By Ken Ryan After well more than a decade of decline or tepid—at best—growth, the residential carpet segment has found its groove again, posting a 12%-13% increase in dollar sales in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to industry estimates, while units were up roughly 10%. It was the biggest quarter for residential carpet in recent memory, industry experts said, dating back perhaps two decades to when the segment was the dominant surface in flooring.
Industry observers all agree that COVID-19 served as the catalyst, for during the downturn millions of people began working from home and conducting business via Zoom and other web-based platforms. For many, that trend has continued. As such, in homes dominated by hard surface, noise often became an issue. Enter soft surfaces.
“Carpet is a great insulator/ noise mitigator, and it’s warm and soft,” Olga Robertson, FCA Network president, told FCNews. “It’s the perfect choice when creating a work-from-home environment.”
Carpet has always been a strong category across the FCA Network’s legion of retailers, according to Robertson, accounting for 52%-58% share vs. hard surfaces. “Business was up overall in 2020 in spite of COVID-19, but the carpet business was up double digits in dollars—not yards, per se—although we did see increases in yards with three of our carpet vendors.”
For FCA Network retailers, the average carpet ticket has increased from $3,000 to $8,000—and higher—as consumers invested more money on better carpet. Other buying groups told FCNews that carpet sales among members have also risen nicely.
Strong results continue across the board
Retailers not affiliated with any of the major groups similarly reported strong residential carpet sales. For the Flooring Gallery, with five locations in the Louisville, Ky., market, 2020 represented the first year in the past seven in which carpet sales increased. “Working from home and using video conferencing has proved to be a boon for carpeting,” said Nick Freadreacea, president. “Many people told us they set up their offices in a bedroom, so it would be quiet enough to keep background noise to a minimum.”
Myers Flooring Dalton, Myers Flooring Atlanta and Myers Flooring Nashville—part of Myers Carpet Company—all achieved record numbers in 2020, with September the single best month for written floor covering sales in the company’s 63-year history. “The fact that families have been confined to their homes because of the coronavirus means they took the time to look around, and they invested in carpet,” Rick Myers, owner, said.
Given that the home is now being used as an office, classroom and playground by different members of the family, observers say there is a need to make each room more suitable for its purpose. “That includes putting new carpet down in the game room upstairs for sound abatement,” said Joe Young, soft surface category manager for Engineered Floors. “It’s about making the living room a more comfortable place for the whole family to relax, creating a sanctuary in the master bedroom for the parents to retreat to at night and even putting down ‘resi-mercial’ carpet in the home office to make your long list of Zoom calls go just a little more smoothly throughout the day.”
While carpet has benefited by the “home as a sanctuary” trend, executives say the strong housing market is playing into carpet’s wheelhouse as well. “New home construction and existing home sales have been trending very strongly since the summer of 2020, and it’s continuing into 2021,” said T.M. Nuckols, president of the residential division of The Dixie Group. “Flooring replacement frequently occurs just before or after an existing home sale, and carpet is getting part of that spend. With the consumer focused on creating a comfortable, safe place at home, carpet is getting more share of the floor in the COVID-19 world.”
Some experts even suggest carpet’s ascent is part of a larger movement. “The pendulum is swinging back in favor of carpet because that is the way of trends and style choices,” said Keith Donegani, CEO of Nature’s Carpet. “What was the ‘in thing’ for the back half of the 1900s [i.e., install carpet] is finding its cool factor again. And while carpet may not dethrone hardwood or LVT in 2021, it is certainly back on the radar and looking forward to sharing some of the spotlight with its hard surface friends.”
All this bodes well for the category, but the question remains: can carpet’s run last? Anecdotal evidence suggests carpet started the year on a positive note and should continue.
During the Mohawk Momentum Roadshow, for example, which has had retailer events in Dallas, Atlanta and Indianapolis, dealers spoke highly of their carpet business. “I didn’t talk to one dealer who wasn’t excited about carpet,” said Jamie Welborn, Mohawk’s vice president of product management for soft surface. “Every dealer I spoke with had a good fourth quarter, and everyone said January was booming and that they were doing well with carpet.”
Don Cantor, owner of Lake Interiors Chelan, in Chelan, Wash., said he remains “very optimistic and bullish” on residential carpet sales for 2021, not only because of the large amount of new construction going on in his area but because people are still stuck at home and have disposable income to update their homes. “Also, the homes being built seem to be larger than in the past because people want that extra space or office to be able to work from home,” he said. “We are seeing a lot of customers doing additions and remodels to accommodate that extra office space.”