The First 15 Years - June 2007

By Frank O'Neill

It’s been 15 years now since the premier issue of Floor Focus was published. At that time there were already four magazines covering the floorcovering industry, and a lot of people said “Who needs another magazine in this industry?” 

They were right, too. The industry certainly didn’t need more of the same. But we decided Floor Focus had to be different; it had to go beyond the press releases and the breaking news stories and tell the industry the stories behind the news.

When Floor Focus began—our premier issue was in June 1992—the floorcovering industry was far different than it is today. Carpet was still king, the carpet manufacturing sector was in the early stages of consolidation, hardwood was just beginning its resurgence in popularity, laminate had just been introduced to the U.S. market, and Home Depot and Lowe’s were just beginning to pose a threat to the independent floorcovering retailer.

At the time, Shaw Industries was the top manufacturer in the industry, followed by Armstrong, Beaulieu and Mohawk. Shaw had already begun to make the acquisitions that would make it a $6 billion giant today, but Mohawk didn’t begin its dramatic growth until after it went public that year. By the end of the next year, 1993, Mohawk was number two, after buying in quick succession Horizon Industries, Karastan Bigelow, Aladdin Mills and American Rug Craftsmen. The race was on between Shaw and Mohawk for dominance of the carpet industry first, then the entire floorcovering manufacturing sector.

Another significant change that’s occurred between 1992 and now: the evolution of the American retail floorcovering business. Back then, many independent flooring retail stores were downright ugly, and the reputation of the sector was just as ugly. Floorcovering retailers rated next to used car dealers on the honesty scale of American consumers. But along came Carpet One, Abbey, CarpetsPlus and a succession of retail groups that not only were able to help retailers raise their prices and their profits, but also make their stores and their approach to business much more attractive and professional. 

Another big sea change occurred in 1996, when Shaw, DuPont and Interface began buying their own contract dealerships, nearly putting an end to StarNet, the independent dealer group which started the same year we started Focus. As everyone in our industry knows by now, the experiment with manufacturer owned alliances didn’t work, and we’ve come full circle, with StarNet now the dominant force among contract dealer networks (see the coverage on page 62 of the June 07 issue of Floor Focus.)

Besides the shift of the fiber business from big independent chemical companies to a handful of carpet manufacturers, another significant shift that occurred at the beginning of the new century was the move by Shaw and Mohawk into other products besides carpets and rugs. Both companies began carrying most other flooring products in 2000; after all, both already had nationwide trucking networks that could transport virtually anything from toothbrushes to broadloom to most parts of the country in less than 24 hours.

The latest sea change we’re seeing in this dynamic industry of ours began in earnest last June, and it’s one that’s likely to have a big impact on the editorial focus of the magazine during the next 15 years. That’s the drop in the value of the dollar, which has opened the doors of our industry to manufacturers and importers from every corner of the globe. In the past few years, we’ve seen six European companies open plants in the U.S., and two others, Italy’s Panaria and Germany’s Pfleiderer, make key acquisitions. Asian companies, meanwhile, have been dramatically increasing the floorcoverings they sell here, often enlisting traditional flooring distributors to bring their products to U.S. retailers. In the hardwood sector alone, imports account for over 25% of domestic consumption.

When we started Floor Focus, we never imagined some of the changes that would occur in just 15 years. But as you can see, the changes have been monumental. I have no doubt there will be some equally grand and unexpected changes in the next 15 years, too. That’s what makes this industry so exciting, so challenging to write about. 

Copyright 2007 Floor Focus

Related Topics:Shaw Industries Group, Inc., Interface, Starnet, Armstrong Flooring, Carpet One, Mohawk Industries, Karastan, Beaulieu International Group, Coverings