Strategic Exchange: Category marketshare is in flux as resilient continues its sweep - May 2021
By Kemp Harr
There’s some major cheese moving going on in the residential flooring business. There’s the Stainmaster news, but there are also a couple of data points in this annual report worth mentioning.
Let’s start by talking about share shift between categories. Last year, the industry sold $5.7 billion worth of resilient flooring and $7.0 billion worth of carpet. Five years earlier, in 2015, that number was $2.8 billion for resilient and $8.4 billion for carpet. That same year, hardwood was in second place and ceramic was in third place. If the current growth trends continue, resilient flooring could pass carpet in total sales by 2027. Granted, last year, the home center channel took marketshare because it stayed open and its mix leans two-to-one toward resilient versus carpet, but we’re seeing a surge in demand for carpet in the first quarter of this year, so perhaps the trajectories could change.
STAINMASTER BRAND BELONGS TO LOWE’S
The sale of the Stainmaster brand to Lowe’s is major news for the carpet industry, and how this plays out as far as who wins is really up to the dealer.
Let’s start by stating the obvious: consumers recognize that brands convey a promise of reliability and performance, and a strong brand makes consumers feel confident they are making a wise decision with their investment. Stainmaster was launched by DuPont (the DuPont red oval is another strong brand), and from 1986 to 1989, $85 million was spent building trust for a performance carpet to the consumer. And while the national consumer television ads stopped, enough margin was built into the price that store-level support-including local consumer advertising-has continued at various levels up until today.
As with any consumer product, when there is no brand and no story of innovation and performance, price becomes the differentiator. Any business where price is the lone differentiator is not sustainable. You have to stand for more than “We’re the cheapest.”
One point that has to be made is that Invista sold this brand because sales of Stainmaster-branded product were declining-and not at the same rate as the decline of carpet but much faster. Starting five or six years ago, the two largest carpet mills slowed the addition of new styles of Stainmaster-branded carpet with the exception of solution-dyed PetProtect, so over the course of normal styling attrition, there were fewer and fewer running line styles of Stainmaster-branded product on the market. Engineered Floors never sold Stainmaster. Even Dixie, which has been a staunch supporter of Stainmaster for decades, started shifting some products to its EnVision brand three year ago. But let’s not forget that in the case of Dixie, it was severely impacted when Invista exited the dyeable commercial yarn business about that same time-vastly reducing the value of its recent Atlas acquisition.
It would be dangerous for me to guess why the two big guys were pulling away from Stainmaster, but it’s safe to assume that it’s because it wasn’t a differentiator for either one of them. I’m sure part of the blame lies with Invista, which was half in bed with Lowe’s and couldn’t carve out a separate value equation for both Shaw and Mohawk.
So who loses? I’d say it’s too soon to answer that question, and where we go from here is kind of up to the dealer. My gut says that the consumer could be the real loser because before Lowe’s started using the Stainmaster brand on all of its carpets, the brand promise stood for durability and lasting beauty. This is where your role as an independent dealer kicks in. In the absence of a national consumer ingredient brand, it’s up to you and your local store brand to carry the flag for honest performance. As you do your showroom reset, set yourself up with a good, better, best offering where the best is truly a performance product.
This past week, if you are a Stainmaster Flooring Center (SFC), you’re having to carefully choose which night you’re going out to dinner with which mill rep. Yes, they are all blitzing the market, making the pitch on why the company name on their paycheck deserves more of your business. Word on the street is that you have up to four months to take the Stainmaster label off your showroom and your samples. I urge you to choose wisely because it’s your store brand that’s carrying more of the promise now.
If you consider Lowe’s a competitor, it would be wise to exit the Stainmaster brand name in your market as quickly as you can. But that doesn’t necessarily mean moving away from nylon 6,6 carpet if you believe it performs. Many of you realize that your RSAs have been programmed over the years to sell nylon 6,6 to those consumers who seek the best carpet and are willing to pay for it.
We’ve heard that Invista wants to continue to supply the industry with nylon 6,6 fiber, but there are other, less expensive options for 6,6, as well. Dixie’s plan is to step right in with its EnVision 66 fiber sourced from Ascend (formerly Solutia) and its EnVision SD (solution dyed) sourced from Universal Fibers. The PetProtect brand was also sold to Lowe’s, so Dixie’s going to call its solution-dyed product Pet Solutions.
Mohawk is still formulating the final details of its plan for independent dealers from a branding perspective and the carpet fiber offering will be some combination of nylon 6 and SmartStrand.
Shaw’s short-term plan is to continue to support all current Anderson Tuftex products using Invista’s fiber and relabel those products to either the Anso brand or a pet-related brand. Long-term, with new styles, Shaw’s plan is to convert those styles to nylon 6 just like it did with its commercial carpet several years ago.
Right before press time, I spoke with Jim Mudd, who owns Sam Kinnaird’s Flooring in Louisville, Kentucky. He’s been an SFC for years, and he’s also a former president of the National Floorcovering Alliance. He said with a smile, “This shift away from Stainmaster is going to force me do something I haven’t done since 2004-replace some of the fixtures in my showroom, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. My sales team drank the 6,6 Kool-Aid a long time ago, and my plan is to shift the Stainmaster-branded part of the business to Dixie, and we won’t miss a beat.”
We all know the consumer buys carpet for the look and feel. They leave it up to the dealer to sell them the products that will perform.
If you have any comments about this month’s column, you can email me at email@example.com.
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