CUSTOMIZED RUGS FOR RESIDENTIAL USE
Tiffany Brooks, Chicago area interior designer and winner of HGTV Design Star season eight, frequently uses Flor carpet tile in her residential designs and did so on several of the challenges that won her the Design Star title. Most typically, she uses the product to create area rugs in living and children's areas, though she recalls one application in a dining area that was particularly successful. To make a visual impact in the small 4'x6' bump-out, she cut the carpet tile into 9"x9" squares and created an ombre patterned rug.
Brooks appreciates that carpet tile allows her to create semi-custom pieces affordably, as do her clients, who, she reports, are inquiring about carpet tile area rugs with greater frequency. Brooks always purchases a few extra tiles to serve as attic stock. However, she notes that the ability to pop out a tile for more effective cleaning or repair means greater longevity for the product. The only challenge she sees with the product pertains to moving: unlike traditional area rugs, carpet tile area rugs must be disassembled, rather than roled, for transport. And, in some cases, reassembling the design can be challenging for the client.
Several mills report that their mainstreet carpet tile is also being used in residential applications, generally for basements and other areas more concerned with function than design. Also, commercial carpet tile, which is ordinarily specified for contract applications, is going into upper end urban residences, like high rise condos, that are often decorated by interior designers.
It makes some sense to look at residential carpet tile demand as two streams. One is purchased for performance applications and the other is chosen for design. Both are growing categories. When it’s chosen for its functionality, it’s often installed by professionals and adhered to the floor. And for design applications, a market currently dominated by Flor, it goes down with a floating floor installation. These new installation systems, offered by most of the big mills, are opening the door for residential DIY projects, and they will undoubtedly play a big role in the growth of carpet tile to the homeowner.
While carpet tile for utility applications is likely to continue to gain traction in the residential market, the real opportunity lies in carpet tile as a decorative element. That’s what Flor focuses on, and it has had huge success in urban markets. And it’s worth noting that over 80% of the U.S. population is urbanized, either living in cities or the suburbs that surround them. So if a strategy that works in an urban market, that means it works, whether or not the product ever finds its way into, for instance, small towns or farming communities.
What’s so interesting about residential carpet tile is that it presents the homeowner with a unique design opportunity that never existed before. First of all, for those who are unenthusiastic about the residential broadloom market, with its slowly sinking share, it’s important to realize that carpet tile doesn’t really compete with broadloom. Nor does it compete with hard surface flooring. It’s essentially a customized area rug, in whatever pattern and shape the homeowner desires, a new canvas for experimentation and self-expression that simply did not exist before.
That’s the reason that Flor customers are so bold with their designs. Carpet tile is not a background element that’s better suited to soft patterns and subtle earth tones. It’s in the foreground, as accent pieces, runners, small rugs under coffee tables or as large space-defining area rugs. And the element that really frees the designer inside every homeowner is the fact that designs can be easily rearranged and updated.
While price points are a barrier in the other emerging markets for carpet tile, it’s a different story when sold to homeowners as a decorative element. It can’t compete with entry level broadloom, but it’s extremely competitive with area rug pricing. For instance, Flor has tiles starting at prices that translate to $125 for a 5’x8’. At the higher end, it’s closer to $500 for a 5’x8’. Those are very compelling price points.
It’s likely that in the near future, carpet tile displays will start to appear in retail stores. Some mills will probably approach the market by tweaking their mainstreet carpet tile offerings, while others will come out with lines designed for the homeowner. Either way, carpet tile manufacturers are going to be experimenting with this market, as they continue in their search for more share.
Last month, Shaw Industries announced the grand opening of its carpet tile plant in Nantong, China, which offers Asian markets cradle-to-cradle certified EcoWorx carpet tile. The 210,000 square foot facility was built to LEED Gold standards, with the certification still pending review. The firm is also spending $85 million to build a large carpet tile facility in Adairsville, Georgia, to add up to 30% additional capacity to its current domestic carpet tile production, which comes out of Plant X in Cartersville, Georgia. With over 600,000 square feet of manufacturing and warehouse space, it’s expected to create about 500 new jobs. The firm has also converted one of its broadloom facilities to use 60% of its capacity for carpet tile.
Last year, corporate was the most active commercial segment for Shaw’s carpet tile business. Carpet tile also posted its highest growth ever in hospitality. Some of Shaw’s tile gets used residentially, and the firm is looking into tile designed specifically for the residential market.
Interface posted high single digit growth in 2013. In 2012, the firm’s Australian facility was destroyed in a fire. A new facility was built nearby, and it started producing carpet at the beginning of this year.
The firm’s Interface Hospitality division offers carpet tile for both the guest room and public space sides of the business. Most of its success has been in select service into upper service. The firm believes that its manufacturing presence in four continents will help it serve the global hospitality brands.
The firm’s Flor business was up about 35% last year. Flor offers everything from fashion forward tiles to sisal looks to high performance “hairy” tiles for basements and garages. In addition to its standard 20”x20” tiles, Flor offers rectangles, triangles and half or quarter tiles, and now the firm is also offering pre-designed area rugs made of its carpet tile.
Mohawk’s carpet tile business has been growing strongly, according to the firm, led by the corporate sector. The firm’s Durkan hospitality business, which is largely broadloom, has seen success in both guest rooms and public space with its carpet tile offering, which is generally specified as an alternate.
Carpet tile is also the fastest growing part of the firm’s Aladdin mainstreet division, with most of the activity at mid to lower price points. Mohawk offers both PVC and polyolefin backed tile, with EPDs in place for both.
Tandus, which was acquired by Tarkett in September 2012, goes to market with LVT producer Centiva, another Tarkett acquisition—both businesses go direct, while Tarkett’s Johnsonite goes through distribution. The joint operation is called Tandus-Centiva.
The firm is on a mission to build a multi-surface business, and this year should see a lot more coordination between its carpet and LVT offering. As the firm launches carpet products, it will show coordinated hard surface products and accessories.
Milliken, which was the first U.S. firm to produce carpet tile, is more focused on cushioned carpet tile than most of its competitors, and its TractionBack goes down on the floor without adhesive. The firm’s residential and mainstreet carpet tile line, called Legato, has been on the market for over a decade.
Bolyu, the commercial division of Beaulieu of America, makes both broadloom and tile. Its tile business was up 10% last year, and it currently makes up about 40% of the firm’s commercial carpet business. Last year, the firm came out with its Level line of felted polyester tiles.
The firm’s Hollytex mainstreet division came out with two carpet tile collections last year, and this year it’ll add another nine—some are made with solution-dyed nylon and some with polypropylene.
J+J Flooring, a commercial mill, makes both carpet tile and broadloom in about equal amounts, though carpet tile is growing faster and will probably account for over half the firm’s sales this year. The firm’s Kinetex polyester tile has been a surprise hit in the design community, and the firm is adding to its Kinetex line this year.
Mannington, which makes its carpet tiles in a joint venture with J+J, now generates the bulk of its commercial carpet sales through its carpet tile business. The firm also offers a vast range of residential and commercial hard surface products. Last year, Mannington’s carpet tile business was up by double digits.
The firm also does some mainstreet business through its distribution channel, and that includes a line of carpet tiles.
The big tile producer on the West Coast is Bentley Mills, whose CEO and president, Ralph Grogan, was formerly COO of Tandus. Until 2012, Bentley was part of Interface, but now it’s owned by Dominus Capital. The firm does about $100 million in annual revenues, with approximately 43% of that coming from carpet tiles. Bentley’s hard-backed and cushioned carpet tiles come with environmental product declarations, and, since last November, cradle-to-cradle certifications.
Universal Textile Technologies (UTT) is also getting into the carpet tile business. The firm’s commercial tile program, which is PVC backed, is available to the carpet industry on a commission basis, and UTT is currently working with several mills. Also, the firm has developed a residential tile with an attached polyester cushion. The product was shown at Surfaces by Dalton Carpet Mart.
Another significant player is Masland Contract, which is part of the Dixie Group. About 30% of Masland Contract is carpet tile, which goes mostly to the corporate, retail, hospitality and senior living markets. Last year, Masland came out with a line of more affordably priced carpet tile, called Speak.
Canada’s Venture Carpets is traditionally a broadloom mill, but in 2009 the firm opened a carpet tile mill in Ontario, near where Interface used to produce tile, and it hired back the same people who had worked for Interface. The 20”x20” PVC backed tile is very similar to what Interface produces, and it’s sold in both the U.S. and Canada.
While the firm’s products go to both the commercial and residential market, its strength is multi-family, and that’s where its carpet tile offering has been taking off. In its mainstreet line, Venture includes products designed and colored for the residential market, and has also placed some displays with buying groups.
One carpet player that deserves special attention in the residential market is Stanton Carpet, a Long Island based firm that both produces and sources broadloom and serged and bound rugs, mostly targeting the higher end of the market. Last month, Stanton came out with a new program called Rug Revolution with the tagline: Think Outside the Square. Rug Revolution is 16” squares of solution-dyed micropolyester shag that attach to each other with a very straightforward Velcro system to create area rugs of any size and shape. It offers the homeowner essentially the same design opportunities as Flor.
The introductory collection, called Shaggy Lavish, is a dense and soft offering made up of 12 different colorways, mostly solid color. Stanton has introduced dealer displays that come with 12 squares in each of the 12 colors. The display also features a screen that plays a stylish, captivating ad Stanton produced that showcases the product. In terms of the price, it’s about $399 for the equivalent of a 5’x8’.
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