across a multitude of channels).
Indeed, Invista has gone through some changes in its brand portfolio during the last couple of years. It promotes its brands—Stainmaster, Antron and PetProtect—but also focuses on fibers and innovation. “We are dedicated to our nylon 6,6 portfolio of fibers as well as maintaining and strengthening our brands,” said Maggie Bidlingmaier, global vice president, Performance Surfaces Business, Invista. “It is our cur- rent fiber portfolio that differentiates us, both from a residential and commercial perspective.”
In illustration, Invista has continued to make “significant investments in both our upstream intermediates, global nylon 6,6 platform, as well as a $30 million investment around our fiber extrusion in the last two years,” she said, “so we continue to be, as a whole, very committed to this business.”
With consumer preferences continuing to shift toward PET, a 10-year-plus trend, Stainmaster’s nylon business has been under pressure. That has forced Invista to adapt to a changing market. “You’ve seen us look at polyester and how we could develop an offering that still meets the brand promise,” Bidlingmaier said. “So we launched a program seven years ago where we looked at the performance of base polyester, and we developed Simply Stainmaster for specialty retail and Stainmaster Essentials for Lowe’s. We can’t change what consumers are demanding, but we can look at what we have to offer within our brand standards and determine whether we can pro- vide a differentiated offering. We feel today we’re doing that.”
As the consumer’s performance and usage expectations change, Invista has an obligation to not only evolve but continue to provide that consumer with relevant and meaningful solutions, said Brook Brown, vice president of the Stainmaster brand. “We believe she is looking for a trusted partner to sift through all the industry terminology. Our objective is to simplify that and deliver flooring that is right for her and her household needs.”
Brand simplification was illustrated at special- ty retail last January when the brand architecture was reduced to Stainmaster, PetProtect and Live Well. “Retailers believe it’s easier to sell when there are fewer messages,” Brown said. “They can use Stainmaster as an overarching brand and talk about unique features and benefits of PetProtect.”
That same simplification holds true at Lowe’s, where a good/better/best plat- form exists. Good continues to be polyester and carpets that perform like polyester. Best is all Invista nylon 6,6 Live Well and Pet Protect, which continues to be the company’s superior solution-dyed nylon. Better is everything else. “There are performance expectations at each level,” Brown said. “And carpet has to perform against those standards to be considered in those categories.”
More than 30 years after its launch, the power of the Stainmaster brand remains strong. Third-party research reveals the brand is still the most trusted name in carpet, Bidlingmaier said. “We are three times more trusted than our nearest competitor, and that’s something we don’t take lightly. Two out of three people know the name Stainmaster, and that number increases when it comes to people in the market for carpet. Then it goes up to four out of five.”
Obviously the Stainmaster brand has strong equity with baby boomers and Gen-xers, but what about the next generation—millennials who have not been exposed to the advertising blitz of yesteryear? Bidlingmaier admitted this generation is a major target today for Invista. “Not only do millennials seek knowledge on large purchases from parents and family members, a substantial portion of our targeted marketing efforts are aimed at these younger consumers. In today’s world of personalization, we’re able to tailor marketing strategies and tactics to diverse audiences in ways that really resonate with them.” For example, Invista has seen success with its influencer programs. “We partner with a wide array of influencers who in turn reach a wide array of audiences. We’ll continue to expand these programs in the coming years. We believe all these efforts will increase the number of young eyes and ears on our brand.”
Invista has also found that its sub-brands like Stainmaster PetProtect, resonate extremely well with younger consumers. “We know that pet ownership transcends age, and young homeowners often become pet parents before they welcome a baby into the family,” Bidlingmaier said.
Having a recognized brand conveys trust and confidence no matter the product. “We think that’s particularly important in a category that you only purchase once every seven years,” Bidlingmaier said. “And it’s a purchase journey that is very complicated. You’re looking for any level of trust and confidence in a world that really is confusing online and in store landscapes.”
Despite the power of the Stainmaster brand, Invista has been relatively quiet over the last couple of years—a dearth of new products on the soft surface side according to retailers contacted by FCNews. Of course, some of that has to do with a few manufacturers that offered Stainmaster nylon shutting its doors.
But if Invista appeared quiet, it’s not because it has been sitting still. “I think our efforts over the last couple of years have been highly focused on optimally serving our consumers, our retailers and our aligned partners,” Bidlingmaier said. “We feel this intense focus on the right products, simplifying that purchasing process and working on the right selling tools and communication is where we create the most value.”
While Invista does not com pare its Stainmaster nylon 6,6 to other fibers in terms of stain resistance and durability, it does believe it offers specialty retailers the ability to make a higher margin in this waterproof world. “We believe delivering fibers in high standards that make beautiful carpet and pairing that with the most trusted brand in flooring creates a differentiated offering for our retail partners,” Bidlingmaier said. “Carpet today has a smaller share of the house, so why not build a strategy to sell higher profit-per-square-foot products? We believe our Stainmaster offering can help retailers with that strategy. If you have the most recognized brand—and you have innovation and it’s packaged with a compelling story, and you have the confidence of the nylon 6,6 story—you can get that consumer to those higher price points.”
As PET takes more share from nylon, Stainmaster continues to evolve. It’s PET program at Lowe’s is an example. Unfortunately, that has never gained traction at specialty retail. “We actually launched Stainmaster Essentials polyester in specialty retail and Lowe’s in 2012,” Bidlingmaier said. “Historically, though, specialty retail has not disconnected Stainmaster and nylon 6,6.”
One thing with which specialty retail is having a great deal of success is Stainmaster PetProtect. Why? “Our marketing and R&D teams identified a huge gap in the carpet industry for pet owners, a product that was specifically marketed to them, that stood up to the demands of pets and their families,” Bidlingmaier explained. “We were able to take an existing strong-performing, solution-dyed nylon fiber technology, tailor the testing claims and marketing, and Stainmaster PetProtect was born. While others have followed, none have truly been able to match the performance and connection with these pet parents.”
More than 70% of households have pets, and that number continues to grow. Pet owners are demanding products that can stand up. Stainmaster PetProtect allows pet owners to not have to worry about stains, soiling or abrasion when it comes to an LVT.
One bone of contention surrounds the recent announcement that Lowe’s is attaching the Stainmaster brand to every carpet in the store, both nylon and polyester. This struck a nerve with the specialty retail community. “This goes back to 2012, when we launched Stainmaster Essentials, which is basically opening price points of polyester with our brand premium,” Bidlingmaier noted. “We have the same offering in specialty called Simply Stainmaster.”
Retailers also complained the Lowe’s deal was not communicated to them until after the fact. But balancing a large customer and specialty retail is delicate. “I understand their concerns, but it’s about maintaining our principles around our integrity,” Bidlingmaier explained. “When we have confidentiality agreements with any of our partners we honor them. “We’re going to continue to develop a strong value proposition for our specialty retailers.”
At the end of the day, it is about choice, the brand promise and performance. “Our brand can transcend, not only different fibers within carpet, but also into other categories,” Bidlingmaier said. “It has a 33-year history of demonstrating a connection to consumers around trust, confidence, performance, innovation. Nylon 6,6 is a product that meets a specific need for that consumer. But if it doesn’t, we’re not tied to that. The only thing we care about is giving the consumer what she needs, and whether it is delivering the brand promise, regardless of fiber type or category the brand is representing.”
Whatever the case, Invista believes specialty retailers can make more money on a Stainmaster sale than other- wise. “I think this is the difference between percentages and dollars,” Bidlingmaier said. “Retail tends to talk in percentages, but you can’t put percentages in the bank. So, if you have your average retailer margin, and Stainmaster sells at the higher end in specialty, then the dollar per square foot margin is higher than your average.”
The retailers most heavily invested in the brand are the Stainmaster Flooring Centers, who are “incredible champions” of the Stainmaster brand, Brown said. “These retailers leverage our selling systems to create a ‘best’ category destination in their stores. The program is backed by the brand and supported by marketing programs like private sales, and the Platinum Promise warranty.”