Consumer traffic may be down, but when customers do walk in the door, what are some of the trends retailers are seeing? What are shoppers honing in on before they ultimately make that carpet purchase? And what are some of her habits as she makes her way from store to store?
Well, the answers can vary by region, while at other times it seems everyone is on the same fashion page.
According to Donald Williamson of Hadinger Flooring in Naples, Fla., most customers are buying prints for master suites, while a Saxony/frieze for spare bedrooms is sufficient. “She is also using more colors rather than just beiges.”
Sam O’Krent, president of O’Krent’s Abbey Flooring Center in San Antonio, agrees. “Our customers are branching out from beige and getting a little more daring. She’s interested in more tone-on-tone patterns, while ‘flecks’ are still important for hiding stains.”
In Omaha, Neb., home of Nebraska Furniture Mart, Gary Cissell, director of flooring, believes a shift in style preference is currently taking place. “First, there is movement from twists to more tailored textures. Second, patterns continue to gain share on the sales floor.”
Lou Morano, president of Capitol Carpet & Tile in Boynton Beach, Fla., also sees more sales of patterned carpets, along with LCLs and higher-end carpets, than in the past.
Stainmaster still king
When it comes to fiber, Stainmaster is still the only one asked for by name, O’Krent said, “unless she has shopped elsewhere first and is trying to match an item.”
Cissell agreed with one caveat. “We continue to see brand recognition in the Stainmaster category, although our polyester sales continue to be strong,” something Morano also is experiencing with increased sales of Mohawk SmartStrand.
Jon Pierce, general manager of Pierce Flooring & Design— which has multiple locations throughout the state of Montana—sees a definite “value” exchange happening as it relates to nylon versus polyester. “The consumer is sacrificing performance (nylon) for value (polyester). I have nothing against polyester products; we sell a lot of it and the market demands it now. It is just really important we inform all consumers on the benefits of both options and make sure she knows what she is getting so her expectations are being met.”
However, Morano noted that in general, the consumer is not as interested in the fiber as she is in warranties, durability, softness, etc. “If the broadloom meets her needs in these areas, the fiber is not as important. This is the job of the sales professional to explain the differences and benefits from one fiber to another and then she can make a decision.”
He believes how discerning the customer is will determine whether she will go with a better fiber. “As it always has been, it comes down to the big three: style, color and price. And if you get those three, you have a sale and fiber is less important.”
More time in store
Generally, the consumer is well prepared and asks good questions about color, design, with special emphasis on performance, Morano noted. “Maintenance seems to be a topic that is more important today than it was five years ago.”
The Internet certainly has influence on her knowledge, Williamson said, but sometimes has confused her about the effects of weight, density, twist, etc. “That’s where trained professional salespeople come in.”
Pierce believes consumers are shopping more stores today than he can remember. “She has the Internet to find what she is looking for, then she shops price based on what she has found.” Price is seemingly a key driver. “The big box market now represents some 30% market share of the retail flooring industry. It tells me people are willing to sacrifice loyalty for value…period.”
Williamson also believes all shoppers are concerned with budget/price, but when convinced of value she will buy. “Most of our customers are retired professionals, and even though we have a tremendous repeat and referral business, they still tend to shop two or three places. But when shopping more places, we have found sometimes the customers are oversold or misinformed about a product’s performance expectations.”
Pierce believes it is ultimately in-store knowledge and service that hold the best opportunities for retailers to “keep in front” of the flooring consumer lie. “Flooring is still recognized as a major purchase and consumers need to know how to make the right decisions. This is where the Internet and big box operations fall short.”
Although everyone agrees the customer today is extremely price conscious and shopping more than ever, she isn’t always looking for cheap carpet. “In many instances she is looking for better carpet but still shop- ping for the best price,” Morano explained.
Other trends mentioned by retailers:
- A slight decline in average selling price.
- More DIY business, “primarily based on the success of laminate,” Pierce said. “I see a similar trend developing in carpet.”
- Two directions: one with the “value” shopper and the other with the “design” or “fashion” consumer.
- Carpet tile going residential. “Look at what Interface is doing with its Flor division,” Pierce said. “It’s going after the fashion-based consumer who is looking for something new and different, stylish, easy to purchase and install, and appealing to the ‘minimalist’ lifestyle, especially among younger generations. My fear is this concept doesn’t really require professional installation, and the consumer is purchasing this directly from the manufacturer, a real life challenge for the independent flooring retailer.”