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Lexmark names Mauter EVP, residential sales

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 1.18.44 PMDalton—Rodney Mauter has joined Lexmark Carpet as executive vice president of residential sales. Mauter will be responsible for overseeing the Lexmark Living and Tailored by Lexmark brands, as well as continuing to develop residential retail programs.

Mauter has over 19 years of experience in the residential flooring segment, most recently as senior director of sales operations for the Mohawk hard surfaces division. Previous positions include district manager of soft and hard surface, national retail marketing manager and territory manager for Mohawk Industries.

“Rodney brings experience in developing brands and sales teams and we look forward to building a stronger presence within the residential market.” said Todd White, founder and CEO of Lexmark Carpet.

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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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Lexmark names Wellman director of architecture and design solutions

jrw4Dalton — Lexmark Carpet announced today that Jennifer Wellman has joined the team as director of architecture and design solutions.

Wellman has over 13 years experience in the hospitality industry working for companies such as Soho Myriad as the director of sales and EDL Art Consultants as the managing director.

She has worked on both domestic and international projects such as Grand Hyatt Trinidad, Atlantis Paradise Island, Westin South Coast Plaza Orange County, California, and the President’s Hotel in New York City. She has learned throughout the years that each project has a unique story to tell, and that she plays an instrumental role as an industry partner in helping the designer transform her vision for that project into a reality.

“We are truly excited to have Jennifer join our company,” said Todd White, founder and CEO of Lexmark Carpet. “We look forward to building a stronger presence within the A&D community.”

Wellman has a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Art in Sculpture with a minor in Art History from Georgia State University.

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State of the industry: Carpet looks to play catch-up in tough year

September 15/22, 2014; Volume 28/Number 7

By Ken Ryan

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 11.17.06 AMThe carpet category grew both in dollars and units virtually every year for 50 years. But the flooring industry was then hit with the worst recession in its history, and since then carpet has been slowly on the mend.

According to carpet executives, by the end of 2014 housing starts will have recovered 70% of 2006 historical highs, with 93% by 2015. The carpet industry has recently rebounded somewhat following a brutal, weather-related slump during the first two months of this year, albeit not as robustly as some had hoped.

“Most of us agree that, on average, the carpet industry in 2014 is up modestly overall after a 2013 that was up 3% to 4% over the previous year,” said Karel Vercryussen, president and CEO, Beaulieu America. “That’s not exactly a cause for celebration, but it’s encouraging in terms of sales and shipments. But, when considering where carpet has been heading these last several years, there is cause for some celebration.”

Tom Lape, president of residential, Mohawk, said there is, in fact, good news out there. “Consumers are coming back, and they are shopping.” He cited some encouraging housing and economic data as well, including existing homes under contract are the highest in 11 months, new home sales are bouncing back and mortgage applications are higher. “Mortgage apps were down double digits early in the first quarter and have bounced back.”

Noting that the residential carpet segment has been playing catch-up following the dismal start to 2014, Shaw president Randy Merritt sees the overall category as “close to flat” at this point. “The average selling price of carpet is down slightly for the first time in several years due to the influx of PET at lower prices and the general weakness in the remodel segment. The winter of 2014 was exceptionally harsh across the country and led to the slow start of the year. We believe this slowed the new home construction process, and we will need a strong finish to the builder business.”

Lape and others talked about a bifurcated market in which the commodity end of the category and the premium side are showing buoyancy while the middle of the market is most challenging.

Overall, James Leslie, assistant to the chairman at Engineered Floors, suggested macro forces favor an upward trend in buying. “There is pent-up demand out there. Even with millennials starting families later and buying homes later, there will be a breakout. The macro forces indicate it is going to happen. We feel we are in the best part of the year right now–September and October.”

Larry Heckman, president of Best Buy Flooring, agreed there is pent-up demand out there, but suspects some of the reluctance on the part of consumers is the result of unsettling events in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. “As soon as we get some [positive] news, we’ll have people spending money and buying. The overall pulse I get is that we’re up as a market.”Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 11.17.43 AM

In 2008, carpet represented 51.3% of the industry, according to FCNews estimates. By 2011, that number was 47.4%; by 2013 it was 46.9%. No one denies the gains being made by hard surfaces at the expense of soft surfaces, particularly in high-traffic areas in the home where hardwood flooring and LVT are being put down as “easy-to-care-for” alternatives.

“The multi family business is an example of where we are seeing more LVT going in places where carpet used to go,” Merritt said.

T.M. Nuckols, senior director of product strategy at Invista, added that LVT is taking away share from carpet by creating looks at price points previously not available in hard surface offerings.

Fiber

Polyester has grown significantly during the past several years at the expense of other fibers, especially nylon, and executives see that trend continuing.

As well, polyester has evolved from a nice value alternative to nylon to a strategic component of every carpet manufacturer’s overall product offering. Vercryussen said polyester is also shedding its image as the low-price fiber and is steadily closing in on nylon in terms of acceptance driven by improved performance.

Mohawk’s view is that its own triexta fiber and polyester are the growth platforms in today’s market. “Polyester really sets the foundation combo of value and performance,” Lape said. “We believe triexta is at the top of the pyramid for performance characteristics and design and styling, particularly the soft attributes. You can’t get that softness in nylon and polyester.”

Executives agreed that nylon, which still dominates the commercial marketplace, is not going away. “We recognize that even though polyester has come a long way since its introduction, there are still many dealers and consumers who prefer nylon,” Vercryussen said. “We think consumers are more ‘fiber agnostic’ these days, thanks to advances in polyester technology and similar warranties between nylon and polyester carpeting.”

Merritt said excess capacity in PET today is contributing to a very competitive environment. “There is very little staple polyester being sold. The industry is now predominantly filament—nylon, PET and some polypropylene.”

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 11.18.33 AMEd Williams, president at Lexmark Carpet, said the surge polyester has enjoyed in recent years may be slowing a bit; and with multi-family as one of the stronger segments, momentum may be swinging back toward nylon, at least in that sector. “In talking to various people there is a lot of work being done in the nylon area on the part of the mills,” Williams said.

Trends and innovations

The soft craze that hit the market a few years ago shows no signs of abating, and manufacturers are seizing that opportunity with ever-softer products that are resonating with consumers who can literally feel the difference. According to Merritt, credit goes to advances in tufting technology, which continues to evolve and produce aesthetically pleasing, stylish patterns. “Carpet is generally a soft product today—softer than ever.”

To meet the growing need for soft, Beaulieu America recently introduced two entries into the popular super-soft category: Bliss Vivid and Bliss Hypnotic. Both products are companion textures made of Tryelle, the super-soft PET filament fiber.

Best Buy’s Heckman said consumers are buying into the ultra-soft trend as long as the product delivers on performance with the latest in designs and colors, such as earth tones, brown grays and tan grays.

Nuckols said while ultra-soft products are hot, there is still a market for products that are soft, but not quite ultra soft.

In the meantime, innovation is the engine that is driving this soft trend.

Mohawk, for example, is reinvesting and expanding its triexta platform with up to 100 launches planned. “Triexta now plays in all levels of the market, all distribution channels,” Lape said. “It was launched in the ‘06 time period, which means it was launched in the face of the biggest downturn ever in flooring. That shows the legs of this product.”

Commercial

The commercial segment is up slightly in dollars in 2014 when compared to 2013, and probably flat to slightly down in units, according to industry executives.Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 11.18.58 AM

Jack Ganley, president of Mannington Commercial, said 2014 started off sluggish as companies took a wait-and-see approach before releasing dollars for capital projects. This hesitation was largely due to continued economic uncertainty.

Lee Martin, president of Masland Contract, a unit of The Dixie Group, said the overall commercial segment is somewhat more active than 2013 and certainly stronger than 2012. “My feeling is that the commercial segment is up in dollars and probably flat to a small increase in yards,” he said.

Much of the commercial growth is in hospitality and assisted living, although the overall healthcare segment has experienced a slowdown in growth, Ganley said, as that sector waits to fully understand the implications of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

“We continue to see moderate growth in both the corporate and retail sectors, along with higher education,” he said. “Publicly funded K-12 and acute care facilities are lagging.”

Ganley said one of the major innovations/trends shaping the market in 2014 is the combination of carpet and hard surfaces. This blend, he said, “can increase long-term appearance retention through the installation of hard surfaces in high-traffic areas of a project, transitioning beautifully to carpet in open areas of a floor plan.”

As modular carpet continues to grow and take share from broadloom—it now represents about 50% of the commercial market—executives said there is increasing interest in different size formats and shapes. Additionally, there is “a fresh interest in innovative yarn processing to create unique textures and visuals,” Ganley said.

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Lexmark Carpet names Horn director of marketing

TammyDalton — Lexmark Carpet announced that Tammy Horn has joined the team as director of marketing. She will be responsible for all marketing efforts of Lexmark Carpet including the hospitality, residential and expo carpet brands.

Horn comes to Lexmark Carpet with 21 years of marketing experience. She has served in a variety of marketing roles throughout the commercial, hospitality and residential flooring industry. Horn most recently served as the director of marketing for IVC U.S.  “We are truly excited to have Tammy join our company,” said Todd White, founder and CEO of Lexmark Carpet.  “We look forward to building a strong position for our brands under her direction as we continue to expand our brand presence.”

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Polyester sees continued growth through 2013

Experts: Solution-dyed fibers take maker share from nylon

Sept. 16/23 2013; Volume 27/number 11

By Ken Ryan

Screen Shot 2013-09-25 at 1.53.19 PMWhen the economy went south in 2007, consumers either removed flooring as a purchase priority or sought value unlike ever before; fiber systems’ market share perfectly illustrates these situations. According to FCNews research, nylon went from a 59.8% share of the pie in 2007 to 48% in 2012 in terms of volume. Interestingly, 11% of that number was gobbled up by triexta, with polyester mainlining about a 25% share. Continue reading Polyester sees continued growth through 2013

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Specialty vendor, Stainmaster roll buy in spotlight

Las Vegas—When the National Floorcovering Alliance (NFA) meets here each year on the morning prior to Surfaces, one of the primary goals is to expose its members to vendors not present at the group’s two major gatherings in the spring and fall. Referred to as tier 2 suppliers, members have the opportunity to spend three hours with “specialty vendors” in a table-top trade show format, allowing them to fill in gaps and/or further differentiate their product lineup from their competition. Continue reading Specialty vendor, Stainmaster roll buy in spotlight