Perceived value, soft fibers drive category

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Consumers these days are opting for the comfort, warmth and perceived value of carpet over hard surfaces for their homes. So said some of the industry’s major suppliers.

Emily Morrow of Shaw Industries certainly thinks so. Morrow, the director of color, style and design for residential broadloom and hard surface, said consumers sense they are getting more bang for their buck with carpet. She has seen enough examples in 2010 to suggest this is more than just happenstance. “The pendulum is shifting back to carpet because of its value and comfort and the aesthetics. It’s more affordable. There’s a wonderful feeling you get with carpet that you don’t get with anything else.”

Bart Rich, brand director for Mohawk’s soft surface brands, agreed consumers today view carpet as a better value than hard surfaces. The factors driving this are the economy and better, plusher carpets. “Consumers are looking for products that have multiple attributes such as softness, built-in stain protection and durability. People want softness and warmth. Carpet brings these attributes at an attractive price—hence the perception of value.”

Steve Sieracki, Shaw’s vice president of product marketing, said today’s shopper is “much more discerning” when it comes to flooring than she was five years ago. “The consumer feels she is getting a better value for her money with carpet.”

Jonathan Cohen, COO of Stanton Carpet, noted while value and service are always keys in the decision-making process, it is more acute these days. “What we’re seeing for sure are consumers responding to style with value attached to it. All our products fit that bill; it just depends on the price point. Service is also huge in this environment because the end user has gotten more demanding; in turn she becomes more demanding on us. The service aspect is really big, even greater than it was a few years ago. There’s no getting around that.”

The softer the better

Carpet executives said the noticeable trend in residential carpet this year is toward soft fiber in nylon and polyester—in all constructions and patterns. Traditional textures are still big and friezes are very popular, along with loops and patterns.

But the operative word is soft. “Products we’ve introduced recently like WearDated’s new SoftFusion Technology, the softest soft nylon, are getting lots of attention,” Rich said. “And SmartStrand with DuPont Sorona, because of its inherent softness along with permanent built-in stain protection, is doing very well.”

Beaulieu of America’s answer to consumers’ preference for softness was Bliss by Beaulieu SoftSense, which it introduced in early 2010. SoftSense carpets are constructed in either filament nylon or solution-dyed polyester, and are extruded by Beaulieu to be super-soft. There are eight nylon styles that come in textures, friezes and level cut loops from 35 to 50 ounces. Three solution-dyed polyester styles are all friezes and range from 32 to 70 ounces. “The marketplace has been clamoring for soft,” said Jeff Meadows, executive vice president of residential for Beaulieu of America. “We’re able to deliver it not only softer, but smarter.”

Shaw said it is moving soft fiber across all its residential constructions and categories in response to the latest trends. “It’s been an interesting year,” Morrow said. “The preferences are the classics, tried and true; and if not the classics, something that is a jaw-dropper, that stops you in your tracks. We see a diamond or a trellis or small-scale geometrics [as trends]. As for the jaw-droppers, this would be ultra, ultra softness and also something you want to dig your fingers into.”

When it comes to color, manufacturers agree flooring is following other fashion categories in that consumers are focusing on all things gray. For example, Stanton Carpet said it is getting good response to its grays and silvers. “We maybe saw that color trend coming three or four years ago with other textiles, but it never materialized with carpet,” Cohen said. “But now it is here, and it’s a legitimate trend.”

Morrow agreed that while chocolate is a strong color in every category, gray—or colors with gray influences—is the prevailing color of choice. “With the [economic] changes we’ve gone through, the consumer feels safe with these gray colors,” she said.

Overcoming consumers’ fears

For all the attributes of today’s soft fibers, and the growing comfort level manufacturers say consumers have with carpet, staining is still their biggest objection to buying carpet, suppliers said. “When we show them how good today’s carpet is at resisting stains, they’re very open to buy,” Rich said. “In the case of SmartStrand with DuPont Sorona, we’ve been very proactive in demonstrating its built-in stain protection with events like the SmartStrand Rhino Challenge.”

Beaulieu is seeking to increase consumers’ comfort level by offering a Lifetime Stain—No Exclusions Warranty on SoftSense. Enhanced confidence is provided via 3M Scotchgard Protector, which comes standard on every SoftSense carpet.

-Ken Ryan

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