Strategic Exchange: The end of Invista carpet fiber, Diverzify acquires Spectra – March 2022
By Kemp Harr
February was full of news items that impact the flooring business-the two biggest of which were Invista’s timing on exiting the carpet fiber market and the consolidation of Spectra and Diverzify in the commercial flooring contractor space.
Regarding the Invista news, many have known for some time that Koch (which bought Invista from DuPont in 2004 for $4.2 billion) was shifting the utilization of engineered plastics assets toward new markets that offer more upside for growth, but we just didn’t know the timing. In mid-February, we learned it plans to cease production of BCF carpet yarn by early July. That’s right, no more Antron fiber-a quality carpet fiber brand that’s been around since 1969!
This does not mean Invista is shutting down its Camden, South Carolina operation, just the assets that were focused on making nylon 6,6 BCF carpet yarn. The plant will continue to produce nylon 6,6 polymer, as well as textiles for the automotive airbag business.
DuPont couldn’t have timed the sale of its carpet yarn business to Koch any better. In 2004, sales peaked at one billion pounds. At that peak, the firm’s nylon 6,6 fiber was used to produce commercial and residential carpets and rugs, as well as automotive carpet. Volume started to decline in the consolidated carpet market when the three largest mills (at the time), Shaw, Mohawk and Beaulieu, started producing their own carpet yarn. Demand was dealt an additional blow with the great recession of 2008. Today, demand for Invista’s nylon 6,6 carpet fiber is estimated to be around 60 million pounds.
This marks an end of era that was started by DuPont over 70 years ago. For decades, the Antron and Stainmaster brands of nylon 6,6 fiber were recognized by specifiers, facility managers, commercial contractors and even consumers for a commitment to performance, durability, styling and reliability. Some call it marketing and others call it chemical makeup, but many in the industry have long believed that DuPont’s fibers outperformed all the others. As a journalist, I’ll remain objective, but you have to admit that many of the fiber innovations that were developed over the years-starting with nylon itself, but progressing to other developments like the four-hole profile and Teflon stain resist, just to name a few-were developed by DuPont.
As Invista exits the market, the four remaining independent suppliers of carpet yarn are Aquafil, Ascend, Universal Fibers and Syntec. But out of those four, only Ascend and Universal offer nylon 6,6 BCF carpet fiber.
It will be interesting to see who continues to use nylon 6,6 carpet fiber once the dust settles. We know that The Dixie Group is still on board because it believes the fiber performs better, and there are still many retail sales associates that prefer it for their customers. Bentley Mills has been another avid believer in its superior performance. Nylon 6,6 fiber costs more to make, and only time will tell whether we will continue to see demand for the premium yarn system that DuPont developed back in the late ’50s.
Millions of dollars were spent over the years building the Antron and Stainmaster brands, and DuPont was an avid believer in branding as a differentiator. We at Floor Focus have a nostalgic fondness for this school of thought for obvious reasons, but even more so for DuPont specifically. Thirty years ago, when Floor Focus started, the inaugural issue had one sponsor, DuPont, which advertised both its Stainmaster and Antron brands.
DIVERZIFY AND SPECTRA JOIN FORCES
The second big story last month was Diverzify’s purchase of Spectra and ProSpectra from Shaw Industries. Backed by private equity partner Acon Investments, Diverzify is now a $1 billion commercial contractor with 52 locations and a national footprint. Moving forward, the Spectra and ProSpectra locations will still use their respective brand names, and many of the synergies will be with the back-end support systems and sharing of customers. Spectra and Diverzify fit together nicely, as they were of equal size with very little geographical overlap in the location of their service centers.
Jordan Zmijewski will continue as CEO, and Jim Pels, who was the general manager of Spectra, becomes the COO of the combined organization. As a united force, the company will lead 5,000 craftsmen and a sales force of approximately 300, serving more than 50,000 customers nationally.
Those of you who remember the “distribution evolution” back in the early ’90s-when DuPont, Interface and Shaw attempted to consolidate groups of independent flooring contractors-also remember that two of the groups didn’t grow as planned and were disbanded. The thinking at the time was that local entrepreneurs do a better job of servicing the customer than a central-based corporation with its multiple layers of management. As we learned in our recent podcast interview with Jim Pels, Diverzify plans to structure the organization so that strategic decisions can be made locally, and history won’t repeat itself.
The 26 Spectra locations that are now part of Diverzify will also become part of Starnet.
If you have any comments about this month’s column, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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