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Carpet: Manufacturers raise the bar on performance, style

July 9/16, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 2

By Mara Bollettieri

 

The industry’s leading carpet suppliers are not standing idly on the sidelines watching as hard surface continues to seize more market share. In order to keep the category competitive, many mills are leveraging technology to boost carpet’s performance attributes.

Industry observers believe today’s consumer is more educated when it comes to the various flooring options available. More importantly, she understands the difference between value-priced products and better goods.

“The consumer is buying hard surface products that are high style,” said Richard Abramowicz, executive vice president of Southwind Carpet. “For that reason, all of us as manufacturers have to produce a better piece of carpet today than we ever have in the past. And that is what we are doing.”

Chet Graham, president of Marquis Industries, agreed, adding that consumers today have more tools than ever to research their options prior to purchase. “The Internet allows them to understand fibers, twist levels, density, etc.,” he said.

To that end, manufacturers are targeting consumers who are likely to spend more for luxury carpets mainly because they are most likely only placing it in certain rooms as opposed to throughout the entire home. “The consumer walks into a store with an expectation on performance and style,” said Jamie Welborn, vice president of product management, Mohawk Industries. “It is important to get it right because you have a lot of competition. This is different than someone who buys a commodity product in bulk for multi-family housing because they expect a low price and a very plain carpet.”

This demand for higher-end product among discerning consumers is creating opportunities to raise the bar even higher with respect to product quality and performance. Take Shaw Floors’ Bellera line, for instance. The product features LifeGuard spill-proof backing and is made with Endurance high-performance fiber, which, according to Teresa Tran, director of soft surface portfolio management, provides improved durability, softness and aesthetic appeal. Bellera also uses stain and soil resistance technology, which allows for an easier cleanup.

Shaw is not alone. Engineered Floors is looking to generate buzz with its PureBac backing system technology, which is featured on its Dream Weaver carpet products for the residential market. “This technology offers unprecedented flexibility and dimensional stability,” said Mike Sanderson, vice president of marketing. In addition, the product is latex free, which allows for an easier installation by being lighter, softer and flexible. The line also comes with a 10-year, anti-delamination warranty.

On the commercial side, Sanderson cited the introduction of Engineered Floors’ Apex SDP fiber system for its Pentz Commercial Solutions line. “This advancement raises the performance bar of polyester for Main Street applications to what has been traditionally a nylon fiber solution,” he told FCNews.

Other major players are employing new technologies to improve carpet’s performance. Phenix Flooring, for instance, has invested in new tufting equipment to develop enhancements such as ColorSense. “This technology is a proprietary process providing a great multi-toned textural aesthetic,” said Jason Surrat, senior vice president, product and design. “ColorSense showcases dynamic color palettes that provides balance and flexibility when designing a room while delivering a dense, durable hand to maintain high-performance standards.”

While some manufacturers are building on their existing capabilities, others are investing in new production plants altogether. Such is the case for Foss Floors, which opened up its third new facility in five years in north Georgia.

According to Brian Warren, executive vice president, the new facility boasts state-of-the-art equipment for the manufacturing of advanced, non-woven flooring products.

Other companies are looking to leverage aesthetics as an advantage. According to Jonathan Cohen, CEO and president of Stanton Carpet, the company distinguishes itself from the others by producing decorative and colorful carpet. This year the company is introducing Stanton Street, which features decorative, trendy commercial products ranging from medium to heavy commercial application. The products can be used in residential applications as well, according to Cohen.

Tweaking the fiber recipe
Carpet mills are looking to further differentiate their offerings by focusing on the product’s core ingredient—fiber. For example, Dixie Group uses nylon 6,6 yarn in its offerings. “It is a high-performance fiber,” said T.M. Nuckols, president of the residential division. “We use blended yarns, unique constructions—anything that provides a differentiated look or aesthetic in carpet.”

For Mohawk, the key differentiator is its SmartStrand fiber, which, according to Welborn, is exclusive to the company in North America. This innovation allows Mohawk to offer softness, bulk and performance that is not accessible to others. “It’s a big advantage for us because it’s durable and easy to clean,” he said. “Our engineers construct it to last by clearly understanding what makes a carpet last for years.”

 

Keeping dirt, spills at bay
Behind every great carpet product are technologies that deliver the stain, soil and spill resistance that today’s consumers demand.

Perhaps the two most well-known companies in this field are 3M and Invista. These specialists develop the key innovations that give carpet manufacturers the ability to make products consumers and end users can enjoy for many years.

Invista’s Stainmaster LiveWell Carpet and Cushion System is specifically made for active families. What’s more, the product offers child- and pet-safe AllerShield technology designed to mitigate the impact of allergens and reduce dust build-up. It is stain and soil resistant, which allows for easy cleanup with food and beverage spills. The technology also has a breathable moisture barrier that allows water vapors to pass through—which helps inhibit the growth of mildew and mold.

Then there is 3M’s Scotchgard Protector, which works by surrounding each carpet fiber, from the tip to the backing, to create a barrier against everyday messes. The result is state-of-the-art soil resistance technology that aims to provide protection from both liquid spills and dry soil.

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Carpet: Hard surface onslaught keeps growth in check

June 26/July 2, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 1

By Ken Ryan

The uphill battle against unrelenting growth in hard surfaces across multiple segments kept the U.S. carpet market in check in 2017, with overall sales and volume essentially flat for the year. FCNews research shows sales inched ahead 0.6% to $8.83 billion while volume (which includes area rugs) was up a scant 0.4% to 11.25 billion units. Rug sales grew about 3% in 2017, the fourth year in a row the segment has grown, thanks primarily to the growth in hard surfaces.

Dissecting the category, residential carpet sales rose 2.5% in 2017, a reversal from 2016 when it fell 1.5%. Meanwhile, units were down an estimated 0.5%, also a departure from the previous year when volume was ahead 1.5%. A movement toward higher-end carpet and frequent price increases, allowed carpet sales dollars to increase even though units declined.

Overall, carpet and rugs make up 57.3% of the overall flooring market in volume, still the largest percentage of any flooring surface, yet waning from its dominant days of a decade ago when soft surface commanded 66.9% of the market. That year, carpet sales were down 10.1% and volume fell another 13.7% as the flooring industry was mired in a terrible housing crisis.

By 2012, carpet’s dominant market position was down to 64.6% (volume), a loss of 3.3 percentage points since 2007. Between 2012 and 2017, however, car- pet’s share as a percent- age of the overall industry has receded even more, down 7.3 percent- age points.

How much longer carpet’s steady decline will continue is not known, although there are industry executives who believe the rate of decline will start to slow and may stop entirely for a while. That line of thinking is credited to enhanced technology that can produce better goods that consumers demand, as well as an aging population, which—studies show—prefer softer surfaces, especially in their bed- rooms, which is still a solidly carpet segment within residential.

Carpet continues to play well in certain regions, in particular the upper Midwest, the Northeast and Canada, and is faring well at both the higher (above $15 retail) and lower end.

Mill executives who are looking for any signs of a carpet resurgence see indications that hard surfaces may get overstretched to the point where carpet rebounds. They point out that today’s newer homes tend to have higher ceilings than in the past; the argument goes that if the home is dominated by hard surfaces, there will be issues with noise. To abate this, soft surface is needed, and observers suggest broadloom would be a better solution than rugs. On the commercial side, the biggest complaint with restaurants isn’t the food or the service—it’s the noise, thanks to all hard surfaces.

Age is another factor in carpet’s long-term favor. The nation’s population has a distinctly older age profile than it did 16 years ago, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Its estimates show the nation’s median age rose from 35.3 years on April 1, 2000, to 37.9 years on July 1, 2016. Residents ages 65 and over grew from 35.0 million in 2000 to 49.2 million in 2016, accounting for 12.4% and 15.2% of the total population, respectively. Statistics like these give carpet executives a reason to be optimistic. “We still believe in the category,” said Chet Graham, president of Marquis Industries. “We know trends come and go and carpet is still more than half the industry. I think the numbers will get closer—with hard surfaces gaining more market share, but then we think carpet will inch up. As people get older, they don’t want to walk on cold floors.”

The improving economy has provided many consumers with the confidence to spend more on their homes, and that goes for all surfaces. “The increased popularity in hard surfaces has led to carpet being used more in the bedroom and retreat areas of the home,” said Mark Clayton, president, Phenix Flooring. “This has led to increased demand for better designs and improved styling in the carpet category and has led to the continued upward movement in the category in terms of face weights and retail price points.”

T.M. Nuckols, president, Dixie Residential, also endorsed the growth in hard surfaces as helping to create demand for better goods in carpet. “Consumers are looking for differentiated styles (patterns, loops, etc.) to complement the beautiful hard surfaces being installed,” he said. “And there is movement toward cut/bound rugs from broadloom styles. These can be area rugs, hallway runners, stair carpet or other niche applications in the home.”

If nothing else, 2017 was a year of volatility in the carpet world. Continued increases in raw material costs, led by polyester chip pricing, forced carpet companies to raise prices, in some cases multiple times during the course of 2017. The year also saw the departure of Beaulieu, which was acquired by Engineered Floors out of Chapter 11; and the abrupt shuttering of Royalty Carpet Mills, a long-time West Coast mill known for better goods. Some of Royalty’s business was picked up by Tuftex, which in 2017 was merged with Shaw’s Anderson hardwood brand to create Anderson Tuftex. AT launched at the beginning of 2018.

Category leaders Shaw and Mohawk, as well as the Dixie Group, benefited by the upheaval as well. In its 2017 financial statement, Dixie reported its residential sales benefited from its response to the market space vacated by Royalty on the West Coast. “We responded to the Royalty shut down by introducing our Pacific Living collection as well as adding numerous new dealers on the West Coast,” said Dan Frierson, chairman and CEO. “The impact of these efforts was an over 20% increase in sales for our West Coast regions for the second half of 2017 as compared to the same period the prior year.”

The loss of Beaulieu, once the No. 3 carpet mill, was a boon to Engineered Floors, which since its inception in 2009 has now become a $1 billion-plus company with a stronghold in the commodity segment of car- pet.

Commercial
Commercial carpet, which makes up 43.1% of the overall carpet market, was estimated at $3.805 billion in sales for 2017, with specified contract sales coming in at $3.104 billion and Main Street business at $701 million.

[Note: For years, a large percentage of mills considered level loop polypropylene a Main Street product, mostly installed in rental space/tenant improvement and low-end apartments and basements. Today, much of this business has been lost to low-end polyester cut piles. These cut-pile sales are reported as residential, not Main Street. As well, some mills break out Main Street from their specified business; others do not.]

For the second year in a row, commercial lagged residential. In fact, estimates had commercial volume down 6% while sales declined 3%. The drop off speaks to the sweeping dominance of LVT, which has captured share in virtually every segment of the commercial market. If not for the continued success of modular carpet, the numbers would have been far worse. “Resilient is definitely taking share from carpet overall and some stained concrete is taking share from commercial,” said Michel Vermette, president, Mohawk Commercial. “You are definitely seeing [stained concrete] in retail and some corporate spaces, especially tech companies. At Google, Amazon and Nikon you see concrete. The floor is a bit louder; to compensate, they try to put some soft surfaces around it.”

Carpet tile now represents 60% of the commercial carpet market, and executives do not see that trend reversing anytime soon, as modular is easier to install and is the floor of choice for most commercial environments vs. broadloom. However, there is long-term hope for broadloom in office settings, executives said. That’s because new, open office spaces—table settings vs. cubes—are emerging where it is easy to move furniture pieces around, which in turn changes the whole installation thought process. As Vermette explained, “You could see—and I’m not saying it is going to happen—but where broadloom makes inroads in this space as it becomes an easier, simpler install because you don’t have all the lift in this space; maybe over time I may not have to spend as much; carpet tile is more expensive than broadloom. So, if you want a clean aesthetic, broad- loom could be a trend.”

Corporate and government sectors are also changing their environments, opting for less traditional spaces in favor of open and collaborative spaces. “Flooring solutions that help define separate spaces—such as carpet tile, which allows for different designs, color accents and patterns—help achieve that desired workspace,” said Bob Chandler, executive vice president, commercial division, Shaw Floors.

Among commercial segments, education saw a late surge in 2017 as bond money began flowing through the system. The full effect of that trend will be seen in 2018 and beyond. Broadloom also remains a viable alternative in segments of hospitality even though hard surfaces are making significant inroads, especially in renovations and boutique hotels.

While carpet tile continues to grow in the commercial space, it has never found a pathway to the residential segment. Some executives say carpet tile’s window of opportunity in the home—if it ever had one—is closed for good.

Fibers
In 2017, nylon continued to lose share to PET/polyester and has virtually been wiped out of the builder market. There is also consistent “deselection” in multi-family, observers say, in favor of polyester. On the retail side, soft nylon is favored at the upper end of a differentiated market; however, nylon is under immense pressure in the middle markets of residential. Despite the fact consumers have high expectations for soft nylon, it has not done well as a soft-performing product, according to industry observers.

Meanwhile, the rug business continues to be a bright spot in soft surfaces, with 2017 marking the third year in a row in which it has had a higher sales increase than carpet. Rugs continue to track through what some call a “remarkable” channel shift, largely away from the independent flooring dealer. These days you’re just as likely to see rugs in a Bed Bath & Beyond or on Wayfair than you will in an independent dealer’s showroom. In fact, by some estimates, rugs are only represented in 8% of specialty flooring dealers’ showrooms.

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Xpress Global Systems: Going the extra mile

May 28/June 4, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 25

By Reginald Tucker

In today’s hypercompetitive distribution economy, it’s no longer enough to simply move products from point A to point B. In order to gain an advantage, wholesalers must also go above and beyond by offering value-added services to manufacturers and retailers alike.

That’s precisely the edge that Xpress Global Systems, formerly Crown Transport, claims to offer its partners across the supply chain. “We’re the largest nationwide transportation hauler for the floor covering industry,” said Darrel Harris, CEO of the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based distributor. “Xpress Global is a company that’s been around for 40 years.”

According to Harris, Xpress Global Systems’ fleet entails nearly 300 trucks, and the company owns roughly 600 pieces of trailing equipment. From a logistics standpoint, about 75% of its freight originates out of Dalton, with approximately 20% coming out of the Southern California area.

“The majority of our business that we handle is LTL—less than truckload—shipments predominantly for floor covering businesses,” Harris explained. “We also have a fair amount of our business dedicated to warehousing. We store freight for our customers, and most of the time that freight then finds its way onto our trucks for local distribution.”

Xpress Global Systems also maintains a brokerage division (XTMS) that’s able to arrange transportation, truckload brokerage and LTL if it’s outside the scope of the company’s normal activities. Operating out of Xpress Global System’s Tunnel Hill, Ga., facility, XTMS is designed to provide additional services for the company’s large customer base in the region.

Harris cites additional competitive advantages. “By far it’s our expertise in handling floor covering, specifically rolled goods. Our employees are very well trained, experts in their field. It’s a type of product that requires special handling. You hear so many different stories in the industry about carpet being damaged when shipped using general commodity carriers. It’s not that we never had that problem, but it’s a very low claims percentage. Less than half of 1% of our shipments result in a claim, because we take great care of our equipment. Plus, our network is set up to make sure the carpet is handled properly.”

But it’s not just soft goods. Xpress Global is also equipped to handle pallets of hard surface products such as LVT. “We really put a big focus on the hard surface of segment of the business,” Harris said. “What’s really good about it from a transportation perspective is those goods commingle well in a transportation mode. Over the past few years we have really put a focus on exploring those opportunities with our customers.”

Creative solutions 

Xpress Global Systems also excels in what Harris refers to as “reverse logistics.” For example, if freight is delivered to a retailer but the shipment is rejected, Xpress can arrange to send it back to the originating mill. “We can assist the retailer for any reason that might create a scenario where they would need to return the product,” Harris explained.

Another competitive advantage Xpress Global Systems offers is its sheer size and scale. “There’s no one that has the broad coverage area to match our 33 facilities across the country,” Harris said. “That is something that’s very unique and special in this particular space focused on floor covering.”

So why would a retailer prefer to have Xpress Global ship their products from a mill as opposed to just paying the mill to have the product shipped to them? Harris explains the thought process. “What we find is many retailers don’t always take the time to really understand their overall freight costs or the logistics behind it. So there could be significant cost savings with us. Also, we have capabilities in so many different areas that are all built around floor covering, which translates into other solutions we could bring to the table that they might not even be aware of. For example, we can store goods for clients in various parts of the country without them having to spend the extra funds to basically put brick-and-mortar facilities in. In essence, they can use our facilities as an opportunity to position their freight for their customers, and we can  handle shipping it out for them. So there’s just a lot of creative things we can do by opening up those discussions directly with the retailers.”

Robbie White, senior manager of distribution and logistics for Beauflor, is a believer. “Xpress Global has given us a lot of capacity that we didn’t have. But they have also worked with us on drop trailers, especially on nationwide coverage of rolled goods. With the proactive reporting they provide, we don’t have to wait on exceptions to come up. They’re really good at managing those exceptions for us.”

Other Xpress Global Systems customers attest to the distributor’s high level of service. Jared Warnack, vice president of Lowe’s division for Phenix Flooring, has been a client for more than 15 years—and for good reason. “They are a very integral part of our company. They service the majority of the nation for us, and they do a wonderful job.”

Warnack attributes that track record to the leadership at Xpress Global Systems. “When Darrel Harris [CEO] came on board, he changed some of the policies to help improve customer focus. For example, he created a customer advisory board comprising logistics personnel from most of their major manufacturer customers, and we talk about issues we face every day in the industry. Xpress Global Systems then uses that feedback to improve their service and offerings. That’s why so many specialty retailers and big box stores use them as their preferred carrier.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Carpet: Fiber report—Color, cleanability and durability get the nod

May 14/21, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 24

By Ken Ryan

Today’s carpet products are developed with the consumer firmly in mind as mills gather research to ascertain what’s on their customers’ wish lists. More often than not, it is luxuriously soft carpet that combines stylish design, vibrant colors with durability.

That’s a tall order to deliver, but consumers have shown a desire to spend top dollar for these goods, and mills are working hard to accommodate them. “When we talk to consumers, soft is one of the top attributes they want, so we put our resource and development toward that,” said Jamie Welborn, vice president of residential carpet product management and development, Mohawk Industries.

Shaw Floors, meanwhile, looks at today’s residential market and sees active families with kids and pets who put great demands on carpet. “They have greater expectations of performance for their flooring,” said Teresa Tran, director of soft surface portfolio management, Shaw. “They need their carpet to be durable and spill resistant, yet soft and beautiful.”

It’s not just the carpet mills working on these innovations. Invista, maker of the Stainmaster and PetProtect brands, has spent significant R&D on its Antron fiber. It recently announced a $30-million expansion in small-lot equipment specifically for solution-dyed nylon 6,6 bulk continuous filament (BCF) fiber production to support growth of the Antron brand and the Lumena fiber portfolio that serves solution-dyed BCF nylon commercial markets. “The new technology will expand our capability to continue offering high-quality, solution-dyed nylon fiber solutions,” said Kip Kimball, vice president of Global Commercial Solutions and Home Textiles for Invista.

Phenix Flooring continues to work on new fiber systems that utilize unique cross-sections that—when combined with particular deniers and twist levels—produce textures and an outstanding tactile experience for consumers. “In addition, we constantly update our solution-dyed color bank to keep up with current color trends and styling preferences as well as supplement with leading space dye advances that give sophisticated ombrés and gradations of color,” said Chris Johnson, senior vice president of sales and marketing.

According to Mike Sanderson, vice president of marketing, Engineered Floors, consumers are becoming more receptive to the term “solution dyed,” and that is affecting their purchase decisions. “They are finding out that it’s superior to traditional piece-dyed carpets, which is exciting for our Dream Weaver retailers.”

Residential segment

The days when consumers carpeted the entire house are long gone, as residential carpet has been relegated mostly to the bedroom. However, studies have shown that when consumers are in the market for carpet, they are willing to spend extra money.

There’s even more encouraging news down the road, according to Shaw’s Brad Christensen, vice president, builder strategy, who observed that while Shaw is certainly seeing growth in its residential segments, single-family homebuilding is also trending.

“The average age of the first-time homebuyer is 32. With that statistic in mind, by 2025 there will be 24 million Americans between the ages of 30 and 34. Previous studies showed the millennial market preferred densely populated, walkable, urban neighborhoods that offer multifamily living spaces to the suburbs of their childhood. Yet, new surveys demonstrate that while millennials might be content urban, multifamily dwellers right now, they see themselves as single family homeowners in the future.”

Residential represents the largest growth segment for Southwind, according to Richard Abramowicz, executive vice president. As such, the company is putting the necessary resources behind it. “I think residential is the biggest growth opportunity for all of us and why we are trying to be innovative with our products. It’s a very big market.”

What’s new

Mohawk has championed the push of luxurious soft and that continues to be a major thrust with SmartStrand. As Mohawk’s Welborn noted, “SmartStrand fiber is softer than nylon and polyester, performs extremely well and has nice hand/bulk, and you will see us continue to expand in that area.”

As the movement toward cleaner homes grows, Mohawk, among others, is responding by adding Forever Clean to SmartStrand as well as ActivFresh technology to its Silk Colorwall line, which features new products in 2018. “Some of the products are tighter, denser, cleaner than the old Silk,” Welborn said. “From a technology standpoint, we added ActivFresh, an anti-microbial additive to the carpet, which is a new feature. You will see us expand in that growing segment.”

In Bellera High Performance Carpet, Shaw is giving consumers a wide variety of patterns, solids and textures from which to choose, albeit without sacrificing resiliency. “Our designers were extremely intentional with their choices, giving consumers numerous styles to match current trends,” Tran said. “We offer glamorous styles as seen in Outside the Lines, classic patterns in Diamonds Forever and Lead the Way, as well as visuals with a more organic look to complement modern farmhouse or coastal design trends. Each of these styles includes the attributes that make Bellera one of a kind.”

The fiber in Bellera has been treated with R2X soil and stain resistance technology and now features crush resistance to keep carpets lasting longer. To showcase the durability of its re-engineered fiber, Shaw simulated five years’ worth of activity with real people on Bellera carpet. When new Bellera samples and those with five years’ worth of wear were placed side by side, customers and RSAs alike were unable to tell the difference, Christensen said.

Phenix, which began showing carpet styles tufted from one of its new fiber systems during the winter markets, has identified a new yarn that provides great bulk and apparent value. “It has become one of our most anticipated launches, which we expect will lead to additional product opportunities,” Phenix’s Johnson said, referring to Opulence HD. “It’s a softer yarn that provides a look of luxury.”

Engineered Floors uses PureColor, a proprietary solution-dyed fiber, as its go-to market strategy at residential retail. “We try to educate the RSA and consumer on PureColor as often as possible,” Sanderson said. “Both groups are learning that since the color goes all the way through the fiber, stains that are detrimental to other carpets aren’t an issue with PureColor.”

Southwind’s Classic Traditions collection, a soft PET line, is being marketed as “eclectic patterns for everyday elegance.” It was shown at Surfaces 2018 and will feature eight stylish Color Point and LCL patterns that the company said are fashion-forward fabrics for the floor. “We had such a great response at Surfaces,” Abramowicz said.

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Carpet: Playing at the high end pays big-time dividends

April 16/23, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 22

By Ken Ryan

Carpet mills are taking advantage of the new reality in flooring—with carpet relegated primarily to the bedroom, consumers are willing to spend more to make that soft surface area really stand out.

Indeed, carpet mills are finding that even in a shrinking market for soft surface, there is money to be made by playing at the high end. Some examples:

Anderson Tuftex

Anderson Tuftex had a strong showing at Surfaces. Since then, dealer reception to its new carpet products (Tavares, Tanzania and Heirloom) has been exceptional, according to Katie Ford, director of brand strategy. “The dealer base has been so supportive. If you are a dealer, and you want to make money, you have to have Tavares and Tanzania—and you probably need to have Heirloom, too. You need the whole line, really, because those three styles are distinctly different.”

Ford said there is nothing quite like Tavares in the market—a natural stone visual akin to a Venetian plaster. “It’s just beautiful. We have a rug version of it, too, and we had it installed at Surfaces; it’s everyone’s favorite.”

Tanzania, in denim blue, is offered in a broken Chevron pattern. Like fine wine, it is a product that gets better with age, Ford said. “Chevrons are showing up these days. These patterns are timeless and don’t go out of style.”

Another favorite is Heirloom, with a raised medallion within a small scale textural pattern. “It’s another timeless classic look,” Ford explained. “With AT, you know our products have that little extra craftsmanship to stand out.”

Dixie Group

By virtue of the fact that it is not a low-cost manufacturer, The Dixie Group must create differentiated products to be successful. That’s according to T.M. Nuckols, president, residential division, who cited two new PetProtect products for 2018—Signature and Trademark, which will be launched by Masland in the second quarter. “Also, Bombay Vibration is a remake of a classic Masland product and now made with PetProtect solution dyed nylon 6,6 fiber; it delivers great durability and stain resistance in a softer and more comfortable product.”

The Masland Energy line, coming in May, is a commercial segment offering with 20 well-styled products made with nylon 6,6 for durability and performance. Wholesale price points range from the low teens to mid 20s, “so we are not targeting the typical Main Street price points,” Nuckols said.

Foss Floors

Foss introduced its DuraKnit collection this year featuring a new construction technique for higher-end broadloom that enables the consumer to install an upscale look in tough traffic conditions. According to Brian Warren, executive vice president, sales and marketing, these products will never fray, zipper or unravel, nor will they fade. And while they are stain resistant and will never wrinkle, they still feature a soft hand and luxurious styling, he added.

In 2018, the company introduced its “Carpet Reinvented” DuraKnit display, which includes an interactive storyboard to highlight the line’s unique characteristics. “These innovations are helping the retailer achieve higher margins by providing a unique selling proposition,” Warren said.

Gulistan Floors

John Sheffield, vice president of sales and marketing, Gulistan, said the company is incorporating a very limited distribution strategy to allow dealer partners to maximize their sales and profits. “We have created a unique collection of patterns using our solution-dyed PET. With our Stainmaster offering, we are using the solution-dyed yarns and trying to fill product voids in the with new textures and yarn applications.”

Mohawk

When you talk high end, Karastan is arguably the first brand that comes to mind. Karastan has three premium yarn systems with which to work in developing products. “Having access to wool, SmartStrand Silk and Kashmere Nylon gives us the ability to develop unique looks and textures utilizing the attributes of these yarns,” said Bill Storey, senior vice president, Mohawk and Karastan. “In addition, we also have developed styles using a combination of two yarns. For example, Hampshire Bay has wool as the base yarn and SmartStrand Silk as the accent. The result is an elegant look that cannot be achieved with a single yarn system.”

Karastan’s new soft stone looks—Mackenzie and Berkeley —are standouts. “These styles create the look of natural stone in a luxurious, soft hand,” Storey explained. “This is achieved through our vintage weave process which utilizes SmartStrand Silk, space-dyed yarn.”

Phenix

The Cleaner Home collection is Phenix’s latest in innovative, trend-forward carpet designs. Refuge, Flourish and Well Being are a collection of three new multi-color patterned carpets that utilize innovative cut and loop technology which allows for varying amounts of cut vs. loop.

These products feature a unique combination of colors that become visible at varying points in the construction to create a unique sculpted look with their own dimensional pattern.

Phenix’s Stainmaster PetProtect Design Solutions collection helps sell higher-end products in multiple surfaces by removing one of the biggest pain points for consumers—coordinating their flooring without the help of an interior designer. “It also helps facilitate overall larger tickets and enhanced profit opportunities for the retailer,” said Mark Clayton, president of Phenix Flooring. “We’re bringing hard surface and carpet together in one display and making it easier than ever for a consumer to walk in, visualize her entire home and purchase on the spot.”

Shaw

Shaw Floors continues to burnish its reputation as a leader in innovation with Bellera, a high-performance carpet line. Bellera’s high-design, on-trend offerings include tonals, accents, loops and bold-colored patterns.

“We’ve put Bellera to the test and can say this carpet will look as good in five years as it does on day one,” said Teresa Tran, director of soft surface portfolio management.

Bellera features Shaw’s spill-proof LifeGuard backing, Endurance high-performance fiber and R2X soil and stain resistance. “We’ve listened to the consumer and are proud to offer them the softness of a residential carpet that is durable enough to withstand their active lifestyle.”

Stanton

Stanton’s premise is differentiation. Three brands of note are Antrim, Rosecore and Crescent, which feature unique styling and are merchandised in high-end display systems. Stanton’s Atelier collection offers cut/loop woven nylon patterns provide greater design and color flexibility than the traditional LCL.

“These introductions coupled with our unparalleled use of color, design and multiple yarn types in woven patterns has set new standards,” said Jonathan Cohen, CEO.

Stanton is introducing Stanton Street, Decorative Commercial this summer. This new collection encompasses a mix of carpet tile, planks and decorative commercial broadloom for Stanton’s first dedicated commercial offering.

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Mills find a niche with custom rug programs

March 19/26, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 20

By Ken Ryan

 

As hard surface products continue to take market share residentially, carpet mills are facing some choices: hope the pendulum swings back to broadloom, or get in on the action. Many of them chose the latter, offering custom area rug programs as an add-on sale to hardwood and other types of hard surfaces. In fact, for some mills, business has been flourishing in this era of hard surface growth.

“I tell people we are no longer in the carpet business,” said Don Karlin, director of broadloom sales for Nourison, which is strictly a soft surface supplier. “I tell people we are in the hard surface business and rugs are the complementary piece. The world is all about fabricated rugs.”

Following is a sampling of some custom rug programs and offerings available today.

Anderson Tuftex

A/T, a Shaw Industries brand, will continue to utilize the custom area rug program Tuftex has had for the past several years. “We can cut any of our A/T carpets into a custom area rug up to 24 x 36 feet,” said Katie Ford, director of brand strategy. She said shapes for area rugs include rectangles, squares, rounds and ovals, as well as floor and stair runners. “We also offer a full assortment of edge treatments such as binding, serging, fabric and leather.”

Couristan

Couristan has built on the success of a custom area rug program it started in 2014. Its program allows dealers to fabricate a Couristan product into a custom area rug that addresses their customers’ decorating needs. Today, Couristan’s broadloom business is heavily fabricated, with more than 50% of its business in fabricated rugs. “The hard surface [category] has actually helped our business,” said Len Andolino, executive vice president–residential division, Couristan. “We are pushing the envelope with fabricated rugs.”

Lexmark

Lexmark Residential recently launched its Unite Custom Rug Program that lets retailers select their choice from any of Lexmark Living’s three broadloom pattern collections. “What is great about this program is it is built on the same construction as our hospitality line, which is our bread and butter,” said John Madden, general manager, Western region.

Masland

Masland’s program, Custom Area Carpets and Rugs, expands design options for the floor and offers custom capabilities. Options range from wall-to-wall to inset area carpets and rugs to loose-laid rugs on top of flooring surfaces. This Dixie Group brand has a custom program that can make any size or shape rug from its broadloom offerings. The program has been well-received, according to Jared Coffin, vice president–rugs and wool products, who noted, “Rugs gives us an insight into trends; therefore, it’s an important part of our business.”

Mohawk/Karastan

Karastan, Mohawk’s high-end rug supplier, lets users create their own looks with its Inspired Luxury program. Customers are able to choose looks from a select group of styles, 100 color options and custom rug bindings. In addition, at Surfaces 2018, Mohawk Home showed Vintage Tapis, a hand-knotted collection available in four sizes including 10 x 14. The line is designed with soft, natural cotton rather than jute. According to Mohawk executives, the most sought-after line at the show was Spike Market with Everstrand fiber. This premium polyester is produced with up to 100% post-consumer content from plastic bottles. The rugs are stain resistant.

Nance Industries

For Nance Industries, rugs have always been its bread and butter. “That is really our niche, and you are seeing a lot better growth in rugs,” said Mike Nance, principal. The company showed new custom-made rugs at the show. In fact, Nance employs two custom-rug artists who can create almost any design pattern or theme a customer can imagine at any size they choose.

Nourison

Fifty to Infinity is a custom-rug program by Nourison that utilizes the very best in woven broadloom rugs. Each rug is made to order from premium woven broadloom carpeting and serged on the edges for a quality, finished look. Production time takes seven to 10 business days. Available sizes range from

5 x 7 to 10 x 10 and everything in between.

Phenix Flooring

Phenix is no stranger to trying new things—or markets, for that matter. At Surfaces, it announced its entry into the area rug business under the Cleaner Home Rugs banner.

Mark Clayton, president and CEO, said the move 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.”

Prestige Mills

Add Prestige to the list of carpet mills looking to leverage the growth of hard surfaces. According to Peter Feldman, president, a high percentage of the company’s 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,” Feldman said. “It is a challenge, but we are up for it.”

Prestige Mills also sells rugs under the Stark Studio Rugs label. Stark, the wholesale rug division of Stark Carpet, is a to-the-trade carpet, fabric, rugs and wallcovering specialist with a significant presence in the custom-rug space.

Stanton Carpet

Stanton is well known for the style and design of its broadloom selections. But the fact is many of the company’s inspirations come from high-end area rugs, according to Jonathan Cohen, CEO. Stanton has been selling custom rugs for years. The company even has a “Create A Rug” page on its website that allows customers to choose carpet style and color, select the finish (i.e., hand serging, binding options) and then use the custom rug visualizer to choose their rug.

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Carpet: From stain and soil protection to cleaner homes

February 19/26, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 18

By Ken Ryan

 

Carpet that offers stain and soil protection is no longer merely a trend but a standard feature offered by mills throughout the industry—albeit with new iterations being added continuously. Today’s push is also about providing a healthier home environment, with some companies highlighting products that offer hypoallergenic and antimicrobial properties.

Flooring executives say this trend was borne out of extensive consumer research. For example, Chris Johnson, senior vice president of sales, Phenix Flooring, cited a recent Gallup poll finding that 89% of consumers are already using an antimicrobial or antibacterial product at home. “We know consumers are looking for products that work harder and have added benefits beyond what’s expected,” he said.

To that end, in 2017 Phenix introduced its Cleaner Home collection in partnership with Microban, a leader in antimicrobial technology. Additives are infused into the carpet, protecting against the growth of stain and odor-causing bacteria and mold. The collection also features built-in SureFresh odor capture technology designed to eliminate common household smells that can linger.

“In 2018 we are expanding the collection with three new carpet products, so consumers now have even more options from which to choose in order to outfit their home with the cleanest, hardest working carpet,” Johnson said.

Mohawk Industries also conducted expansive consumer research and uncovered some interesting data to use in its own product development. For one, hypoallergenic flooring actually attracts consumers to the soft flooring category and, in fact, doubles the percentage of people who are considering carpet into actual buyers. “In the last 10 years of research I have not seen anything that doubles purchase consideration, at least not for carpet,” said Seth Arnold, vice president, residential.

Mohawk’s research also found that 69% of people who are in the market for flooring replied “yes” to a question as to whether anyone in their household has a breathing or respiratory condition (including allergies). “What we found is the market size for hypoallergenic is as large as the market size for pets,” Arnold noted. “There is also a similarity; people are emotionally attached to their pets. There is also an emotional connection to a product that can help relieve symptoms from breathing issues.”

Consumers are more interested in health and well-being than ever before, and that includes the foods they eat, their exercise routines as well as the products they purchase. Studies show that nearly 30% of consumers would be willing to pay more for a product in their home that offered health benefits for all members, including their pets.

According to Teresa Tran, director of soft surface portfolio management for Shaw Floors, being able to clean your carpet effectively makes a huge difference in the goal of having a healthier home. “Most spills are caught hours, maybe even days, later,” she said. Shaw’s answer is R2X, a stain and soil repellant wherein stains are kept on top of the fiber as long as possible. That’s where its LifeGuard backing comes into play. According to Shaw, the product is engineered to prevent liquid from seeping into the subfloor. “This gives consumers peace of mind and the cleanest carpet for healthy living,” Tran noted.

When Mohawk introduced Air.o in 2017—ushering in a new category called Unified Soft Flooring (USF)—the product was touted for its strength, flexibility, dimensional stability and ease of installation. It checked all those boxes. However, since it is also made of 100% PET, Air.o’s fibers don’t absorb moisture, which helps prevent the growth of allergens, the company stated. Air.o’s construction also provides better airflow and releases dust and dirt more easily when vacuuming.

While Air.o is the fresh new star in Mohawk’s soft surface galaxy, its SmartStrand collection continues its legacy of providing enhanced protection against pet stains and the like for consumers. As Arnold explained, “Nylon protection can wear off over time but  SmartStrand is built in and never washes off. When we enhanced SmartStrand with Forever Clean we added nanotechnology.”

This fiber treatment,  called Nanoloc, repels dirt, dander, spills and stains before they reach the fiber. Mohawk offers an All Pet Protection guarantee with the line.

New introductions
Bellera is Shaw’s new premium soft surface introduction for 2018. The product comes with a specialized dye chemistry and LifeGuard backing system to give the line exceptional durability, the company stated. Shaw offers a

“No Surprises, Worry-Free Warranty” on the product.

Phenix’s Cleaner Home collection includes 10 new carpets, all with antimicrobial protection for the life of the product. Additionally, Cleaner Home was developed with a highly engineered PET yarn.

Foss Floors’ DuraKnit products are constructed of 100% post-consumer drinking bottles that render the product completely stain resistant and hydrophobic, the company stated. Featuring a patented DuraLock technology, which is guaranteed to never fray, unravel or zipper, the carpet is pet friendly.

“Our carpet tiles feature a peel-and- stick adhesive that is VOC free,” said Brian Warren, executive vice president of sales and marketing. “These tiles are all fiber from top to bottom. We have eliminated the need for smelly, VOC-laden adhesives and difficult installs.”

Warren said he can vouch for these products from personal experience. “I have four shelter rescue dogs and a cat. Believe me, these attributes are important and when combined with the inherent stain resistance of our Natural Touch PET fiber, these products are Fido-proof.”

At Surfaces Engineered Floors sought to educate retailers on PureBac with Ultra-fresh protection. This innovative treatment aims to inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi responsible for creating unpleasant smells and staining in textile and plastic products. By controlling unwanted microbes, Ultra-fresh antimicrobials keep products fresh, hygienic and odor free.

The effort to keep soft surfaces free of soil and stains has existed for decades and is not a new trend. In fact, protection for carpet dates back to the 1950s, when 3M first worked on a chemistry that would later be introduced as Scotchgard Protector. To this day Scotchgard Protector remains a premium antidote to stain and soils. When applied at the mill, Protector is done in a one-step- application process that treats the entire carpet fiber from top to bottom. The deeper the penetration, the better the resistance to stains, which means the carpet is easier to clean.

With the help of national television commercials, Invista’s Stainmaster brand was launched in 1986 and became arguably the most recognized brand in flooring. Over the years, Stainmaster has evolved with new treatments and protection systems, most recently the PetProtect carpet and cushion system featuring a breathable moisture barrier that helps prevent spills and accidents from penetrating the padding and subfloor. PetProtect is now used on both soft surfaces (carpet and rugs) and LVT. Invista also markets Stainmaster Active Family and Stainmaster LiveWell. The latter is a carpet and cushion system designed with AllerShield technology to help reduce the bonding of allergy-aggravating particles into the carpet fibers.

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Anderson Tuftex turns heads in Surfaces debut

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

By Ken Ryan and Reginald Tucker

 

Putting the brands together just makes sense because this is how people live in their homes. That’s how Katie Ford, director of brand strategy, describes the thought process behind the combination of the Anderson and Tuftex brands to form one company.

Rest assured, this is not just a merger of brands for simplicity’s sake. “We have reconceptualized both brands, updated the merchandising along with a new website so everything is fresh,” Ford said. “It’s on trend with everything our consumer is looking for. She’s not thinking about hardwood or carpet; she’s thinking in terms of how the overall room is going to come together.”

Retailers got a firsthand look at the combined Anderson Tuftex at Surfaces.

Wood
According to Ford, Anderson’s hardwood offering had somewhat “fallen off over the years and started looking like everything else.” So when the company decided to put the two brands together, she said the goal was to make sure it came out with some bona fide show stoppers. The first is called Fired Artistry, a new design available in four colors. Ford explained the origin of the name: “It’s based on an ancient Japanese wood preservation technique call yakisugi. We paint it black, put the stain on top and then hand sand off an area so you can see the black peeking through the product. It has great board definition as well as a matte, low-luster finish. It’s definitely trending in hardwood.”

Another head turner is Triology, which comprises oak, maple and hickory in one board. By using this combination, Ford said, customers get different patterns due to the grain variation. “When we do the painted technique on top of it, you can see how the different species take the color differently. Everybody wants distressed, time-worn and lived in, and you’re really seeing that look on this product.”

Anderson Tuftex also sees an opportunity to promote more traditional products inspired by old ¾-inch favorites in the line (Bernina hickory and maple). As Ford describes it: “It really goes back to that antique, old-school visual. With its thin strips, it almost looks like an antique floor in an old warehouse. Because it’s not your wide-plank board, it has a timeless feel to it.”

Then there’s Old World, a long/wide board product that Ford calls the “star of the show.” Available in an 8-inch-wide format in lengths up to 72 inches, the line is a fixed-link 6 x 24 herringbone that can be installed in various patterns, including a basket weave. For good measure, the line features a naturally oxidized aging process (NOA) for effect. “It already has great bones; we just added this oxidation process to speed up the aging process to get a look that would naturally occur over time.”

Carpet
Anderson Tuftex showed three lines for 2018, including Tavares and Tanzania, each noted for their patterned cut-pile constructions in Stainmaster Luxurell nylon fiber with SoftBac backing.

This premium brand is not afraid to be bold and edgy. At its booth, Anderson Tuftex installed a distressed concrete visual more commonly seen in hard surfaces. The ability to use advanced technology to create such a look in carpet can also complement the brand’s wood products. Another Anderson Tuftex SKU showcased a 3-D raised medallion. “Our carpet styling is on point,” Ford said.

Anderson Tuftex will be introducing carpet styles in nine design themes in 2018. Products will begin shipping in March.

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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.”

 

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FCNews exclusive: Bob Shaw—The interview

January 22/29, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 16

 

The year was 2009. The economy was in a freefall. Carpet was losing market share to hard surface. You’re nearly an octogenarian with enough money in the bank to last multiple lifetimes. You’re golf game remains respectable. Conventional wisdom dictates that the last thing you would ever do is launch a carpet mill. But conventional has never been a word in Bob Shaw’s vocabulary. Quite the contrary. Mr. Shaw has always prided himself on pioneering step changes and disruptive technology, much like Henry Ford.

Almost a decade later, Engineered Floors has grown to become the largest carpet mill beyond the two behemoths. It’s a success story in every sense of the word. FCNews publisher Steven Feldman recently sat down with Mr. Shaw for an extremely rare, in-depth discussion on how the mill got from there to here while sharing what was going through his mind every step of the way from day one.

What is the mindset behind the launching of a carpet mill when the economy was anything but robust?
Why at 77 years old would somebody want to go back in a business called carpet when it looked like it was dying? Well, it was a situation where [the industry] was more than just about going to polyester. It was going to a way that we could better control quality. We were going to pre-dyed yarns, solution-dyed yarns. And if you look at the industry, we all have these continuous dye ranges. We still have probably 80% of residential carpet being pieced dyed or continuous dyed. Why? That’s what these yarn mills were designed to do. Most of the carpet was solid color in those days. So you had a hard decision. Are you going to replace yourself with less dollar sales because of PET being cheaper?

But the biggest thing I think we were missing is we had made up our mind that hard surface was going to take over a much larger percentage of the marketplace than it really would over a long period of time. And we had a lot of consolidation in the last 10-20 years. We probably lost at least 10 to 12 carpet manufacturers through purchase or just plain going out of business.

I would say [Engineered Floors] has been in a depression or recession business since we went into business in 2009. So why would somebody go into a depressed business? I saw capital moving away from soft floor covering, and my two major competitors were spending considerably more money moving away from residential. They were moving into the carpet tile business, because one of the biggest problems we always had in the commercial end of the carpet business was how do you install it. Well, to take a square or a plank is a lot easier to install. So we were spending money as an industry moving into the modular carpet business. But on the residential end of the business, more or less no dollars were necessarily being spent, no new products were being presented. And it looked to me like no one cared about being in the residential end of the business because they thought it was going to be replaced.

So, that was the opportunity?
I think the opportunity was there. But there’s another thing that came about. The ownerships were moving beyond the entrepreneurial ownerships into the Berkshire Hathaways, and Warren [Buffett] is a great investor, believe me, that’s what he does. He invests money. And then you take Mohawk, which was doing a fantastic job of assimilating worldwide manufacturers into their $9 billion business today. But they were spending very little money toward backward integration and growing the industry they were in.

We also had no foreign competition. Now that is a very important part of the whole thing. I’ll use LVT. You have to compete with the Chinese and you have to meet the Koreans. Because anybody can take a picture and be in the LVT business. It’s the same thing we had in laminate. So we basically had an industry where people were not spending any dollars to make better. And we knew that eventually, particularly as we got into multi colors, that we were going to be a lot better off with pre-dyed yarns, and I’ll use Pet Protect as an example. Invista said the important part of it was to be solution dyed. So their Pet Protect, their top brand, was solution dyed. They recognized the fact that you made a better product with a solution-dyed yarn.

Tell me about the name Engineered Floors.
That’s what we are. We’re engineering products on a regular basis. It just seems every time we talk about putting a product out we were going to engineer a system that would fit.

Immediate goals and objectives when you launched?
If you really get down to it, and I go way back to my original days with Shaw, we used to say you put a block together and you get up on the block and see a little more of the horizon. Then you put another block together and you see a little more of the horizon. We think that’s what we were doing in terms of what percentage of the business made sense for a small manufacturer to be in. But once we were making the moves, we were being accepted because we were giving products that were different. So we saw more of the horizon. Did I say in 2010 we wanted to be a major player in the carpet business? I think I would have been foolish to make that statement. I was 77 years old.

What about the decision to start only with PET?
We started with something we considered the growth end of the carpet industry. At the time we went in polyester, it was probably 175 million pounds. Today it’s a billion-pound marketplace in residential carpet. It seemed polypropylene was losing its position, and nylon was spending probably more time in the commercial end of the business.

But you eventually expanded into nylon.
Yeah, we’re in nylon a little bit. I think there are certain sections of the country and the builder business with more or less FHA design. Nylon has some advantages; if you want to talk about wear you can probably can get a little better wear there.

Everything we did up to a point was solution-dyed nylon. Nylon also needed the multi colors and the consistency of pre-dyed yarn I think.

The next evolution was into commercial?
If you look at what was growing in the commercial end of the business, we knew years and years ago that piece dyed could not be in commercial carpet. So, we went to pre-dyed, solution-dyed yarns in broadloom. But we also knew the ability to install carpet was the biggest problem in the contract end of the business and it became obvious that carpet tile was going to be the growth area of the industry. And we’ve been changing tiles and backings on tile, and we tried new backings on tiles that we’ve paid a lot of claims on. Well, a lot of this was being looked at by several manufacturers. What’s the best backing? What’s the most consistent backing? We went through two or three different backings and decided on a particular one that we just built the plant for.

But again, you have to look at the old carpet mills. Our buildings were on 20 acres. We thought 20 acres was a great big piece of property and when we built a 200,000-square-foot building on 20 acres we thought it was a big operation. Well, one of our plants right now is a 2.5 million-square-foot building.

But all in all, we had a yarn mill here, we had a tufting mill here and a dye house here. Distribution here. And you were constantly moving units around. We said, what if you can move all within one building where it comes in and goes out as carpet. There were a lot of savings and it also said you had just one person in charge of the quality.

You purchased J&J. What did they bring to the table?
J&J probably has been in business for 60 years. They have a good reputation of quality products. They had a joint venture in a tile plant. We’d known the Jollys and the Joneses for 60 years. They probably needed more product to compete rather than just be in the top end of the business. They needed a bigger market.

But to answer the question, “Why J&J?” J&J was a family business and was going into its third generation. And they probably knew they would not necessarily survive at the size they were. This was not too different from when [Shaw] bought Queen. Julian [Saul] had to make up his mind whether he was going to be a major part of the business. He was not a public company at the time. And you know the reason all of us went public back in those days was to raise capital. Today I think it’s a disadvantage to be a public company.

You don’t need to go public today to raise capital for growth?
Quite frankly, if you have credit and can borrow money, you can do it today for almost nothing. Now, when in the history of business have you been able to borrow money at less than 2%? It’s a lot different than if you’re borrowing money at 10%. Now, if you don’t have credit then you can’t borrow at any price. The opportunity was there for those who were able to either finance it personally or have a reasonable credit line. Money was cheap, money remains cheap—cheap meaning under 6%—and it will probably be cheap for another two or four years.

Now, and we all know this, there was no reason at all for the housing bubble to have been as big. We went all the way from 2.3 billion houses a year down to 600 million houses and now we’re at about 1.2 or 1.3 billion today. Our population is considerably larger. But also, what happened to the carpet business was multi-family turning over every five and a half years this last year. Five years ago, six years ago it was turning over every three years. Why? Because the family would form and have a house. So that bubble stopped a lot of carpet being sold.

You launched Pentz as your Main Street brand.
Pentz started as a division of the company that will be out of the specifying end of the business. There’s just a world of people selling carpet in the contract end of the business that is not specified. So Pentz is our Main Street brand and is doing OK.

The Beaulieu purchase.
We didn’t buy Beaulieu. We bought the assets of Beaulieu. It’s a world of difference.

How does that make Engineered Floors a better company? By taking them out of the market?
They took themselves out of the market; I didn’t take them out of the market. I would say they had some equipment that we considered modern, and we bought it based on what we considered the replacement value of the modern equipment to be. We emphasize we bought assets.

Some people say the backing plant was attractive.
Well, they had a backing plant that goes all the way back. We were not making our own primary or secondary backing, so that was attractive. Beaulieu also had a distribution center that was underutilized, so that was attractive. Their product line was not all that bad. They had some technology that had patents on them that we may capitalize on at a later date. And again, if yarn is going to be our bottleneck… Let me explain that. Remember all the staple markets are more or less gone. And they’re not coming back. We have yarn mills that will dictate how much carpet we can make. So they had a yarn mill that really came from a fire, but they had modern equipment and an extrusion mill that made sense.

I’m not sure they didn’t over-expand at the wrong time. Cheap money is wonderful, but the principal still has to be paid, and banks are not good partners. You probably need to be in a position to tell your banker to go to hell. The bank is your best friend as long as you’re their best customer.

Does the Beaulieu name mean anything to you or the industry?
We won’t keep it. I don’t think it’s any brand name. The market is a funny thing. You don’t have consumers saying, “I buy Mohawk because it’s Mohawk.” Like we used to talk about Armstrong; Armstrong had a brand name. Stainmaster had a brand name. I think brand names come from reputations now rather than from advertising. The consumer eventually makes up her mind.

What differentiates Engineered Floors from the other mills out there? What does this company do better for the customer?
The customer eventually decides who makes the best product. You know, the real dog food is what the dogs are eating. That’s the finest dog food you can have. Now, if you’re making a product the consumer is buying, that means you are going in partnership with your [retailer] customer, and only if he can make money can you make money from selling him that product. So the customer became very important.

We were seeing the big boxes—the Home Depots and the Lowes and all of those—basically going out of inventory of carpet. The Home Depots and Lowes don’t buy rolls of carpet; they buy pieces of carpet. They are a massive distributor of pieces of carpet. They don’t put the money in inventory. So it took a different type of mill. You can’t go in and say I’m going to sell a thousand rolls and I have the cheapest price. We have a little of that still—some people that stock carpet. But most people right now, with the multiple choices they have, want to know they can get a piece of carpet on time, cut order, that’s high quality. So your reputation goes a long way. Now I have to admit that Shaw was considered the best manufacturer in the business, and they still have a very high reputation in manufacturing.

I have a piece of carpet in my hand from Shaw and one from Engineered Floors. Is yours just as good?
Better. It’s better because we are solution dyeing ours. They still are piece dyeing 80% of theirs. So it was a step change in the way we’re manufacturing.

Anything else in the process that makes a piece of carpet from Engineered Floors better?
The difference is in how you go about styling a piece of carpet. Ten years ago, seven years ago, 80%-90% of your better carpets would probably be a solid color. Now your better carpets have some type of subtle tones to them. So 80% of the carpet we make right now is not solid color.

You’re still focusing on selling the neutrals. I don’t see blues or reds all over the place.
The reds and blues never did sell, except if you moved up the Eastern coast a little bit. It was a great ploy of DuPont—let’s make 50 colors of Stainmaster and we could have as much as 5% of our total dollars in samples—and the way we would change the color standards over short and long periods of time. Then we finally understood grays and tones of grays were 90% of the carpet being sold, and the accent colors we were cutting up as rugs after we made the first roll.

So you make what sells?
The answer is if they started demanding gold we’ll make gold. But are we going to try to convince them that gold will be the color of the year? No.

How has the consumer changed in the last 30 years?
I think back then a lot of the carpet we were making was for starter homes and then the upgrades. I think more permanency in homes means they’re buying better carpets. They’re not buying the FHAs. We’re selling better pieces of goods, and then you have the patterns.

So that’s how you respond? Better goods, patterns?
If we take a product out and the product doesn’t sell, we better change the product or change the consumer. I don’t think we’ve changed that much. What’s changed is everything we talk about is LVT, and what’s the first thing you do with LVT? Put a rug over it. We put carpet over our vinyl, not vinyl over our carpet. The rug business has gotten to be an important business.

Is there anything you learned in your past life, your time at Shaw, that makes Engineered Floors a better company?
I started Shaw in 1959, so if I haven’t learned something in 70 years… The biggest thing I think that’s an advantage is you either have a good or bad reputation as a businessman, and honesty plays a big part of that. And if you treat people right then they normally treat you right.

Are you the least bit surprised at how fast this company has grown?
Probably a little bit, but we knew 20 years ago there was a better way to make a tufted piece of carpet. Back then we were more or less being dictated to. “We’re going to sell you a white yarn and you’re going to color that white yarn in the best way.” So you had to have the ability to make your own yarn before you could make the step change in how you were making carpet.

Are you still having fun?
Sure!