As a student of flooring since the early 1980s, I’ve seen a long history of changes in the products, selling techniques, and buying trends of our floor covering customers. It’s kind of like getting a front-row seat watching three decades of history.
As a floor covering educator for 22 years, I’ve been lucky to keep up with the changes in products and new product categories as they came along. If I had not been seated in this role, I can see how easy it would be to get old and complacent, however, I’m still a Trusted Sales Advisor. Keeping up with new products has helped me to remain on top. Not only have I kept up with what is current for the last 30 years, but I have spent countless hours researching the past and what happened in flooring many decades before my time. Let’s look at some of the changes the industry has seen.
Very Old Times
The art of weaving, including hand-knotted and hand-loomed rugs, has roots around the world. Hand-loomed rugs were the forefathers of the machine-tufted carpets seen in the United States today. When the first hand-operated looms were brought to America, they made carpets that were three feet wide, which is why carpet was sold by the yard. A 3x3-foot carpet equaled a square yard. Over the years, 3-foot-wide rolls where sewn together, side by side, by hand to create our first wall-to-wall carpets in homes. If you wanted those hand-sewn wall-to-wall carpets fastened to the walls, installers would take tacks and nail the carpet to the floor near the edge of the wall.
A lesson I learned from Mel, an old-timer salesman I met when I first started to sell flooring, was how the phrase “tackless strip” came about. I asked Mel why he called a tack strip a “tackless strip.” He explained that the original carpets were attached by individual tacks and the installers would put a wad of tacks in their mouths and spit them out as they worked their way along the edge of the carpet to speed up the process. It was called spitting tacks. Then when the process started to use pre-tacked and pre-nailed boards, they no longer had to use separate tacks. Tackless strips were born.
Much later, looms where made wider and machine looms where invented. The idea was sparked from the invention of the cotton gin, which revolutionized the textile industry. If you’re wondering why Georgia became the hub of carpet manufacturing, it’s because it was the hub of the cotton belt where textiles like towels, sheets and clothing were produced. Inventors figured out how to retrofit textile looms to make tufted carpet. Today’s machine-tufted carpets are 12 feet wide, or four widths of 3-foot-wide looms. Carpets offered in 15-foot-wide rolls are simply 5 widths of 3 feet.
Before my time in flooring, and before wall-to-wall carpet became the most popular floor covering used in homes, linoleum held that spot. When I started selling flooring I worked for the flooring retail giant New York Carpet World, which started out as New York Linoleum. Linoleum was the main type of flooring used for about 30 years before wall-to-wall tufted carpet became the popular choice.
In its day, linoleum would be covered by area rugs at least three feet wide. Linoleum had some pretty nasty substances in it and the Environmental Protection Agency made them change the production formula. Today, the formula has been changed, and the product is called vinyl. If your customers come in asking for linoleum, you know they must be pretty old. Well, at least older than I am.
During its heyday, from the 1960s to early 1980s, wall-to-wall machine tufted carpet was installed in approximately 90% of all home flooring surfaces. The other 10% of flooring installed was vinyl or linoleum—unless you had the money to install ceramic tile or sand-on-site hardwood. As the decades passed, pre-finished hardwoods and ceramic and porcelain started to steal a larger percentage of the flooring in a home from carpet. This did not make the carpet manufacturers happy.
A few smart people in the tufting business decided that the buying public should understand what a greater deal carpet was over hard surfaces. Because carpet was sold by the square yard, and wood and tile were sold by the square foot, the end users could not compare the value. The average carpet installed complete for about $27.00 a yard or $3.00 dollars a sq. ft., while tile or hardwood ran about $10.00 completely installed. Carpet was about one-third the cost.
Early in my career as a flooring educator, I had old-timer retailers pleading with me not to have carpet switch over to being sold by the square foot—like it was my decision! Truth be told, today you can sell carpet in any measure you choose as long as you state your weights and measures. It’s taken this old timer a long time, but I finally sell carpet by the square foot. My old friend Mel would be turning in his grave.
So many new products have come to us in the last 25 years. Since Pergo brought us laminate floors, we have soft nylon carpets, glass and metal tiles, luxury vinyl tile, luxury vinyl plank flooring, vinyl strips, better tile backer systems and countless other great inventions—too many for me to put in my short column. As retailers, we have so many great products to offer our customers today. Your job is to learn them and know how to direct your customers to the best product for their given situation. In this new year, be a Trusted Sales Advisor, not an ignorant clerk. As always, thanks for reading.