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Foss sells northern division, undergoes rebranding

Screen Shot 2017-07-27 at 11.50.49 AMRome, Ga.—Foss Manufacturing Co., LLC (Foss) has sold its northern division, which manufactures nonwoven products for automotive, craft and industrial applications, to AstenJohnson Holdings, Ltd., a global supplier of innovative products and technical solutions. The terms of the sale were not disclosed. Simultaneously with the sale, Foss Manufacturing Co. has rebranded and will begin operating under its new name, Foss Floors, effectively immediately.

“Our corporate rebranding and the sale of our non-flooring division will allow us to concentrate all our resources in our core competencies of high-performance floor coverings and flooring related products,” said A.J. Nassar, Foss CEO. “This will be key as we continue to broaden our footprint in the floor covering industry and expand our products, innovations and capabilities during our next phase of growth and development.”

In line with the company’s rebranding strategy, Foss Floors will soon unveil a redesigned logo and website, and will launch new marketing campaigns aimed at better educating consumers as well as current and potential customers about the value proposition of its nonwoven flooring solutions versus traditional flooring options.

“As we look to our future, it’s the perfect time for us to rebrand to better represent our evolution and focus as an innovative flooring company and ensure the success of every customer we serve,” Nassar said. “We are experiencing ever-increasing demand for our flooring products as consumers seek more affordable and versatile solutions without sacrificing style and durability.”

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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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Fiber report: Soft, durable and cleanability lead checklist

May 8/15, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 24

By Ken Ryan

Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 2.06.57 PMAdvancements in technology and manufacturing have allowed carpet mills to make significant improvements in fiber construction. The result: carpets that are soft, durable and resistant to stains and soils. Mill executives say today’s demanding consumers are driving these innovative breakthroughs.

“Performance-based fibers seem to be a big trend,” said Ayme Sinclair, marketing director, Stanton. “The biggest influence is an increased need from a more informed consumer base on making sure they are selecting goods that will stand up to the challenges of their active lifestyles.”

Susan Curtis, senior vice president, product development for Phenix, agreed. “We are seeing demand for innovative fibers that provide a high degree of performance tied to active lifestyles and exhibit a diverse array of color and luster options.”

Increasingly these innovative fibers are found in polyester; executives say manufacturing techniques have fueled the PET market, which has overtaken nylon as the preferred carpet fiber. “Consumers are very happy with the quality and performance of PET and request it when choosing their new carpet,” said Brian Warren, senior vice president of sales and marketing, Foss.

Beyond fiber type, the macro trends that have driven the fiber market for years are still dominant today, according to Seth Arnold, vice president of residential marketing for Mohawk Industries. “What that means is consumers want carpet that is easy to clean and will last a long time. With carpet being an infrequent, high-end purchase, for consumers it often boils down to cleanability and durability. We don’t see that trend going away.”

Observers point to another trend that’s holding its own: the desire for luxurious soft carpet. “We thought we had seen the top of the mountain with premium soft,” Arnold said. “We spent a lot of time this past year on soft. We spoke to 300 consumers in 10 different markets and looked at seven different fiber types. Consumers voted for softer, which is what led to SmartStrand Silk Reserve. We are raising the bar again in soft.”

Active segments
The dominance of hard surfaces in the home has opened the door for innovative ways to use carpet. Curtis noted that since the consumer is now using carpet in selected areas of her home, she often chooses multiple styles with specific features and benefits that fit the intended use of a room. “Traditionally, consumers may have chosen a solid or more generic aesthetic but are now seeking unique textures and colors they can mix and match with other flooring materials. A soft touch and comfort are still important attributes, but we have seen the need for products with unique patterns and colorations grow significantly.”

Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 2.07.10 PMThe multifamily segment remains carpet’s greatest salvation within residential. That’s partly due to the fall in homeownership rates (which are at their lowest level since 1965, according to the U.S. Census Bureau), which means more people—especially millennials—are renting. Executives note that builders and property managers are increasingly looking to carpet as a way to combat sound issues associated with hard surfaces. “The shift towards hard surfaces remains a continued trend across all business segments, particularly multifamily,” said Brad Christensen, vice president-soft surface portfolio management, Shaw Floors. “However, we are seeing more consumers looking to incorporate higher quality soft surfaces with bolder patterns and styles in bedrooms and other specialty areas of the home, making residential an opportunity for growth in carpet sales.”

Residential retail remains steady, executives say, and with the influx of higher end, luxurious soft products hitting the market, dealers have more opportunities to trade up consumers. “We encourage our retailers to ‘X plus’ every customer,” Mohawk’s Arnold said. “Our premium soft products give them reasons to upsell.”

Product initiatives
In response to consumers’ insights for stylish, high-performing carpet that complements their living spaces, Shaw created the TruAccents display. This new compact, rotating display houses both nylon and PET carpet styles and pairs them with hard surface products for easier consumer shopping and convenient retail selling options. “For those consumers who prefer to purchase strictly nylon, we’ve also expanded our LifeGuard technology to the Anso Color Wall in our Titanium platinum product collection,” Christensen said.

Phenix recently introduced its Opulence HD solution-dyed PET polyester fiber featuring a finer denier yarn that is low luster with well-defined tips that give off a suede-like finish. “We developed this new fiber from the ground up by working with our extrusion division to create a yarn that provides great bulk with a soft very luxurious hand,” Curtis explained.

Stanton recently launched a line with Scotchgard 3M, pairing high style with high performance, Sinclair said. “This new line gives consumers assurance when they see a name they recognize, so it makes perfect sense for us to partner with them.”

Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 2.07.18 PMAmong Mohawk’s biggest initiatives in 2017 is Airo, made of 100% premium PET fiber. As Arnold explained, “Airo is really our attempt to say, ‘What if we completely started from scratch; what would we come up with?’ This innovation is less about enhancing an existing fiber and more about looking at a fiber to create a construction advantage. Airo was a completely new way to approach product development.”

In the same vein as completely new is Foss’ Cashmere, which the company touts as a new category of affordable wall-to-wall carpet that looks and feels like wool but has the durability of commercial tiles and indoor/outdoor broadloom products. Warren said “the secrets” behind the carpet’s style and performance are its exclusive NaturalTouch fiber that can create a wool-like softness using PET and the company’s DuraKnit technology that prevents fraying, unraveling or zippering.

Engineered Floors has enjoyed big success with its PureColor Fiber system and its family of brands, especially within its residential PureColor Nylon collection—Your Retreat. “It features our PureColor Soft Nylon with Cationic technology,” said Mike Sanderson, vice president of product marketing. “We are essentially offering what is widely recognized as a premium fiber system in a collection of stylish yet affordable products.”

The residential division of Dixie has been an active partner with Invista/Stainmaster. In 2017, Dixie is launching six new styles as part of the Stainmaster LiveWell program. T.M. Nuckols, the new executive vice president of Dixie Residential, noted, “We have a good mix of styles in the solution-dyed nylon PetProtect program as well as many piece-dyed products.”

 

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Foss Manufacturing gets into flooring game with Smart Transformations

January 5/12, 2015; Volume 28/Number 14

By Ken Ryan

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 1.12.25 PMFlooring dealers may not be familiar with the name Foss Manufacturing just yet, but they have almost certainly come into contact with one of its products over the years.

Foss, a 60-year-old manufacturer based in Hampton, N.H., is known as an innovator in the use of nonwoven fabrics and specialty synthetic fibers for a variety of industries, most notably automobile, where it provides interiors for vehicle floors and ceilings. “Any car manufacturer in America has Foss carpeting on the floor,” said Mark Gauthier, director of marketing.

Foss also manufactures indoor/outdoor carpets used in basements, garages, on decks and around pools, and the company is now embarking on a flooring venture with a line of commercial carpet tiles called Smart Transformations. The product, which will be on display at Surfaces, targets Main Street commercial.

“This is a product when you need something in a pinch,” Gauthier said. “If you have a storefront and don’t want to lose a couple days of business, this is the product for you. We have done jobs where we came in at 6 p.m. and within two hours the carpet tile was replaced and the business opened the next day.”

The tiles, specifically engineered for commercial environments, are made from recycled plastic drinking bottles and install over most existing flooring surfaces by simply peeling off the plastic backing and adhering the tile to the floor; no glues or pastes are required. “Installation is essentially ‘goof proof,’” Gauthier said. “We have formulated a new adhesive; if you pull it up it peels right off. There is very little left. You can cut and patch it in any shape.”

Smart Transformations includes an antimicrobial technology, called Fosshield, which is designed to counter the damaging effects of bacteria, mildew and mold. And, Gauthier said, Foss’ solution-dyed polyester is excellent for color fastness and UV protection.

One of Foss’ newest customers is Brazos Flooring Agency, a sales and marketing firm representing flooring manufacturers and distributors. Mike Donarumo, owner/president of Brazos, has known Foss president Mike DeGrace for more than 25 years. “We have stayed connected to each others’ ventures over the years,” Donarumo told FCNews. “This past September Mike suggested we get together to review an opportunity that he was looking to launch at Foss. In visiting the manufacturing facility in New Hampshire and meeting with the management team I came away excited to join forces.”

Donarumo said his major accounts have been impressed with the new Foss product, which is ideal for the DIY customer. “Having the characteristics of transforming any space with a trendy new look without a large investment by the consumer is an important hook in today’s busy lifestyle. I am not easily drawn to introducing new products without a track record, but after meeting the folks at Foss and seeing the products firsthand I committed on the spot.”