Main Street: Carpet tiles lay blueprint for sustainable retail expansion

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As other areas of floor covering have lost market share, (FCNews, June 27/July 4), Main Street, carpet tiles, have grown noticeably among many of the manufacturers surveyed by FCNews.

Considered pioneers of modular carpet, Interface sees its products fitting in the niche of today’s business. “We receive updates about Main Street from a number of trade and industry partners,” Steve Arbaugh, vice president of brand marketing, alignment and experience, explained. “From our experience, the past two years Main Street has been about remodel and refurbishment, as opposed to new construction.”

Main Street work is said to thrive in comparison to residential carpet today because the entire commercial segment— including the carpet channel—is also beginning to exhibit some early signs of recovery. “Architect and designer specified their projects that were previously deferred are beginning to come back online,” said Sam Kuiper, product director for Aladdin commercial at Mohawk.

Some manufacturers like Mohawk have seen their Main Street carpet sales as a bright spot in business. Kuiper has found throughout the economic downturn, the Main Street segment has often shown more stability than residential building. “Even when housing starts reached unprecedented lows, local churches, schools, banks, daycares and doctor’s offices continued to be built and remodeled in some capacity.”

More specifically, demand for carpet tile has increased and fueled some of the growth in the overall soft surface arena. “Demand has grown,” said Jeff Meadows, chief marketing officer, Beaulieu of America. In addition to telecommuting, or people working from home, and multi-family housing demand, modular carpet has grown in popularity. “Carpet tiles were about 10% of carpet production a few years ago, primarily in specified contract work,” Meadows explained. “Now, it is up to about 15%, thanks in large part to its integration into Main Street collections and improved styling.”

Innovations in carpet tile

Main Street business has been on a noticeable uptick in parts of the country for members of the FCA Network buying group. “Commercial carpet tile continues to grow and Shaw committed machine time several years ago to manufacture carpet tile for Main Street which includes some residential replacement— and they’ve never looked back,” the group’s president Olga Roberts told FCNews. “I would think that we will see more and more products that will cross-over from Main Street to residential, especially products that are not permanently affixed.”

Certainly with time comes innovation, and improvements in the construction of carpet tiling has also grown its popularity. “Modular carpet is the growing Main Street category, as manufacturers like Mohawk introduce, value-priced modular carpets with a superior performance,” Kuiper explained.

End users and retailers are becoming more aware of the design and installation flexibility that carpet tile provides, added Mark Clayton, residential business manager for Milliken. “As is the case in the specified market, carpet tile has become much more important and is taking more market share in Main Street commercial carpet.”

Advancements in styling and design, availability, and the over-all value of carpet tile, has also propelled the product said Steve Sieracki, vice president of marketing for Shaw. Specifiers and end users are finding the advantages to a material that still warms a space like broadloom but can sustain spot replacement by installing one or two new tiles.

Not only has styling and design grown, production technologies have advanced. “For Beaulieu, our Hollytex brand encompasses both broadloom and modular for the specialty retailer to offer his Main Street customers,”            Meadows told FCNews. Some Hollytex styles feature the Nexterra earth-friendly carpet backing, and its anti-static properties make the tiles computer-friendly, too.

Pricing has also become more affordable, explained Kuiper. At one time, modular price points were too high for Main Street customers, but innovations in yarn and backings has made way for affordable engineering. “Mohawk produces value-oriented modular carpets that Main Street customers prefer,” he said.

Servicing the customer

Part of the retailer’s change in day-to-day business has been learning how to meet the needs of new customers—and not just the new Mrs. Consumer. “In terms of product offering and the increased presence it’s been given on showroom floors, Main Street carpet has become much more important to our retailers,” said Clayton, adding for dealers who are interested in supplementing business, Main Street is a natural channel to pursue additional means for growth.

In some cases, manufacturers are familiar with a consumer’s shift in preference by offering greater options in commercial collections: Just because it says commercial doesn’t mean that is where it must go. “[We have a] comprehensive carpet tile product offering through our Main Street brands: Philadelphia Commercial and Queen Commercial,” Sieracki said. The mill is familiar with commercial product crossing over into residential settings: The 2010 HGTV Green Home featured broadloom from the Philadelphia commercial collection on the main staircase (FCNews, July 5/12, 2010).

Interface has also embraced the gap between residential and commercial applications in its agreement with the Bravo network of distributors. “We’ve chosen Bravo to market and deliver an exclusive Interface Stroll modular carpet program to their dedicated dealers and retailers servicing Main Street via local markets,” Arbaugh said. “Our Bravo distributors inventory products and are available to provide our carpet tile at all levels with just-in-time delivery.”

Meeting the consumer’s need for choice, Mohawk’s Aladdin commercial collection offers more than 50 styles in seven constructions, including modular. Kuiper said Mohawk has also launched a comprehensive custom-backing program for the Aladdin commercial broadloom collection.

“These custom backings improve overall product performance, extend carpet life and carry enhanced warranties,” he explained, adding the custom backing program has been well- received in the market. “It has positioned the local flooring retailer as a one-stop-shop that can meet all flooring related needs for the Main Street customer.”

Milliken is also aware of the advantages presented by offering a transitional carpet tile with more intimate styling. “Milliken’s Studio collection, which offers a fashion-forward line that bridges the gap between utilitarian and specified flooring options, incorporates innovative techniques to create textures and patterns that bring warmth and sophistication.”

Looking down Main Street

With a foreseeable recovery unpredictable for many, one may often wonder if Main Street products in specialty retail stores is a passing fad. However, Main Street veterans at Interface see modular carpet as a fixture in the future of retail.

“According to what we’ve seen in both business and construction forecasting, the Main Street market will remain the same with some growth in multi-family and high rise residential living,” Arbaugh said.

As with any new trend that spikes at first, a balance should be reached over time, evenly distributing the business between carpet tile and broadloom. “We expect the product mix within Main Street to continue to change and become more balanced to the overall commercial market,” Sieracki said.

Similarly at Mohawk, Kuiper foresees a continuation of enhanced styling for both broad- loom and modular at value rich price points. “We are very committed to providing Main Street customers with the right flooring solutions for every end use application, which drives traffic to the local flooring retail store.”

-Emily Hooper

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