By Ken Ryan For a flooring segment that had seen little to no growth since the end of the Great Recession more than a decade ago, carpet is enjoying something of a renaissance. Just look at the numbers: The residential carpet segment has posted three consecutive quarters of growth, including double-digit gains of 13.2% (in dollars) in Q4 2020 and 18% in Q1 2021, according to statistics supplied by the Carpet & Rug Institute.
What’s behind carpet’s resurgence? For retailers like Cathy Buchanan, owner of Independent Carpet One Floor & Home, Westland, Mich., the answer is an easy one. “With people home working and children learning virtually from home as well, the noise level has increased,” she explained. “Carpet has become a required ambient addition whether as wall to wall or creating room-size area rugs. Warmth, quiet ambiance, style, design and affordability all play a role in this resurgence. Too many loud hard surfaced floors were being sold. It was only a matter of time.”
Others cite similar characteristics that are driving carpet’s resurgence. “It’s like a comfort food—soft and cozy,” said Elisabeth Stubbs, owner of Enhance Floors & More, Marietta, Ga. “It looks and feels so much better than it used to.”
Mill executives will tell you that carpet’s resurgence did not begin during the COVID-19 pandemic. Its roots can be found five or more years ago, when advances in technology started to take hold, making carpet softer and more luxurious and yet durable and resistant to stains and wear and tear.
“Carpet technology has come a long way in the last five years,” said Curt Hutchins, president of residential carpet for Mohawk. “People are looking at carpet on a room basis rather than wall to wall. That is why we see the high-end business really up.”
Mohawk is among several manufacturers that have invested in the latest technology to drive innovation. A case in point is tufting. “The tufting technology has allowed manufacturers that have invested in it to take it to a whole new level in patterns and cleanliness of finish,” said Jamie Welborn, vice president of product management for soft surface, Mohawk. “[As a result], today’s carpet doesn’t look like the carpet of five years ago. It has become a decorative feature, and homeowners are using it to complement their décor more than ever.”
Joe Young, soft surface category manager for Engineered Floors, said the reality is mills are making better carpet today with performance features that make it a viable option throughout the household. He credits solution-dyed yarns with fueling the rise. “Solution dyed alleviates the age-old fear of carpet staining, fading or bleaching over short periods of time,” he explained. “Solution-dyed carpets also provide more blended multicolors that smoothly transition visually from hard surface to soft surface. These performance and aesthetic enhancements only add to the comfort underfoot that people have always loved about carpet.”
In some ways, carpet’s metamorphosis as a design element in the home has hard surface to thank. Carpet’s design trend is especially evident with abstract patterns and products that offer an overall random visual. “The abstract patterns can be designed with a natural, organic look such as tree bark or flowing water—or they can be very textural, like a cross hatch,” said T.M. Nuckols, president of the residential division, The Dixie Group. “Color variation and luster play can accentuate the pattern visuals in this category. Combining the various yarn options and the wide range of tufting and weaving technologies, the options for abstract patterns are almost endless. If you can imagine it, it can be created. These types of products are beautiful companions to wood, natural stone and other hard surface products.”
Naturally, this is all music to the ears of flooring retailers, many of whom grew up in the business when carpet was king. To cite one example, Buchanan said her margins on carpet are 48% compared to 36% for hard surfaces.
Rob Elder, manager of Hiller’s Flooring America, Rochester, Minn., said carpet has always been its strong suit, accounting for roughly 75% of the residential business. “Being in the North, I think a lot of it is the warmth that carpet provides,” he explained. “Part of it, too, is the fact I personally love carpet and it’s easier to sell something you sincerely believe in.”
Can the good times continue? Mohawk’s Hutchins, for one, said it can. “If you look at the history, over the last five years, we have seen a significant shift from soft to hard surfaces. In the last year, we have seen that flatten out. Because of the design aspect, the reduction of noise, spending time and living in your home, we see that carpet has become a choice for people. When is it going to slow down? I would have thought that would have happened already, but it just keeps going as there is a lot of disposable income out there.”
Jonathan Cohen, CEO of Stanton, said the strong housing data portends favorably for carpet to continue its resurgent streak. “Relative to long-term trends, U.S. residential housing fundamentals are strong as a result of historically low mortgage rates, improved balance sheets, lack of spend on travel and dining along with a deep level of residential underbuilding,” he said. “We expect this combination of dynamics to benefit the R&R market for several years. COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders definitely impacted consumer sentiment toward carpet in a positive way. The desire for comfort, sound absorption, pet- and child-friendly options and overall elevated design aesthetics has increased dramatically throughout the past year and a half. From a Stanton perspective, we can affirm increased activity at the better end of the market ranging from $5.50/square foot to $12/square foot at retail.”
Brad Christensen, director of soft surface category management, Shaw Floors, said industry players are excited about carpet over the long term. “There is a lot of optimism in the category right now and everyone is enjoying the lift and the goodness,” he explained. “The more people talk about soft surface, the more first-time buyers are realizing there are things [like carpet] that can enhance their lifestyles.”