Carpet: Resurgence may have lasting implications
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 experiencing a sort of renaissance. Just look at the numbers: The residential carpet segment has shown three consecutive quarters of growth, including double-digit gains of 13.2% (in dollars) in the fourth quarter of 2020 and 18% in the first quarter of 2021, according to statistics from the United States. Carpet & Rug Institute.
What’s Behind the Carpet Resurgence? For retailers like Cathy Buchanan, owner of Independent Carpet One Floor & Home, Westland, Michigan, the answer is simple. “Because people are working from home and children are also learning virtually from home, the noise level has increased,” she explains. “Carpet has become a necessary addition to the atmosphere, whether it’s wall-to-wall carpeting or creating room-sized rugs. Warmth, calm ambiance, style, design and affordability all play a part in this resurgence. Too many loud hard floors were sold. It was only a matter of time.”
Others cite similar characteristics that are fueling the resurgence of carpet. “It’s like comfort food — soft and cozy,” says Elisabeth Stubbs, owner of Enhance Floors & More, Marietta, Georgia. “It looks and feels so much better than it used to.”
Mill executives will tell you that the carpet revival didn’t start during the COVID-19 pandemic. Its origins date back five years or more, when technological advancements took hold, making carpets softer and more luxurious, yet durable and resistant to stains and wear.
“Carpet technology has come a long way in the past five years,” said Curt Hutchins, president of home carpet for Mohawk. “People are looking at carpet instead of wall to wall. That is why we see the high-end business really on the rise.”
Mohawk is one of many manufacturers who have invested in the latest technology to drive innovation. An example of this is tufting. “The tufting technology has enabled manufacturers who have invested in it to take it to a whole new level in patterns and finish cleanliness,” said Jamie Welborn, vice president of product management for soft surfaces at Mohawk. “[As a result], today’s carpet is nothing like the carpet of five years ago. It has become a decorative element and homeowners are using it more than ever to complement their decor.”
Joe Young, soft surfaces category manager for Engineered Floors, said the reality is that factories today make better carpet with performance features that make it a viable option for the entire household. He says that mass-dyed yarns have boosted the turnout. “Solution dyed alleviates the age-old fear of stains, fading or fading of carpet in a short time,” he explains. “Solution-dyed carpets also offer more mixed multi-colors that transition visually smoothly from a hard surface to a soft surface. These performance and aesthetic improvements only add to the underfoot comfort that people have always loved about carpet.”
In some ways, the metamorphosis of carpet as a design element in the home owes much to a hard surface. Carpet’s design trend is especially evident with abstract patterns and products that offer an overall random look. “The abstract patterns can be designed with a natural, organic look, like tree bark or running water, or they can be highly textured, like a cross hatch,” said TM Nuckols, president of the residential division of The Dixie Group. “Color variation and play of shine can accentuate the pattern visuals in this category. Combining the different yarn options and the wide range of tufting and weaving technologies, the possibilities for abstract patterns are almost endless. If you can imagine it, it can be made. These types of products are great companions for wood, natural stone and other hard surface products.”
Of course, this all sounds like music to the ears of floor salesmen, many of whom grew up in the trade when carpet was king. To cite an example, Buchanan said its margins on carpet are 48%, compared to 36% for hard surfaces.
Rob Elder, manager of Hiller’s Flooring America, Rochester, Minnesota, said carpet has always been its strong suit, accounting for about 75% of the housing market. “Being up north, I think a lot of it is the warmth that carpet provides,” he explained. “Also partly is the fact that I personally love carpet and it’s easier to sell something you genuinely believe in.”
Can the good times continue? Mohawk’s Hutchins, for example, said it can. “If you look at history, we’ve seen a significant shift from soft to hard surfaces over the past five years. We have seen that level off in the past year. Because of the design aspect, reducing noise, spending time and living in your home, we see that carpet has become a choice for people. When will it slow down? I would have thought that would have already happened, but it just keeps going, because there is a lot of disposable income.”
Stanton CEO Jonathan Cohen said the strong housing data is favorable for Carpet to continue its resurgent streak. “Relative to long-term trends, US housing fundamentals are strong due to historically low mortgage rates, improved balance sheets, lack of travel and food spending, and deep housing substructures,” he said. “We expect this combination of dynamism to benefit the R&R market for several years to come. COVID-19 and home ordering have certainly had a positive impact on consumer confidence in carpet. The desire for comfort, sound absorption, pet and kid-friendly options, and overall lofty design aesthetics has exploded over the past year and a half. From a Stanton perspective, we can confirm increased activity at the better end of the market, ranging from $5.50/square foot to $12/square foot in retail.”
Brad Christensen, director of category management for soft surfaces, Shaw Floors, said industry players are excited about long-term carpet. “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 new buyers realize that things are out there [like carpet] who can improve their lifestyle.”