Focus on Leadership - June 2013
Interview by Kemp Harr
Mark Clayton took over as president and CEO of Phenix/Looptex in June of last year. Clayton has an extensive background in soft-surface flooring that includes sales, marketing and product management with players in both the residential and commercial markets.
With this broad pool of experience from which to pull, Clayton is uniquely suited to run Phenix/Looptex, which, as a mid-sized mill, is well positioned in a market where some consumers are looking for alternatives among a consolidated number of suppliers.
To be that alternative, Phenix/Looptex has expanded its offerings to include nylon products, assembled a talented team and focused on styling, even at the lower price points. An Atlanta-area native, Clayton lives in Dalton with his wife, Diane. He and Diane have two children: Kaley, 22, a communications major at West Georgia University, and Barrett, 20, a finance major at Clemson.
Q: How did your past leadership roles prepare you for your current role as president of Phenix/Looptex?
A: I have been fortunate to work with several of the leading brands in the flooring industry—Shaw, Beaulieu, J+J/Invision and Milliken—serving in a wide array of roles in various disciplines. At Shaw, I worked in sales and product management as well as with the company’s retail venture. With Beaulieu, I focused on marketing but also had a stint in sales and oversaw a product management area. At J+J, I served as vice president of marketing. With Milliken, I was residential business manager with P&L responsibility for that business sector, and here at Phenix/Looptex, I’m responsible for the full P&L.
I am appreciative for each of the experiences I’ve had and for all the talented people I’ve been privileged to work with in this industry. Each role has been unique and has helped provide me with the tools needed for my current position as CEO of Phenix/Looptex.
Q: One of the first hiring decisions you made was to bring in Susan Curtis to lead marketing and product development. This could indicate that you plan to put more emphasis on aesthetics and branding. What is your product strategy for the future?
A: One thing I’ve learned throughout my career is that you should always surround yourself with talented people, those who are the best at what they do. We have a talented group of people at Phenix/Looptex, many of whom were here before I came over.
One of the areas we wanted to place additional emphasis and resources on was in the area of product design, development and marketing. Susan and her group are challenged to effectively manage an increasingly complex offering and category in an effectual manner, while never sacrificing on our commitment of being a design leader in the categories in which we participate. Susan’s strength is in beautiful product design paired with a strong economic mindset. Solution-dyed yarns are a complicated and costly category to manage. You need someone who can manage SKUs effectively all the way back to the flat yarns. That’s what Susan did at Invista and with the commercial manufacturers that she’s worked with.
Marketing is an area I’m passionate about. We are committed to developing a more robust marketing campaign and presence and, ultimately, ensuring that our message is reaching the female consumer.
As we continue to evolve as a brand, while we will remain committed to those things that have made us what we are today, you will see an increased emphasis on differentiated product design marketed towards the end user at the point of retail.
Q: Up until last year, most people would categorize Phenix/Looptex as a polyester carpet player. Will you continue to focus on that yarn platform in the future?
A: Although, historically, we have been known as a manufacturer of polyester products exclusively, we diversified about a year and a half ago. In fact, today we are Invista’s largest supplier of carpet featuring the SolarMax solution-dyed residential nylon 6,6 yarn system. So, yes, we will continue to focus on bringing the best PET products into the market today; however, we will also participate where we can add value and leverage our core competency of managing complexity—PET or nylon.
As a company that grew up focused on home center business, we saw the need to diversify and expand. Unlike some of our competitors, whose mindset is solely set on producing as effectively and cost efficiently as possible, we wanted to offer more styling as well. Our solution-dyed nylon product was chosen for Lowe’s Simple Select program because we were willing to do more than our competition from a color standpoint. We offer 27 colors that look like what you see in high-end nylon products.
Q: What is your brand strategy?
A: The Looptex brand is sold exclusively through the home center channel. Phenix will continue to be our independent retailer brand. Ultimately, we hope that Phenix will become the brand that consumers seek out when they shop for carpet. That’s our mission.
Q: While you were at Beaulieu, you developed the core strategy behind launching the Bliss brand as an in-store brand that would differentiate Beaulieu at the point of purchase. Can we expect to see a similar strategy with Phenix?
A: I was fortunate to be the marketing leader at Beaulieu when the Bliss strategy was being developed. I left the company prior to launch, but the team that ultimately brought Bliss to market executed a program that was focused on changing the way products were presented at retail, how the consumer viewed and perceived those products, and, ultimately, addressed the consumer’s needs and concerns. I’ve never given up my passion to change the way the consumer perceives and receives our category. This will continue to be a focus as we evolve and develop the Phenix/Looptex brand.
Q: How does SureSoft differ from other ultra-soft carpets that are being introduced to the market today?
A: Prior to launching this program, we conducted extensive consumer research in various markets across the nation. This research gave us valuable insight into the female consumer’s desire for product that is not only super soft but also offers a balanced construction to ensure performance, as well as meeting her aesthetic desires. Ultimately we developed the SureSoft product, which is well-constructed with incredible tactile softness; beautiful, fine tips; inherent performance; a wide array of color choices; and a more tailored look, not as shaggy or wormy as the competition.
Q: As we watch the smaller carpet mills like Gulistan close their doors and Royalty struggle to transition to new leadership, many wonder what it takes to successfully compete with the two mega-mills in today’s market. What can you offer the market that retailers can’t get from the big guys?
A: One of the things we pride ourselves on is our ability to manage complexity. The company was formed on the basis of servicing home centers, and I have never seen a culture as committed to service as this company. You don’t succeed with Home Depot and Lowe’s unless you do whatever it takes to ship the order. On the Phenix side, customers get the same treatment.
The operation has been built with the most innovative manufacturing assets available on the market today that are specifically designed to handle the complex mix of SKUs required to build the multi-color products that are the signature of Phenix and Looptex today. We build products with trendy colors that complement many of the other upgraded surfaces within the consumer’s home. And there is a culture of service that permeates the organization, resulting in extremely high fulfillment rates.
Q: Stainmaster continues to have brand recognition to consumers, and you launched some Solarmax products at Surfaces. Do you plan to build on this relationship moving forward to fill the void left by Gulistan and the two mega-mills?
A: Stainmaster is a great brand, and, yes, we will continue to look for areas where we can add value together. We have actually been supplying Stainmaster SolarMax products for a year and a half. Most recently, we launched a successful Stainmaster Essentials collection where we have merged the Stainmaster brand with our solution dyed PET for some great, complex multi-color options in both casual and tailored constructions. The color palette within these products is fashion forward, and we find that the consumer understands how to use these to enhance their interior environment.
Q: Will Phenix/Looptex always focus on the residential sector, or do you have plans to compete in the mainstreet and/or contract sectors as well?
A: At this point, our core focus is residential; however, that’s not to say that if we could add value to mainstreet and/or contract by leveraging our capabilities, we wouldn’t entertain that in the future.
Q: What do you do to relax when you find time to get away from work?
A: More than anything, I enjoy spending time with my family. We appreciate being outdoors, and I really enjoy being on the lake. I also exercise everyday. Anything that gets me in the open is great, whether it’s boating, wakeboarding, hiking, jogging or riding a dirt bike. That’s how I wind down.
Q: Are you and your family glad to be living in the Dalton area?
A: We are, although we’ve enjoyed each of the areas we’ve lived. My wife and I are originally from the Atlanta area, so it’s good to be closer to our extended families again.
Copyright 2013 Floor Focus