May 8/15, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 24
By Ken Ryan
Advancements 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.”
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.”
The 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.”
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.”
Among 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.”