May 11/18, 2015; Volume 29/Number 3
By Ken Ryan
For many years nylon was the fiber of choice for carpet manufacturers, but the last five years have seen a seismic shift from nylon to polyester in the residential segment as PET provides consumers with greater perceived value through dynamic aesthetics and improved performance.
It’s not just the mega mills driving the change. Fast-growing manufacturers such as Engineered Floors and smaller entities like Phenix and Lexmark are tapping into technological advances to help facilitate the move toward polyester.
“Polyester continues to grow and take market share from all yarn options, specifically with the solution-dyed component,” said John Sheffield, vice president, North America, Godfrey Hirst USA, which provides three of the four major yarn systems—polyester, nylon and wool.
Tom Lape, president of Mohawk Residential, sees triexta, the fiber used in the company’s proprietary SmartStrand, and polyester both gaining on nylon. “We see big growth in triexta and polyester, with nylon [share] being eaten on both sides—high end [with triexta] and low end [with polyester].”
Polyester vs. nylon
Nylon’s share in residential carpet has been trending down; it was estimated to be 40% in 2012, 31% in 2013 and around 29% through 2014, although some estimates are a bit higher. The strong growth in multi-family helped fuel the trend, as facility managers opted for less expensive carpet since replacement cycles are 35% to 50% higher than those of single-family homes. PET’s biggest benefit, experts say, is its value proposition due to the lower raw material cost compared to nylon.
Brad Christensen, director of product management for Shaw Floors, said one advantage that is often overlooked in piece-dyed PET is its color clarity. “You naturally get more color vibrancy in piece-dyed PET than in any other fiber,” he explained. “However, there is still a negative stigma associated with PET as a result of historically large disparities between its performance and other fibers. That gap has shrunk in recent years as the market and manufacturing processes have matured, yielding plenty of desirable PET products.”
While nylon is still regarded in most circles as the better performing fiber, PET is more durable than ever.
The trend toward solution dyeing has gained traction in the last couple of years, led by Engineered Floors, which offers solution-dyed products in both polyester and nylon. Solution-dyed options offer several benefits, including stain resistance. Invista seized on that with its Stainmaster PetProtect products; other companies have introduced their own PetProtect entries, among them Godfrey Hirst and Phenix. Manufactured with SuperiaSD, the solution-dyed nylon in PetProtect makes it resistant to fading from aggressive cleaning or exposure to sunlight.
Susan Curtis, vice president of marketing at Phenix, said its research has found that consumers are specifically shopping for solution-dyed products, “not only for their durability and performance, but additionally for the color complexity and aesthetic sophistication that can be achieved with these fibers.”
Sheffield said Godfrey Hirst has done especially well with solution-dyed PET fibers. “In addition to the cut pile approach, we have used design and pattern to create unique and attractive PetProtect styles and continue to look for niches in the market to add these products.”
T.M. Nuckols, senior director of product strategy for Invista, said the PetProtect program is now featured by nine mills in nearly 50 new styles. “Compare this to 2014 when we had two mills launching about eight to 10 styles of PetProtect carpet. We think this is the hottest thing on the market.”
Mohawk’s SmartStrand Forever Clean might give PetProtect a run for its money. Since its December 2014 launch, Mohawk has sent out more displays for Forever Clean in a comparable time period than for any previous product in the 10 years of SmartStrand. “We put a kick in the step for retailers by driving innovation,” Lape said. “We think that portends well; we have 70% of displays shipped today, and all displays will be shipped by June. We are moving fast and the market is moving really well. This will be our best year ever.”
Lape said SmartStrand Forever Clean is poised to grow two to three times the industry average. “Ninety percent of retailers are selling SmartStrand and our goal is to make sure it becomes a more compelling part of all retailers’ stocking strategies and more of a go-to product for RSAs in their daily sales routines.”
SmartStrand Silk from Mohawk, Shaw’s Anso Caress and TruSoft from Invista have helped usher in the wave of super soft fibers to the market. Soft is still a trend—every major carpet manufacturer has its own version—but there is debate as to how soft it can go before performance is compromised. Sheffield said Godfrey Hirst has heard stories of disappointed dealers whose customers are concerned about “too soft” carpets and product failures. “Any time that takes place, there is a tendency to return to what you know. Nylon has been the fiber of choice for many years. If there are any concerns, nylon should be the fall back for a dealer.”
For the most part, the construction of these new soft fibers is very durable, and retailers encourage customers to experience it.
Strides in technology
The pace of technological innovation in the last five years has dwarfed anything seen in the previous 20, executives said, and that is only expected to accelerate in the years ahead. Mike Goodall, senior vice president of product management and product development at Mohawk, said the company is building new fiber technology into SmartStrand to enhance the product line while adding value. “As we have learned, we just keep getting better at creating new fibers with the SmartStrand technology. We’re moving toward multicolored looks in the market. Four or five years ago, nine out of 10 people were buying solid color beige; now it is six out of 10. We have created natural dye fibers with space dye to mix and match things to accomplish that multicolor look. It is amazing how far it has come.”
Phenix’s ColorSense technology was introduced at Surfaces 2015 as a proprietary innovation that facilitates randomization of color, achieving an overall balance of tone. This in turn creates a richly multicolored foundation upon which to feature other finishes and elements of a room. Phenix sells ColorSense products in both SureSoftSD solution-dyed PET and Stainmaster PetProtect solution-dyed nylon.
Shaw’s LifeGuard is a carpet protection system that covers the entire product, from face fiber to backing. Carpet featuring LifeGuard is treated with Shaw’s patented R2X Stain and Soil Resistance Protection.
Lexmark’s LCL (loop, cut, loop) technology creates almost three-dimensional looks that have wowed retailers. Tailored by Lexmark, its most recent launch, is made possible by tufting equipment that allows for the creation of patterns that have a higher level of definition than a standard cut loop machine, and to vary the density in a single piece of carpet.