Eager to learn where the market is from the retailer’s perspective, FCNews set out to learn what the top-selling styles are across the U.S. Surveying specialty dealers from the Redwood Forests to the Gulfstream waters, from the Florida panhandle up the Appalachian Trail to New England, carpet maintains a stronghold for many states in the union. Some things are predictable: New England is mostly conservative with wool loops and Berbers; Midwestern consumers favor domestic hardwoods, and the West is eco-conscious, focusing on natural fibers.
But there are several surprises: Ceramic in the frigid regions of upstate New York; laminate doing well at certain locations in any state. Whether predictable or surprising these can be an important lessons when guiding consumers, as each end user has her own desires that she needs help meeting.
Far north in Wells, Maine, Daniel Dickerson reported selling more carpet than anything else, and said it has been that way for the last 10 years. “We’re in a summer resort area with lots of beaches and people have found it’s the easiest thing to clean and wears longer than other types of carpet,” he told FCNews. “We’ve done a tremendous job with the product and Shaw as our No. 1 supplier.” He said people are buying newer styles with block patterns and natural looks, starting at around $2 per square foot and up.
Carpet also reigned in Massachusetts at Roberston Floor Covering in Milford. “More people are interested in carpet these days than any other type of flooring it would seem; the numbers bear it out,” said Bob Hazard Sr., adding Mohawk styles in multi-color frisees are retailing between $1.75 and $3.50 a foot, product only.
Further East in Salem, Jerry Arcari of Landry & Arcari Oriental Rugs and Carpeting said Karastan’s and Godfrey Hirst’s low pile wool products were its best sellers, even though the store represents over 30 manufacturers. “What is selling are clean, silky type looks,” Arcari said. “We’re doing wool/silk blends that have a luster and sheen to them, especially those bought to install in the city [Boston]. Wool and sisal looks are big, as well as sisal, too.” The bread and butter price range for the store is between $4 and $6 per foot.
Dropping down in New England, Vernon, Conn.’s Schneider’s Flooring America also found carpet is still the best seller, though it has decreased. Maxine Schneider reported her store’s tile category has increased, due in part to eliminating area rugs from her show floor.
“We just got rid of our area rugs and put the section toward more tile and hardwood and that contributed to an increase in hard surface sales,” she said. “Every hard surface customer will need an area rug but they go online and get it cheaper. It’s not as easy as just giving out a coupon so they’ll come back and spend.” The store creates custom rugs and runners though, as there is still a market need for that, which in part, contributes to her store’s biggest business generator.
The store’s most successful program is with Karastan, stocking inventory from $2.99 a foot and higher. “People still know the brand and the mill is promoting it as much as possible,” Schneider said. “It comes down to the salespeople being trained properly and understanding customer needs.”
N.Y. tri-state area
Plattsburgh, N.Y. is one of the colder regions of the Mid- Atlantic, located just a short distance from the Canadian border and Dale Mattot of Lee Appliances reported the store’s bulk of sales were in tile, mainly from Dal-Tile and Arley.
“Tile is popular here for its longevity; if it’s installed properly it will last forever,” he said. “A lot of floors in this part of the Northeast have radiant heat, so tile is good to go over that.” The company stocks tile in the $2 to $3 a foot range in earth tones, shades of beige and some of the blues and aquas that are gaining popularity, particularly in larger 20 x 20 formats.
Further south in the state on Long Island, soft surface again reigns supreme at G. Fried of Westbury, in styles from Kane and Oriental Weavers. “People are wanting higher-end wool with viscose for a silky look to their carpets,” said Wendy Fried. “People like textures but we don’t like to sell 100% viscose because it doesn’t wear well. You’re not going to make anyone happy with that.”
New Jersey’s Avalon Flooring, one of the largest dealers in the country, echoed Plattsburgh, N.Y. and reported ceramic tile was its best selling category.
“If you ask the average retailer, it’s probably 15% of their business at most,” said Sean O’Rourke, vice president of hard surface sales. “We’ve been investing in our program for many years and that’s why we’re the leader.”
He reported selling a lot of Spanish and Italian imports, with some products coming in from Brazil, Mexico and China, too. “We have great representation with Marazzi Tile as well, more so since it started manufacturing in Texas.” Customers at Avalon stores are most drawn to product in the $3 per square foot range.
East North Central
In the East North Central states, fuzzy side up is still the most popular flooring choice, but not by much at Kiss Carpet in Traverse City, Mich., said Kelly Fisher. “We are selling more SmartStrand in LCL styles from Mohawk and were just named Midwest dealer of the year within Michigan, Indiana and Ohio.” Prices at her store span between $3 and $3.50 a foot, product only.
Ohio is a tricky market; most stores are larger, multi-location operations as the smaller mom-and-pops have died out, leaving fewer players to take a piece of the business that resides heavily on the soft surface side. The resounding trend here within carpet seems to be value: Even the owner of a $1 million house wants a deal on her flooring, generally looking to spend around $2.99 a foot for product only.
Budget Carpet and Flooring in Columbus sells more Shaw carpet than anything else and sells residentially around $1 per foot for product only, said Debbie Beers. “We stock lots of Shaw, and its wall-to-wall in polyester is sold more in quantity.”
Though conditions have been unpredictable the last few years, business has been unusually erratic, she added. “September was good—we could barely find installers to get our work done but we’re in a lull right now. It’s so hard to be a little guy these days.”
At McSwain Carpets & Floors in Cincinnati, Barry West said currently, the retailer’s top selling carpet styles “are solid and tonal colorations of soft casual textures. Wider width hardwoods featuring American species oak and hickory are also very popular with consumers.
“Stainmaster is our top selling brand,” he explained, “especially the Luxerell fiber qualities which are soft, fashionable, high performance and supported by enhanced stain and soil warranties.
“Retail carpet, material only, price points range for our top selling carpets between $3 and $7 per square feet, material only,” added West. “Customers will purchase this if they are convinced of the value deter- mined when the benefits are greater than the cost. Customers are investing in value.”
Indiana dealer Mark Dougherty at Hoosier Floor Covering in Bloomington, followed its neighbor’s trend of carpet taking the sales lead. “Natures’ Harmony from Karastan is our top selling style, at around $3.50 per foot for product only.
South’s gonna do it
Shifting south top selling styles change, dramatically in some cases. Lauren Rhodes Braden of the Floor Trader in Gulfport, Miss., reported laminate flooring from Shaw as its best seller, going for about $2.10 a square foot. “Carpet is actually our burden,” she told FCNews. “When Katrina rolled through thousands of people had to pull carpet out of their houses and if you’ve ever had to remove soaked carpet, you’ll never want to install it again.” Households were without power and water for extended periods of time and carpet had to be removed before it could be dried or cleaned to prevent mold and mildew from growing. Consumers in that area are now ready for flooring that is easy to remove in the case of another natural disaster.
“We have some premium laminate that looks just like hardwood and we put it at excellent pricing,” Rhodes said. “I chose a laminate for my home—partly because I have dogs and a child—and people who see it think it is wood.”
She mentioned those with tile affected by the hurricane had a very easy clean up. Such ease of maintenance could have been a factor that brought tile from Mohawk to the forefront at Fogel’s Carpet and Vinyl in Augusta, Ga. “Tile is appealing because it’s easier to take care of than carpet and it lasts longer,” said Pam Wilkes. “However, it’s different things at different times. Six months ago it was engineered wood in a gunstock, medium tone, also from Mohawk.”
Tile was also on top at Pavilion Floor in Concord, N.C., according to Karen Whitley. “We typically do better with Dal-Tile and Florida Tile because they have more local distribution.” She said any size above 16-inches in rectangular shapes are going for as much as $2.69 a foot.
In Alabama, hardwood took the cake at Wheat’s Carpet One in Northport, but without any particular brand taking claim. “We haven’t seen any one brand catch,” said Terry Wheat. “We’re taking the shotgun approach on floors. If you try to narrow it down from all your customers you can shoot yourself in the foot.” In contrast to the Floor Trader of Mississippi, laminate was re-ported as the biggest negative. “Compared to laminate sales of five years ago, today’s are non existent.”
Hardwood also dominates at the Vertical Connection in Columbia, Md., but this is only very recently. “The best selling categories are seasonal,” said Adam Joss. “The last three months have been all hard surface and our best sellers have been wood.” He also noted LVT’s rise to forefront, citing Karndean’s DaVinci, retailing at $5.99 a foot. Several months ago, the store sold mostly carpet. “We’ve done a lot with Tigressa,” he said. “It’s a line that has worked very well for us.”
Neighbors in Delaware also called out carpet, at Airbase Carpet & Tile in New Castle. “Carpet is still king, though not by much and it is shrinking,” reported Michael Longwill. His top selling collections rest at either high or low price points. “There is not much in the middle,” he said. “Our top selling collections are using the new filament PET, plus the branded Sorona.”
The Flooring Gallery of Kentucky’s Brian Combs reported Shaw and Mohawk carpet the selling the most, particularly in polyester and the latter’s triextra fibers between $2.79 and $3.29 a foot retail product only.
“Carpet is always the top selling category but the hottest is LVT,” Combs said. “Year over year growth is in the 10% to 15% range, maybe more, and our top LVT is Congoleum’s DuraCeramic. However, we’re seeing a lot of competitors come in with some phenomenal looks and aggressive pricing.”
Wood is closing the gap at Flooring America in Woodbridge, Va., said Rob Menefee, but carpet still remains the largest category, particularly in branded soft fibers namely SmartStrand and Tigressa. The store’s strongest price point is in the $5 per foot range, installed with cushion.
Likewise, carpet is the top seller at Covey Carpets in Lorton, Va. “Berber is a popular type of carpet people like,” said Carol Covey. “We see a lot more patterns now than we have before, which is more challenging, and we do a lot of deliveries of prebound rugs.”
She reported the bulk of orders going to Bayard for its more expensive styles like Riviera at $15 a foot for product only. In a solid report, Richard Fain of San Jose Flooring & Cabinets in Jacksonville, Fla. said Anderson’s Casida Blanca engineered hardwood is his best seller. “It’s a handscraped Spanish hickory: I tell people it has the attributes of a hickory but the clarity of a maple,” he said, adding Shaw and Anderson offer aggressive pricing on their handscrapes, starting as low as $2.99 a foot.
(Mid)West of the Mississippi
Here, Karastan seems to rule the roost, with several of its styles selling well throughout the region. In hardwood, Mullican is one of the hottest brands and species such as hickory and maple are the most desired looks.
For Sam O’Krent of O’Krent’s Abbey Flooring Center in San Antonio, Texas, the top selling carpet brand is a textured SmartStrand from Karastan, “We sell for $4.99 a square foot, material only. We’ve also had great success with a new Smartstrand color wall display from Karastan, which replaced its Ralph Lauren carpets.”
For O’Krent’s, a close runner-up is a private-labeled, engineered, handscraped hardwood in hickory and birch. “The average selling price on this is $4.39 a foot. Even though it’s an import, it comes from a great supplier who has proven to stand behind what it sells.”
Also in Texas, where they say everything is bigger, the largest selling categories for Sam Roberts of Roberts Carpet in Houston are also carpet and hardwood. “Our wood sales are primarily handscraped hickory, maple, and birch products, and smooth faced South American exotics. Over 90% of our wood sales are engineered and prefinished.
“Our best selling wood items are from Armstrong, LM, and Regal,” he added. “Most sell for between $7 and $10 per square foot, installed. [In soft surface], we sell mostly better goods such as Stainmaster branded carpet, but there is no single style that commands a significant portion of our total business. Our average price point is around $5 per foot installed.”
Roberts considers himself to be a “better goods guy. We sell what I call a horizontal, as opposed to vertical, array of products. We don’t sell an enormous amount of any one product. The higher-end you go, the wider array of products get sold.”
In Nebraska, Gary Cissell, director of flooring for Nebraska Furniture Mart (NFM) in Omaha, said the hottest categories for the company are wood and luxury vinyl tile.
In hardwood, NFM is doing well with Anderson, Armstrong and Mannington. “I’d say the hickories are probably outperforming the oaks right now. We’ve also got some exotics that we’ve been bringing in: It used to be Brazilian cherry, now it’s acacia that’s hot.”
In LVT, he cited Mannington’s Adura click product and Armstrong’s Alterna as two of NFM’s hottest sellers. “We just added Karndean as well, which gives us a little different dimension from what the other two offer.” NFM is getting anywhere from $2.99 to $3.99 per square foot. With hardwood, price points range from $3.49 to $4.49 a foot.
How the West was won
Lafayette, Calif., home of Blodgett’s Abbey Carpet & Flooring, is located in a relatively affluent area, buttressed by the state’s lowest unemployment rate of 4% with a sizable retirement population at 34%. Many have the means to purchase $1,500 area rugs on a whim, according to owner Larry Blodgett.
But even here, the poor economy has impacted Blodgett’s market. “Our business used to be shaped from the top down, with most of our sales at the high end, and trickling down,” Blodgett said. “Since 2008 our business has been shaped like an hourglass, with the middle being squeezed. We have some customers who do not see price as an obstacle. If they see [a product] and want it, they buy it. There are no questions asked, no haggling. And then, at the other end, we have people who are looking strictly at value-oriented products.”
Blodgett’s is a standard model of flooring dealers along the West Coast. From Southern California to Oregon, retailers say store traffic is down and receipts are up, but the ticket size is generally down.
Kyle Zender of Wayne’s Color Centre Carpet One Floor & Home, Coos Bay, Ore., said, “We have had to adjust our business accordingly, which means taking a step down from where we were. One thing is for sure: You must be creative in this market.”
Western-based dealers told FCNews that multi-tone, soft carpet, was moving. “Carpet is selling the best right now,” said Phil Koufidakis of Baker Bros, with seven stores in the Phoenix market. “We sell predominantly Stainmaster carpet, and consumers are readily accepting of purchasing quality products, as those who are willing to part with their hard earned money want to make sure they are buying real quality products, supported by real quality companies/brands. The Dixie Group products are selling very well, as well as select Karastan and Tuftex products. These products are being driven predominantly by style and color, and less by price point.”
Blodgett’s has also fared well with Karastan area rugs and broadloom. “Some of my customers like to buy ‘feel-good rugs,’ and those rugs—albeit at anywhere from $800 to $1,500 —make them feel good,” Blodgett said.
Koufidakis said carpet is selling because it ultimately has the shortest life cycle. “It is still the best value and is the easiest to replace. People still want to buy the best that they can, and are more careful about their purchase than ever before. Putting people into the proper fibers/constructions and fashion is what it’s all about.”
At A&M Flooring America, Fresno, Calif., traffic is down but the loyal customers who shop here tend to be higher-end shoppers gravitating toward multi-tone, heavy, soft carpets, said Lee Horwitz. “Brands like Tigressa and Karastan are selling well: Soft surface is the one category I can count on. We’re finally getting some multi-tone carpets that we so desperately need.”
At Baker Bros stores, the soft surface action is mostly in texture and frieze, although Koufidakis said pattern continues to increase its share, and loop pile is growing as well.
It’s no surprise that natural products would be in demand on the West Coast, and that is true for Abbey Carpet of San Francisco, the Geary Street landmark that has flourished for more than four decades. Kathy Monge said natural fibers like sisal, seagrass and jute are driving area rug sales, but the desire for green products at Abbey Carpet of San Francisco extends to hard surfaces as well. “This is a customer base that looks for natural, green products,” she said.
Zender said his Oregon market has seen a big shift to domestic wood species, in “modular-style wood designs and versatile 41⁄2 to 6-square-foot lengths.” As for brands, Mohawk, Shaw and Armstrong are selling. “Armstrong is providing solid value for our customers and has placed its products at strategic price points, which gives consumers what they feel is good value.”
He noted there has been a “drastic uptick” in luxury vinyl tile, and resilient in general, with Luxe, Alterna and DuraCeramic showing robust sales. “LVT offers the retailer an in-house solution that makes consumers feel they are getting a product they always wanted. LVT still has great upside in the market.”
What’s losing is laminate. “There is an entire level of laminate consumer who wants to buy 99-cent specials, at which point the product will move. That market still exists. But the $2.50 a foot and up laminate market is shrinking here.”
At Tile Interiors N’ Abbey Carpet in Cottonwood, Ariz., sales run the gamut from high-end engineered wood and bamboo, to low-end carpet. “There is no rhyme or reason to it, it’s all over the place,” Jessica Hicks said of sales. “It has been going on like this for a year and a half.”
—FCNews writers Emily Hooper, Louis Iannaco and Ken Ryan contributed to this story.