Fiber Focus: TruSoft - November 2012
Interview by Kemp Harr
As residential carpet becomes increasingly focused on the most cozy and intimate parts of the home, like the bedroom, consumer demand is all about softness, and the soft fibers of a decade ago are now giving way to today’s ultra-soft fibers.
When it comes to soft nylon, Invista is leading the pack with its latest fiber, Stainmaster TruSoft, which at four to five deniers per filament is the thinnest carpet fiber on the market. The firm introduced TruSoft at Surfaces, planning on a midyear release, but it was delayed and has just recently hit the retailers shelves.
To get a better idea of the implications and potential of this new fiber, we sat down with Bob Burton at Tuftex and Paul Comiskey at Dixie, the two firms that have an exclusive on Stainmaster TruSoft for the first year.
Q: How many products are you launching this fall that use TruSoft fiber and how are you positioning these products versus your other new introductions?
Comiskey: We launched two products earlier this year in Fabrica. In early September, we introduced three products in Dixie Home and one product in Masland, with an additional product in Masland to be launched this month. Obviously, with all the talk in the marketplace about soft, these products are getting a lot of attention. We have used special point-of-purchase material to highlight these products. However, they are positioned as part of our overall assortment, not as a unique grouping.
Burton: We will have a total of seven TruSoft introductions and our Shaw counterparts have 11 products. We are positioning these as we do all our Tuftex products—fashion forward items that offer the latest trends in color, style and fashion.
Q: Other than softness, what are the carpet attributes that you have to keep in mind when you develop carpet?
Comiskey: We start with the premise that carpet is one element of creating a beautiful room. It must attract the consumer’s eye, but in the end it must coordinate with and accentuate her furnishings. Secondly, she wants the product she chooses to perform well and be easy to maintain. So we start with color because without the right color there is a low likelihood of any particular carpet being selected. Then we move to texture. Across our residential brands we like to offer a variety of textures to allow the consumer to create the look and feel she wants. Cut pile textures, loops, patterns, plushes—you have to have it all. I believe that softness falls in after those two needs are met. Finally, you have to accomplish the above at a variety of price points to meet the various budgets that consumers have.
Burton: We are very focused on offering the latest trends in color and style. When redecorating an existing home or building a new one, the color of the carpet is very important. It must match all the hard surface selections—wood, tile, stone, granite or slate. Carpet is one of the last items to be selected, so understanding the hard surface trends is very important. We call this approach Color Logic; making sure that our colors complement the other surfaces in the house.
Q: One of the reasons that TruSoft fiber feels so soft is its low denier per filament. What do you have to be concerned with when you develop carpet with that fine a fiber?
Comiskey: There were a number of concerns starting with processing. We were attempting something we hadn’t done before. At every step we had to make adjustments to maximize our efforts. Twisting, heat-setting, dyeing, finishing—all the steps required changes. From the market perspective, the big question was, will performance be compromised? After we worked out the manufacturing issues, we tested the products in both of Invista’s labs as well as independent labs. We are confident that the product we have today will perform as well as the Stainmaster Tactesse and Luxerell products that we have been selling for years.
Burton: Yarn and carpet construction are always important to the quality of the product. This is especially true with this new fiber. Our main concern was to develop differentiated products even if we had to sacrifice some of the softness. At Tuftex, we always try to add more twist or shear a product one more time to make sure it is the highest of qualit y, and that was no different as we looked at TruSoft.
Q: TruSoft is made of nylon 6,6, which has long been regarded as the best performing synthetic carpet fiber. Do you think the 6,6 polymer adds to the fiber’s performance attributes?
Comiskey: There is no doubt that when you start with the best building block, your job is easier. Type 6,6 nylon continues to be recognized in the carpet industry as well as other industries as the polymer that delivers the best performance in a number of end uses.
Burton: We believe nylon is the premier performance carpet fiber, whether it is type 6 or type 6,6.
Q: Tell us about your experience developing carpet with this fiber. Did you run into any specific issues in the process?
Comiskey: There are a number of differences. We had to adjust our twisting and heat-setting. The fiber has to be handled differently in the dye process. Due to its softness, you have to rethink how you shear the product. The softness of the fiber has great consumer appeal, but from the manufacturing aspect the fiber must be processed with smaller tolerances for error than traditional fibers.
Burton: As with any new innovation there is a learning curve as we work to optimize the constructions and styles. We also were focused on offering something not previously represented in the market. Typically, a fiber feels its softest in a solid color texture, but we didn’t want to introduce a typical solid color texture. We worked with Invista to develop some additional fibers that allowed us to develop the differentiated looks. We finalized the collection with a group of multi-dyes, heathers and tip-shears.
Q: Does it make sense to develop loop products with this type of fiber?
Comiskey: If you start with the premise that the consumer starts with color and texture, loops certainly represent a category that has its place. We have placed our initial emphasis on cut pile textures and patterns, with loops as a candidate for future introductions.
Burton: TruSoft makes beautiful loop products—softer to the touch than any previous loop. Loop pile products, again in the proper construction, always make for a good performing carpet. We have already had a very positive reaction to our new tip-sheared loop, Sheer Delight. We have plans for additional loop product in 2013.
Q: The launch of this product was delayed this year. What was the cause of the delay?
Burton: The learning curve. Our delay was intentional because we wanted the products to be signature Tuftex products. So far, the early sale of our products indicates that it was worth waiting to find the right looks and colors.
Comiskey: There were a number of hurdles to pass to make this product commercially viable—to know we had our manufacturing processes in place to consistently produce first quality carpet. We went through a lot of trial and error to reach that point. We weren’t going to introduce the product until we were ready to ship the quality of carpet our customers expect from us.
Q: Certain types of carpet perform better than others, especially in areas like steps and hallways. Are you positioning TruSoft products for use in only certain areas of the house?
Burton: No, we are positioning these the same as all our products. We build quality products regardless of fiber.
Comiskey: We have tested TruSoft and we feel comfortable in using it in areas where we currently use Tactesse and Luxerell. That being said, to place a product such as a frieze in such an area and lead the consumer to think there will be no crushing is a disservice. It’s the combination of the right fiber and construction that leads to performance in high traffic situations.
Q: As an accomplished carpet producer that understands lifecycle, do you think it’s responsible to position this product with a lifetime warranty?
Comiskey: Unfortunately, I think the marketing teams have gotten ahead of the engineers. The history has been that very few people complain about carpet after the first several years. That being the case, the temptation has been to offer longer warranties, as the likelihood of paying is limited, especially after you consider the maintenance requirements to keep the warranty in effect. It helps sell carpet and your expense is limited. However, my personal opinion is that it is misleading and leads to customers who are dissatisfied with their purchase, reducing the odds of them buying carpet the next time they consider flooring.
Q: Considering that every few years carpet fibers take another step toward softness, does this mean we may see softer fibers in the future? How low can the DPF go, and what are other methods of making fiber soft?
Comiskey: There are other things you can do to help make fiber softer. For the most part, these softeners need to be limited in their use, as they can affect dyeing and resistance to soiling. Lowering the DPF is key and I have no doubt that technology will continue to evolve allowing even smaller DPFs to be used. However, I do think we are getting near the point of diminishing returns. The new soft fibers are great to walk on when you are in your house without your shoes. They are great to stretch out on in front of the TV. I think in large degree we have answered the consumer’s need with this latest round of technology.
Burton: Softness is certainly a trend, but we don’t see anything on the horizon that would be significantly softer than what is now available. Softness is an important ingredient in some of our products but not the sole strategy for our new product offerings.
Copyright 2012 Floor Focus