Mohawk Introduces Airo: 100% recyclable, easy-to-install floorcovering - Jan 2017

By Kim Gavin

Mohawk Industries is launching a new concept in soft flooring that not only breaks the mold on traditional manufacturing methods but, more importantly, offers retailers and consumers new features and benefits. This new technology is called Airo and to make the point, Mohawk isn’t calling it carpet, but a unified soft floorcovering (USF), according to Tom Lape, president of Mohawk Residential.

“Tufted carpet has been made exactly the same way for the past 50 years. Essentially we have a face fiber, a primary backing, a latex binder and a secondary backing,” Lape said. “We literally wanted to think differently about carpet.” 

Mohawk is launching this new 100% PET soft surface matrix to its aligned dealers first and anticipates it hitting stores in the second quarter. So what is it?

Airo is a tufted textile face and primary backing fusion bonded to an attached nonwoven cushion. Instead of being manufactured under tension like traditional broadloom, Airo’s face and primary backing are chemically welded to the cushion without tension, forming both a powerful bond and a dimensionally stable product. The entire product is composed of PET, which contributes to a strong environmental story and recyclability. 

Yet another benefit is flexibility. Because Airo is not constructed with traditional primary and secondary carpet backing joined with latex and fillers, it has a softness and flexibility that makes it easier and faster to install. It also won’t scratch walls and baseboards.

And because Airo isn’t manufactured with extreme tension, it requires no tack strip to install as well as no power stretching or knee kicking. It seams simply with double-sided tape, no seaming iron necessary. Mohawk believes the installation is much simpler and faster-at least 25% to 50% faster, according to Lape, and maybe more.

The technology that marries the face fiber, primary backing and cushion is also unique, and that contributes to the dimensional stability, which eliminates wrinkling and delamination. The product is also hydrophobic, which means moisture is not an issue. It does not have “new carpet smell” and is treated with carpet fresh technology. 

WHY AIRO?
The name Air.O-the way the product is labeled in merchandising materials-stems from what it is and what it isn’t. Lape explains, “Air because of the air quality. The zero means zero smell, zero knee kicker, zero power stretcher, zero tack strip, zero secondary pad.”


THINKING DIFFERENTLY
The product has been over four years in the planning stages in conjunction with Niaga, a division of European-based DSM, which has served as technical partner. “By working together with them, we have come up with a robust technical process, the know-how, the equipment and now, most importantly, the track record of the product that has been down,” Lape says. Mohawk has been testing Airo in installations for over two years. 

Simplicity of material is another cornerstone of Airo. Lape says, “If you look at traditional carpet, you have ten different components that go into carpet and pad today. We said, ‘Pad can be recycled, but it’s a pain. Carpet can be recycled, but it’s a pain and not economical to do so.’”

Making Airo with a single component polymer made it possible to recycle the product mechanically via shredding and either downcycle it into padding or even upcycle it back into carpet. “We have done that-taking 100% of it back into fiber,” Lape adds.

By rethinking how Airo is made, Mohawk has achieved superior tuft bind, flexibility, strength, dimensional stability and reduced overall weight and difficulty in handling. It’s flexible but has all the physical properties of traditional carpet. The 30-plus ounces of extra weight of traditional carpet backing has been replaced with a non-woven synthetic pad, which adds value to the product.

INSTALLS EASIER
“Dealers want more traffic and better margins, but one of the biggest complaints is, ‘My labor is a nightmare,’” Lape says. “’I don’t have enough. What I have isn’t productive enough or good enough.’ So we asked, ‘What if we could help an installer put down 30% to 50% more in a day?’”

With Airo, installation is easier. The product’s flexibility and lighter weight makes it easier to transport, maneuver and put down. Airo installs with a standard double-sided tape on the perimeter of the room and across the seams. The flexibility of the product gives it advantages over stairs and around railings or banisters. The ease of installation allows installers to shift existing furniture aside, install part of the room, replace it and complete the job. Disruption is reduced. Furthermore, it’s possible to multi-task in a single room. And it doesn’t scuff and scratch walls and baseboards. Everything happens with a straightedge, so it’s easy to train new installers to work with it.

Mohawk has developed eight cut-pile products for the initial launch from 40 to 65 ounces per yard. Styling is currently limited to solids, tonals and flecks. Other product styling will come down the road. 

Mohawk has deliberately aimed the product at the traditional retail replacement market and priced the product accordingly. “If you take a garden variety 40 to 65 ounce product and take a comparable value of synthetic pad, which you get with this product, if you add 10%, that’s where we are,” Lape says. “If you look at wholesale, we are going to be in the range of $13 to $18 per square yard. 

“We think this is an experience the consumer is ready for. We’re not looking to place displays. We are looking for retailers who understand this and want to partner with us.”

RETAILERS GIVE AIRO A THUMBS UP
Several flooring retailers who got a sneak preview of Airo at Solutions last December are enthusiastic about the product and its potential. Particularly, they like the ease of installation and the environmental story the product has to tell. And they see it as a great way to get the Millennial generation buying carpet.

“I’m very excited about it,” says Larry Flick, CEO of Richmond, California-based The Floor Store. “I can’t wait for it to come out.” Flick said that in his northern California market, the product’s environmental story will play well, “Not only is the carpet PET, but so is the backing, so it’s literally 100% recyclable.” Flick says there is a lot of talk about converting PET bottles into carpet, but very often PET carpet can’t go back into carpet. “This goes right back. That’s huge.”

Justin Atcheson, CEO of Just-In Floors, based in Atlanta, Georgia, says, “The recycled story is huge. I’m a Millennial, and we resonate with recyclability,” He added that he hopes Mohawk plays that story up in the features and benefits. In Atcheson’s view, the biggest difference between traditional carpet and Airo is the installation piece. “There’s no heat-welding required,” he adds. “On content manipulation, that’s huge. We can move the bed to one side, lay the piece and move it back into place and finish the room. For the remove and replace market, that’s huge. Hopefully, it will improve margins in a category that’s shrinking.” 

Adam Pace, manager with Metro Floors, based in Lancaster, California, says the green story is important for a new generation of consumers. And the installation story makes the product that much more enticing for retailers. “It’s very easy to install, from what we’ve seen,” Pace says. “And finding qualified installers is a problem for the flooring industry as a whole.” Pace believes the easier installation can help attract new installers, as well as lure those who used to install carpet back to the product.

Flick is also excited about the faster installation, adding, “I don’t think we will pay our installers any less, but it will be faster for them, which is an advantage.” The installation training is also said to be simpler, which is a plus. “Another thing is scratching of baseboards,” Flick continues. “We tell consumers up front that standard carpet can scratch their baseboards, but when all is said and done, they are not happy when it happens. This will let us give them five-star service.”

Flick brings up another market he believes the product will serve well: area rugs. “With hard surface taking over the market, we sell more and more custom area rugs,” Flick says. “This product lends itself to that with the ease of cutting.”

Pace also believes the product would be good for the DIY market, even though Mohawk isn’t marketing it that way. “I believe someone who is somewhat handy would install it themselves with little experience,” he adds. “You basically measure and cut it. I would also market it that way. I’m excited to get it into the store.”

The product’s softness will be a big sales tool, Flick believes. “We still sell hand,” he says. “As smart as we all are, no one wants to hear what the product is made of. And this feels like a million bucks. I will absolutely stock it. I’m excited and want to be the market maker in the Bay area.”

Copyright 2017 Floor Focus