January 6/13, 2014; Volume 27/Number 18
By Ken Ryan
Much like a silk blouse or sports car, super-soft carpet fibers require a little more TLC than your average product. And as the trend of ever-softer fibers continues, manufacturers are briefing retailers, and, in turn, dealers are advising their customers, on how to best maintain these sought-after products.
Super-soft carpet presents both a challenge and an opportunity for the dealer. Sam O’Krent, president of O’Krent’s Abbey Flooring in San Antonio, said there are indeed “issues” pertaining to the care and maintenance of softer carpets, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
O’Krent has put a positive spin on soft fiber challenges, noting how obstacles help stress the importance of sales associates talking to consumers about maintenance. “Unfortunately, if a sales associate does not discuss maintenance with the consumer, many times it is the installer who has to address questions as they are finishing the job, and they are not well versed on proper maintenance,” he explained. “This leaves the retailer in a potentially vulnerable position when the consumer follows the installer’s advice and then damages the floor.”
Educating the consumer on all aspects of soft-carpet care and maintenance is something many retailers, like O’Krent, continue to stress. For example, Mike Blanton, manager of Dalton Carpet One Floor & Home, said consumers should know that some vacuum cleaners, including high-end models, can ruin the carpet. There is also the issue of shading and footprints—consequence of the denseness of the fiber.
Footprints have not been an issue in carpet for many years, but the plushness of today’s soft fibers has brought that problem to the forefront once again, putting the onus on retail sales associates. “You definitely need to be prepared because there can be a lot of shading and footprints with the taller products because of their density,” Blanton said.
The consequences are dire if care and maintenance are not explained properly up front, making sales training critical. “Once burned, you don’t let it happen again,” he noted. “These are wonderful products, and the best thing about them is they get people back in the market. Consumers love how soft it is. The higher performing products justify the higher maintenance.”
Blanton said he makes sure his staff has conversations about continued care with customers in the showroom; a salesperson may simply make a comment such as, “Just be aware certain vacuums don’t work well.” He advises customers to look for vacuums with wider wheels and lighter weights with brush control, which allows the brush to go up and down. “Some of these carpets are real thick. I don’t personally test the vacuums, but I have seen them in the mills.”
According to Blanton, the generation of product before the ultra-soft wave is compatible with most vacuums. However, the newer fibers run the risk of being ripped up by high-powered models.
Bob Lee, executive vice president of Beaulieu America residential sales, suggested selecting vacuum cleaners with an adjustable pile height setting, larger and wider wheels and lighter weights, helping avoid trouble in the end. “The larger wheels and lighter weight result in a vacuum cleaner that’s easier to move through the ultra-soft fibers. We also recommend a variable motor speed as a lower rotation of the vacuum heads can move more efficiently through the fiber.”
Shaw also suggests providing guidance on specific vacuum models that work best for soft carpet. “We have heard many retailers say they are offering appropriate vacuum solutions to their customers and we think this is a great idea to help ensure the consumer gets off to the right start with her new purchase,” explained Randy Merritt, Shaw’s president. “Not to mention, it is another potential profit stream for the retailer.
The soft evolution
Softer carpet may be all the rage now, but it is not a new trend. In fact, it has been around for decades. What has changed, according to Merritt, is that today’s sophisticated extrusion technology and improved fiber chemistry and consistency allow manufacturers to make a softer fiber that will stand up to the demands of residential performance.
With updated technology in place, customer response has soared, and that growth is expected to continue in 2014 and beyond. “Residentially, almost every introduction over the past year has been soft,” Merritt said, “and that will likely continue next year.”
He likened buying soft carpet to purchasing expensive silk clothing in that a consumer understands it will require more care than polyester lookalikes. Soft carpet possesses the lavishness of a fine garment that requires continued investment in proper care. “Consumers who are not willing to maintain the softest carpets should consider another purchase,” he said.
Shaw is educating its retailers about proper soft-carpet care with in-store and online training, brochures they can share with consumers, and website-specific information. “Understanding this aspect of a flooring investment is important and should not be overlooked,” Merritt noted.
David Duncan, Mohawk’s senior vice president of marketing, said that in just over a year since Mohawk introduced its SmartStrand fiber innovation the product has become a top choice among retailers and consumers for its softness, durability and cleanability. Because of its widespread popularity, Mohawk has worked to offer retailers and consumers comprehensive tools that provide education on care instructions and vacuum recommendations for soft carpet.