SURFACES 2016 COVERAGE – Carpet: Mills look to compete with rise of hard surface

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February 1/8; Volume 30/Number 16

By Ken Ryan

Las Vegas—Carpet mills are not standing pat amid the fierce competition from hard surfaces. The response from mills in attendance at The International Surface Event [TISE] is to push back in a number of ways—mostly by stepping up efforts on the style and design front. Other strategies entail adding custom rug programs, creating carpet looks that mimic or complement hardwood or outright expanding offerings to include hard surfaces.

“We know that carpet is shrinking,” said Rodney Mauter, executive vice president, residential sales, Lexmark. “But in a shrinking market we can add value and uniqueness.”

A year ago, Tailored by Lexmark drew praises at Surfaces for its three-dimensional, high-definition look. Now it is hoping Adorn becomes the big hit this time around for its softer yarn and depth of patterns. “Tailored put us on the map for that affordable fashion look,” Mauter said. “We were a little concerned at first with how we would follow the success of Tailored, but we are now seeing the same kind of enthusiasm for Adorn.”

Other mills emphasized style and design at Surfaces, and at least one was recognized for it. Stanton won a Best of Surfaces award for Style & Design and earned kudos from dealers for its innovative and fashion-forward looks. “I was very impressed with Stanton,” said Keith Spano, president of Flooring America/Flooring Canada. “Products such as their new Sound Waves [from the Relax collection] were innovative.”

Stanton’s introductions included 40 new nylon offerings representing a category expansion. “We’re tagged with the responsibility of growing in a declining market, and we’re not happy if we’re not growing,” said Jonathan Cohen, CEO. “In order to grow, we have to be proactive, and we have to be smart about it.”

In the face of the onslaught of hard surfaces, some mills are trying to capitalize on the trend with soft products that either mimic or complement hard surfaces, including worn, distressed and hand-scraped looks. Dan Phelan, vice president of marketing, Northwest Regional VP, for the Dixie Group (Dixie, Masland, Fabrica), said the success of hard surfaces has brought pattern into the home, and as such created opportunities for soft surface companies that may not have existed before.

“We are aware of what is going on with wood and in constructing patterns and styles,” he said. “Our product development team is well aware of that trend as well. We feel we can make products that complement hard surfaces. We have to up the ante in style and design.”

Milliken’s Artful Legacy broadloom, shown at Surfaces, is noted for a distressed look that can complement a hardwood floor, with the goal of maintaining that seamless look throughout the home. Milliken showed three such distressed/ vintage looks.

Research shows that in most new homes carpet is still preferred in bedrooms with hard surfaces claiming other areas. However, the notion that everyone wants hard surfaces in their homes is wrong, according to Sam Roberts, owner of Roberts Carpet & Fine Floors in Houston. “Lots of people love beautiful carpet. Carpet is more beautiful today than it has ever been. It’s just not that easy to move the needle every year [in terms of style and design]. People want to do stuff that’s different and better, but that’s easier said than done.”

Instead of trying to compete head-to-head with hard surfaces, some mills are focusing on “sharing” the space. A custom rug program, some executives say, is one way to do that. While rugs have traditionally been viewed as an add-on sale following the purchase of a hardwood or laminate floor, custom-cut rug programs are providing mills with growth opportunities.

“Without rugs, a home [with hard surfaces] is an echo chamber,” said David Duncan, senior vice president of marketing and sales operations at Mohawk Industries, which has a new custom rug program called “A Cut Above.” In this program, rugs can be offered in squares or rectangles. It also offers an app that simplifies the process of getting a quote/order in the showroom in one visit.

Stanton also reports tremendous success with its program, Rug Revolution, which allows users to create their own modular rug styles. The rugs can be cut into small pieces or combined into one large piece using Velcro strips for backing.

“Our rug business is growing because of hard surfaces,” Cohen said.

Joining the party

Mohawk and Shaw were once carpet-only mills. Today, both companies are major players in hard surfaces. Some smaller carpet mills have followed suit. Marquis Industries entered the hard surfaces segment eight years ago with an LVT line. It has shown double-digit growth every year since, according to Larry Heckman, president.

At Surfaces, Phenix entered the fray with seven hard surface products — three laminate, three LVT and one WPC offering. “We want to be known as a total flooring company,” said Susan Curtis, vice president of marketing. “We are looking at the total home and seeing how we can create a coordinated aesthetic that the consumer is looking for.”

Then there are those carpet companies that say they do not need rugs or hard surfaces to fuel grow. At Surfaces Engineered Floors prominently displayed a growth chart showing the company’s plant capacity has grown from 520,000 square feet in 2010 to 3.6 million square feet in 2015. One of its plants, nicknamed “SAM,” will one day be the largest capacity carpet mill in the world under one roof, according to the company.

Engineered Floors also unveiled the DreamWeaver PureColor brand structure. The program features new products designed with patent-pending VariColor technology that will allow the company to expand its color palette within the PureColor family of brands.

“We haven’t even scratched the surface of what we can do,” said Mike Sanderson, vice president of product marketing for Engineered Floors. “We want to focus on one thing and make it great—and that is broadloom carpet.”

The same focus on innovation is driving business at Kane Carpet. According to Bruce Kurtz, vice president of marketing, the company sold 400 rolls of carpet at Surfaces — its highest amount ever at the show. “We continue to defy the industry’s stagnation and grow very nicely,” Kurtz said. “A lot of pattern-oriented companies fail because their styles are inspired by their own tastes. Our designs are inspired by our customers’ tastes.”

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