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Carpet pushes back against hard surface

July 3/10: Volume 32, Issue 2

By Ken Ryan

 

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 2.29.45 PMCarpet’s share of the overall flooring market has dropped from 50.9% of dollars in 2006 to 41.5% in 2016, according to FCNews estimates. While the downward trend has not been dramatic, it has been steady and consistent.

Carpet mill executives don’t need to look at statistics to know what is happening in the marketplace. The big ones (i.e., Mohawk and Shaw) have already transformed into total flooring solutions companies, well positioned to take advantage of any flooring trend. As Seth Arnold, vice president of residential marketing for Mohawk Industries, explained, “We are not working to stem the tide on anything. Our business is about meeting consumer demand wherever that may be.”

The smaller mills have options, too. Some have entered the hard surface category; others are contemplating such a move. And there are some who have stuck to their soft surface knitting, redoubling their efforts to deliver differentiated product.

So what are carpet mills to do about combating the inexorable gains of hard surface? Some advocate promoting the benefits of carpet. “It’s softer, warmer, more comfortable, quieter and safer than hard surfaces,” said T.M. Nuckols, executive vice president of the residential business for Dixie Home. “We also make beautiful styles and designs that can complement the many looks available in hard surfaces.”

Rodney Mauter, executive vice president, Lexmark Residential, has his own ideas. “We must keep driving the positives of carpet; after all, no one takes a nap on a hardwood floor, no one plays with the baby or puppy on a tile floor.”

Others say it is the carpet industry’s duty to continue to explore innovation and technology. “Whether it’s through style, design or performance, soft floor covering will continue to evolve and develop and ultimately remain a viable flooring option to consumers long into the future,” said Mike Sanderson, vice president of product marketing, Engineered Floors.

Soft, durable carpet provides a healthy profit margin for flooring dealers, especially when sold with pad. Some observers say the industry needs to drill down on that. “First and foremost, we need to put an end to the continuation of the race to the bottom in terms of PET pricing and overall devaluation of the category,” said Brad Christensen, vice president, soft surface category management, Shaw Floors. “The industry collectively needs to do more to promote the many benefits of soft surfaces, none more tried and true than its value compared to other surfaces. We don’t need to give it away.”

Other mills find focusing on a particular niche is beneficial. Stanton, for example, has grown its business by being selective about its patterns and offerings. “It’s about being thoughtful about the design part of it,” said Jonathan Cohen, CEO. “You can use existing technology that is out there to create something fresh. We can step it up a couple notches and produce something that is really good looking.”

Indeed, executives say there is no substitute for continually innovating to create new and compelling products. “Homeowners are no longer interested in 50 shades of beige,” Mauter said. “They demand every room of the home to denote personal style while providing comfort and performance. Easy care and maintenance is also important; products must clean easily and last.”

Ongoing initiatives
Research indicates that consumers shop by look and feel rather than fiber type. To that end, carpet mills are developing products that look great and can withstand high-traffic areas. That is no easy feat, but driving innovation is the only way to keep carpet relevant, executives say. “Carpet can be on the cutting edge of home décor,” Dixie’s Nuckols said.

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 2.30.06 PMTo address the hard surface opportunity for soft surfaces, Phenix has introduced a line of products that speaks to specific needs and that provide unique solutions for the consumer. In 2017 it introduced more patterns and textures to address the fact that carpet is often being used within individual rooms—as opposed to the entire home. “It allows the consumer to use carpet as a focal point of the room’s design,” said Mark Clayton, president and CEO of Phenix Flooring. “We also recognize the fact that broadloom carpets are often being used to create one-of-a-kind area rugs that can be used in conjunction with hard surfaces, so this provides additional opportunities to expand pattern and textural designs.”

Other companies are combining hard surface and soft surface in the same display systems to create a coordinated look for the home. Shaw’s TruAccents carpet collection pairs bold styles and patterns with hard surface visuals on a single merchandiser. “We understand that consumers want both hard and soft surface products in their homes, and this gives them a convenient, one-stop destination for ease of shopping and comparison,” Christensen said.

Mohawk is a total flooring company, and within that scope carpet remains a very significant piece of business. “How do we keep carpet part of the conversation?” Arnold asked. “The relentless focus we have on innovation, which is true of all our categories, is really true of carpet. We invest to stay competitive. The success we have with SmartStrand and all the innovations we brought to market has allowed us to keep carpet a profitable category.”

For companies that don’t have the depth and breadth of a Mohawk or Shaw, there are still niches to fill. Foss, for example, has focused on promoting non-woven, needle-punch broadloom and carpet tile products as an appealing and affordable accessory—or outright alternative—to traditional flooring. “Many consumers who prefer hard surfaces are attracted to our products because of their beauty and warmth combined with the attractive look and durability of a low-pile floor,” said Brian Warren, senior vice president of sales and marketing. “Not to mention, our products provide the consumer with a higher level of affordability and versatility because they work in virtually any application or market.”

Advice for dealers
While carpet manufacturers continue to explore ways to recoup market share, executives also believe flooring dealers can do their part to help combat the growth of hard surfaces. Strategies range from offering custom rugs made of broadloom to creating vignettes showing stairs with carpet inserts to upselling customers to better goods.

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 2.30.16 PMLexmark’s Mauter, for example, said his company coaches its retailers to think outside the norm by using different patterns with the same colorway to create subtle differences throughout the home without the need to change paint color or furniture. He also suggested making custom rugs out of broadloom to facilitate room size and dimensions and to create additional revenue.

Mohawk, for its part, emphasizes “X-plusing,” which is educating and selling the consumer on why trading up makes sense. As Arnold explains: “A consumer walks in and is planning to spend ‘X’ and instead of being traded down to lower priced goods—which are often lower-quality goods and reinforces the notion that carpet isn’t made well—offering a smaller selection of better quality product rather than a sea of sameness would be a better option. It’s about great marketing and storytelling. If you provide that customer with a compelling reason to trade up to a premium product like SmartStrand Silk you can X plus them 10%, 20%.”

Arnold said the successful retailers understand that less is more and having the right product at the right price point is key. “You have to set up your showroom for trade-up possibilities and allow consumers to feel the difference. Telling compelling stories and presenting extraordinary product is the formula for retailers.”

Clayton advised retailers to remind the consumer of the true benefits of carpet and hard surfaces and be sure they understand the potential challenges of each product. “Some consumers and their lifestyles would actually benefit from the utilitarian benefits of soft surfaces, not to mention the design opportunities.”

Shaw’s Christensen suggests retailers can help drive excitement by touting the many styling benefits and performance features. “Carpet today has a compelling performance story while also offering breathtaking visuals in a wide array of styling options. Retailers can continue listening to the needs and concerns of consumers and establish credibility by suggesting the right flooring solution for every space and every consumer appetite. There is no doubt that carpet will continue to play an important role for consumers. People forget that carpet is the largest category and still has a dominant position in peoples’ homes, and carpet remains a very import product to help drive this.”

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Carpet: New innovations, processes refresh soft surface offerings

February 2/9, 2015; Volume 28/Number 16

By Ken Ryan

(First of two parts)

From advanced dyeing techniques to new manufacturing processes to the marketing strength of Stainmaster PetProtect, the carpet category created a buzz at Surfaces. A look at some of the top introductions:

Dixie Home

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 2.34.06 PMDixie Home expanded its Stainmaster PetProtect line with Rockport, available in a multicolor pattern, and Fantasia, a cut and loop that gives a high-end look like wool. Magic Moment and Serene Moment, two other new products, also come with the PetProtect system.

Paul Comiskey, president, said the prominent location on the main floor generated steady traffic. “We have seen all the major dealers. The reception has been very good.”

Stainmaster PetProtect, first launched in November 2013, saw resurgence in 2014. “There were two distinct jumps with PetProtect during the year,” he said. “It’s being marketed a lot better, and when national advertising kicked in, it took another jump.”

Engineered Floors/Dream Weaver

Dream Weaver Carpet and Engineered Floors introduced its line of nylon carpet—PureColor solution-dyed soft nylon fiber. This continues the same technology and benefits achieved with PureColor solution-dyed PET and PureColor PureSoft Cashmere solution dyed PET fibers. “We see this as the future of nylon carpet,” said James Lesslie, assistant to the chairman. “Our solution-dye technology has revitalized the polyester carpet market; now we are extending our solutiondyed manufacturing expertise to soft nylon fibers.” Unlike most nylon products currently on the market, Engineered Floors’ has built-in stain resistance throughout the polymer.

At Surfaces, the company introduced 12 products in varying color palettes, weights, styles and textures under the Dream Weaver brand. Triumphant Jamboree and Celebration Jubilee were two standouts. The space dye tufting Engineered uses in these collections creates a “flecking” that is interspersed throughout the carpet. “Flecking is really getting the most wow,” said Mike Sanderson, vice president of product marketing.

Show attendees also previewed new merchandising displays as well as a new PureColor soft nylon video that highlights the company’s large carpet production facility, known as the SAM plant.

Invista

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 2.34.00 PMMaggie Bidlingmaier, vice president, residential surfaces, called PetProtect “the hottest product in the soft surface category.” She would have few naysayers following Surfaces 2015, in which new mills added Stainmaster PetProtect to their programs and existing customers expanded their assortments.

Launched in November 2013, this expanded assortment and continued advertising, including TV spots, have really elevated the brand in the eyes of consumers. “We have a lot of momentum going, and maintaining the momentum is the goal at this show,” Bidlingmaier said. “Our goal is to be the premium choice in all carpet segments. Whichever segment you are in, the best choice is a Stainmaster carpet.”

Gary Johnston, senior marketing manager, said even if consumers don’t have pets, the product still has value because of the inherent stain resistance.

T.M. Nuckols, senior director of product strategy, performance surfaces, said in 2015 nine mills are launching PetProtect styles compared to only two last year. “That just shows the market reaction.”

Flooring dealers with PetProtect signage can tie in with an Invista-led pet adoption program run by the ASPCA. At the end of 2014, 300 retail locations participated, and Invista is looking to double that number this year. Invista will help dealers find the right animal shelter in their area.

In addition to PetProtect, several mills are coming out with new TruSoft products in 2015.

Lexmark

Tailored by Lexmark (FCNews, Jan. 5/12) drew a great deal of retail attention at Surfaces. The company said the technology fills the opening between everyday LCL products and expensive patterned goods with the end result being high style at a great value. It is tufted in 100% solution-dyed PET, which allows a range of looks, including wide plank wood.

“When you bring out something like this you have a good feel for it, but you never know,” said Ed Williams, president. “You have to grow up a little bit at a time. This is only our third year in residential.”

Marquis Industries

“Subtler, softer and more sophisticated is what is selling,” said Larry Heckman, CEO of Marquis Industries, which operates the Best Buy brand. The company’s new Soft Harmony and Soft Sensations products speak to this subtler, softer trend. Heckman said these offerings will provide dealers with a value price point ($8.99 to $10.99) that can move and make money. “Because chip polymer prices have come down, we can come out with some value prices.”

Mardi Gras is another introduction and features a cut pile, multi-color barber pole construction, tufted in the company’s Continuous Filament Solution Dyed Super Soft PET.

Phenix

Fresh off its incorporation into Pharr Yarns, Phenix came to Surfaces armed with its biggest introduction ever, according to Mark Clayton, CEO.

At the heart of these introductions is ColorSense, a proprietary process that delivers discrete yarn placement to produce a complex play of color. Clayton said individually colored yarns are carefully blended to achieve an overall balance of tone and fashioned into a sophisticated palette of multi-colored carpets.

“We positioned our company in the last couple years as a viable alternative for the customer and solidified that last year with retailers by building momentum,” Clayton said. “We want to expand our reach with independents but also increase our position with retail partners.”

Phenix’s new Artistry Collection, available in 40, 60 and 70 ounces, uses the ColorSense polyester fiber. Phenix also came out with new Stainmaster PetProtect carpets.

Stanton Carpet

Stanton debuted eight new products under the Atelier Icon brand that uses the Stainmaster PetProtect yarn system, marking the first time Stanton has marketed products under Stainmaster PetProtect. Additional introductions are scheduled for later in 2015, according to Jonathan Cohen, president.

In all, Stanton introduced 115 products. “We’re getting great feedback on everything we have here,” Cohen said.

Other introductions included the Block Island collection that features two wire Wilton patterns in undyed wool, with geometric patterns and a textural surface in five natural heathered tones. “We’re really trying to step it up with illustrious yarns and keep it in that wheelhouse of salable and different.”

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Upstart ‘niche’ mills survive, thrive through innovation

January 19/26, 2015; Volume 28/Number 15

By K.J. Quinn

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 3.35.29 PMIn the past 10 years, the carpet industry witnessed the entry of new mills during a time when flooring sales were sporadic. But despite facing long odds and stiff competition, these start-ups quickly ramped up operations, carved a niche for themselves and helping them thrive.

“Most of [the new manufacturers] are focused on a specific part of the market and are not trying to be everything to every retail channel,” explained Ed Williams, president of Lexmark Carpet Mills’ residential division. “There is also the opinion that different retail channels want to have larger numbers of suppliers for various reasons.”

Each “specialty” mill that entered the scene in the past decade filled a void or specific market niche, and/or introduced innovation previously unseen in a business dominated by three major players who represent approximately 80% of carpet industry sales.

“We have fundamentally shifted how carpet will be made in the future,” said James Lesslie, assistant to the chairman, Engineered Floors. “That’s what makes us different. Our competitors might think we’re a bunch of weirdos, but it’s the same story we tell customers.”

Engineered Floors was established in 2007, during a time when the carpet industry was mired in a deep recession. The residential carpet business was in a state of flux, having dropped nearly 50% from its peak in 2005. But the person behind the new company—industry icon Bob Shaw— gave credence that it could succeed. “We had a founder with a lot of experience in growing companies,” Lesslie pointed out.

Meanwhile, other factors came into play to create what Lesslie called, “the perfect storm. Polyester (PET) fiber went from No. 3 or No. 4 in residential volume and quickly became No. 1 in volume fiber. Solution-dyed became the fastest growing segment within polyester.”

Creating an edge in the market, Engineered Floors introduced a proprietary solution-dyed polyester fiber system called PureColor. What makes PureColor distinct is the color is part of the material and goes all the way through the fiber. By comparison, many other carpet fibers show color on the surface only, which can wear off or fade over time.

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 3.38.15 PM“It’s a tremendous challenge when dying carpet to make sure the color is consistent throughout the dye run,” Lesslie said, noting that putting the color into the fiber when it is made virtually eliminates “side match,” a major industry quality control issue. By tweaking the traditional carpet production process, the mill claims its quality levels are six times higher than the industry average.

A second major advantage is solution-dyed polyester carpet can be produced at less cost than competing products. Because of the way PureColor is made, the mill uses considerably less energy and 50% less oil than piece-dyed nylon. “We’re a ‘disruptive technology’ to the carpet industry,” Lesslie noted. “We streamlined carpet operations in one facility, but, more important, we eliminated the step of using water to dye carpet.”

Since its founding, Engineered Floors has executed a rate of growth and expansion not seen in the carpet industry since the late 1980s and ’90s— an estimated 400% over the past few years. Last year, the mill added

1 million square feet of capacity and announced another expansion that would more than double its workforce in northwest Georgia.

Innovation and growth in PET

One specialty mill that quickly established a reputation as a leader in the development and growth of the residential PET category is Phenix. The company believes polyester’s continued growth in residential is due, in part, to advances in extrusion equipment that helps create a uniform, highly bulked yarn.

“Our objective is to continue to leverage our ability to manage a complex manufacturing process and bring differentiated products to the market,” said Susan Curtis, vice president of marketing and product development.

Phenix has particularly found success in responding to market conditions with products that meet the changing usage of carpet. “As the consumer redefines how and where she will use carpet, we have the opportunity to rethink how these products interact with other finishes and provide differentiated solutions,” Curtis noted. “In addition, the strength of our retail partner relationships and their desire for a viable and creative alternative supplier has been an important factor.”

The company plans to continue bringing products to market which center primarily on PET and nylon “soft” carpets.

High-end styles provide competitive advantage

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 3.43.14 PMEach supplier that entered the carpet industry in the early 2000s quickly established its own set of competitive advantages. For instance, Moda, established in 2005, had a goal of providing unique styling with superior quality and service. In the past two years the company has reported double-digit sales growth, a notable accomplishment during a time when the carpet industry was still recovering from the recession.

“We introduced tone-on-tone patterns unique to the marketplace,” recalled Don Kazarian, president, noting patterned carpet and solid colors were in vogue. “We had 18 styles in [approximately] 30 colors and everything from a typical cut pile to some very unique, random patterns.” Price points ranged from around $20 to $50 per square yard uninstalled, with the high-end product consisting of an 80-ounce cut pile, or a heavy three-tone shag carpet.

All Moda products are made from nylon 6,6 Stainmaster continuous filament fiber and beck dyed. “Submerged in the dye for a period of time gives us better color continuity,” Kazarian said. “It virtually eliminates end-to-end side match issues and allows us to do custom colors.” One of Moda’s top-selling products, Treanna, is a random cut-and-loop carpet with three color options, retailing for about $45 per square yard uninstalled.

The mill is launching two TruSoft carpets featuring tonal cut-and-loop patterns and two TruSoft texture cut piles. “We offer a very liberal custom color program,” Kazarian added. “Continued product introductions have been key to our recent growth.”

While the bulk of its business is conducted in Western states, Moda plans to expand its penetration nationwide, with an eye on Texas, south Florida and greater Chicago. Earlier this year, Moda became a specialty vendor to the National Floorcovering Alliance and was recently acquired by Royalty Carpet Mills, a move that provides access to tremendous manufacturing assets, Kazarian said.

Affordable fashion in high-end broadloom

In a similar vein, Dixie Home was introduced in early 2003 as a brand to provide stylish, differentiated products that offer affordable fashion in the more moderately priced sector of the high-end broadloom carpet market. Dixie Home styles are made from premium branded yarns and include traditional velvets, contemporary patterns and a wide range of textures in fashion-forward colors.

“We use premium materials throughout the manufacturing process, featuring an extensive array of Stainmaster products,” said Paul Comiskey, president of residential sales, The Dixie Group.

According to Dixie, the Dixie Home brand experienced rapid growth and enthusiastic market acceptance, surpassing the $100 million dollar mark in total sales.

Dixie Home’s manufacturing scale gives the mill flexibility, allowing it to quickly respond to new trends, keeping the latest patterns and colors within reach of a wide spectrum of soft floor covering consumers. Additionally, Dixie plans on expanding its pattern assortment with new technology.

Hospitality visuals meet residential Interiors

Lexmark, which produces commercial carpets for the hospitality segment, expanded its footprint when it entered the residential market in 2012 with a collection that included 18 styles. The line—which featured a high-end look that appealed to a broad segment of consumers—was designed based on extensive market research to determine the best products and price points. In 2015, the mill is introducing a residential line featuring unique styles based on linen and worn wood, designs typically seen in hospitality settings.

“Our key objective in the short term is to bring some differentiation to the marketplace, and our customers will see that with first-quarter introductions in 2015,” Williams said. “We will be offering a new collection of high-definition looks that will be very unique to Lexmark.” The new line is called Tailored by Lexmark (FCNews, Jan. 5/12).

Lexmark has made investments in its manufacturing operations within the past few years, which included opening a new, larger facility to accommodate new equipment and offer better service and unique styling. “Our competitive advantage is just being good in a lot of areas,” Williams said. “Sometimes it is the little things that count and it is easier to manage that if you are a smaller player.”

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Mills unfurl new products, enthusiasm for 2013

By Louis Iannaco

Volume 26/Number 20; February 18/25, 2013

(Second of two parts)

Carpet mills exhibiting at Surfaces 2013 witnessed genuine excitement from attendees resulting from the many new products that were offered as well as their own expectations toward what the rest of the year may bring regarding sales and profits. Attendees found carpet mills offering bolder colors, more textures and patterns, three-dimensional looks and an ever-increasing number of soft products. Continue reading Mills unfurl new products, enthusiasm for 2013

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Soft offerings ignite segment’s comeback

Beaulieu’s new Indulgence is constructed of PermaSoft solution-dyed nylon.

Carpet revived with new yarn systems

By Louis Iannaco

Volume 26/Number 20; February 18/25, 2013

In the first few years of the millennium, when the economy was robust, the consumer seeking new flooring would often spend her discretionary income on hardwood, ceramic tile and laminate. After all, hard surfaces offered style, texture and pizzazz.

Executives on the soft side knew they had to do something to draw the consumer’s eye back to broadloom. Utilizing state-of-the-art technology, mills started producing new textures and patterns. Plus, the luxurious feel of “super soft” yarn systems helped lure that consumer back to carpet. Whether with nylon, triexta and now solution-dyed polyester, the soft fibers wars are officially on, helping to ignite a broadloom comeback. Continue reading Soft offerings ignite segment’s comeback

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Carpet One Floor & Home pays tribute to late Hale

Kennesaw, Ga.  – Back in March, 2012, Invista director of major accounts, Mack H. Hale, passed away unexpectedly after spending 40 years in the floor covering industry, where his contagious enthusiasm and optimism for work and life created strong and enduring relationships.

Keeping Hale’s legacy alive is long-time customer Carpet One Floor & Home. Earlier this month at the Carpet One Floor & Home winter convention, the team from Carpet One offered a new carpet style to its members. Called “Hale’s Cabin,” the style was made in honor of the late Hale. It’s a Dixie Home product made with Stainmaster TruSoft fiber, the softest Stainmaster carpet fiber yet. Continue reading Carpet One Floor & Home pays tribute to late Hale

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Abbey Carpet & Floor: Business, exclusives, exposure on the upswing

by Steven Feldman

Dallas—Against the backdrop of some improving economic indicators that have helped rally floor covering sales, Abbey Carpet & Floor’s annual convention here saw its greatest attendance in the last five years. And paralleling the increase in bodies was a sense of optimism not seen at recent conventions. Continue reading Abbey Carpet & Floor: Business, exclusives, exposure on the upswing

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What happens in Vegas shouldn’t stay in Vegas

by Celia Payne

Las Vegas—Surfaces 2012 presented the opportunity to shine—even brighter than the Vegas strip. The successful protagonists at the show know you must set yourself apart among a sea of introductions. Continue reading What happens in Vegas shouldn’t stay in Vegas