Retailers know that cushion not only makes carpet look and feel better underfoot, it also enhances the useful life of the floor. To help retailers maximize their profits and customer satisfaction, manufacturers are continually upgrading cushion technology and marketing strategies to enhance soft surface sales.

“During the last couple of years, as hard surface continues to grow, we see more of our premium carpet sold in conjunction with more of our premium cushion,” said David Goldschmidt, director of cushion sales, Mohawk.

Mohawk recently added to its selection of cushions for carpet. In addition to Mohawk’s GuardianCushion, which includes UltraFresh moisture barrier to guard against odor and mildew, Mohawk’s product portfolio features various other cushions, including SmartCushion and ScotchgardCushion. ScotchgardCushion offers the enhanced benefits of moisture resistance and odor control through Scotchgard Protector Advanced Repel Technology. Seven layers of Spill Safe Moisture Guard protect the subfloor from spills and make cleanup easy. This cushion’s warranty is for 10 years of abrasive wear, transferable, and includes stairs.

Mohawk’s SmartCushion is the thickest of the three cushions, adding another layer of softness to carpets. SmartCushion guards against the growth of odors and mildew and also includes a Spill Safe Moisture Guard barrier to protect the subfloor. SmartCushion is also protected by Mohawk’s All Pet Protection and Warranty, which covers all pets, all accidents, all the time. With 90% recycled content, it is environmentally friendly and LEED certified. It adds 20 years to the abrasive wear warranty, includes stairs, and is transferable to new owners.

“We know that a carpet cushion adds more than softness to a floor; it adds protection,” said Brent Emore, Mohawk’s vp of finance, residential and pad and cushion general manager. Mohawk has invested in a new pad facility in MexiCali, Mexico, increasing the company’s capacity and enabling better service to its southwest customers.

Shaw has introduced a new residential carpet backing product this year called Air Plush, which is a breathable, premium foam. The technology lets the foam allow condensation to escape through the surface from the bottom up, while stopping spills from moving through from the top down. In a basement or on a slab, for example, normal condensation vapors can escape but for 24 hours or longer no liquids or spills will go through the top of the surface.

Residential Sales

While all of these advances in cushion technology benefit the consumer, the sales associate plays an important role in educating the customer and making product recommendations.

“We found that when a consumer goes to a home center to buy their carpet, the associate tells the consumer to pick out the pad they want,” said Brian Hankins, director of business development, Shaw. “They show a consumer the options and leave all the decision making to the consumer, and often the consumer picks the better pad. Dealers don’t always understand that the consumer often prefers an upgraded pad, so the dealer may have chosen a pad in the installed price and missed out on an opportunity to upgrade the consumer.”

“When people buy a new car, they upgrade to leather seats, the nicest tires, etcetera, because they want the best. When selling premium carpets, retailers are selling the best. Why wouldn’t customers want the nicest cushion under it?”

– David Goldschmidt

For this reason, Hankins emphasizes that the retail sales associate has a lot of influence with the consumer about the cushion, and eight out of 10 times the recommendation the sales associate makes sticks with the consumer.

“When a consumer buys carpet, they’re not thinking about cushion,” Hankins said. “They are concerned about the color and the product and the style. Then they realize there is another decision to make with cushion. We are trying to make it easier and give them what’s best suited.”

Shaw uses a ladder of value, which is a sales tool that shows the types of cushions available and what the retail value is. “It shows the retailer that if you do an installation with one product you might make this much money, but the more premium the cushion, the more value there is to both the consumer and dealer,” Hankins said.

Shaw started incorporating cushion into its displays about four years ago in an effort to simplify the sales process. “Having a recommend cushion with a particular display of carpet helps them make a smart decision,” Hankins added.

Goldschmidt compares the process of choosing carpet cushion similar to buying a new car: “When people buy a new car, they upgrade to leather seats, the nicest tires, etcetera, because they want the best. When selling premium carpets, retailers are selling the best. Why wouldn’t customers want the nicest cushion under it? Using the analogy gives retailers an opportunity to explain that better cushion gives better carpet performance.”

Leggett & Platt continues to use an educational approach to sell consumers. This spring, the company is updating its Show & Tell campaign, a retail display system it introduced five years ago to help retailers upsell consumers to higher-level carpet cushion. The Show & Tell system, which was first launched as part of Leggett & Platt’s company marketing makeover in 2012, was part of the company rebranding. The display system helped consumers experience the differences between good, better and best products.

“To do this, we invested a lot in research to help us understand what drove consumers in their purchasing,” said Randy Dye, product and marketing manager at Leggett & Platt. “And then we invested more in understanding how to talk to them. What we learned was actually pretty basic; that the consumer wants to have options and they rely on the retail sales associate for their recommendation. The consumer wants and expects their new carpet to feel the very best it can. We really moved the needle because these efforts garnered rave reviews and better profits from our retailers across the country.”

This year, Leggett & Platt will upgrade the Show & Tell merchandising campaign to be even more consumer friendly. “The new design simplifies the interaction for the consumer by reducing the amount of information and instead relying on the most important messaging, which is comfort and durability,” Dye said.

Both Mohawk and Shaw continue to differentiate their proprietary cushion businesses through cause marketing. Shaw Floors and its retail partners collectively donate $0.18 for each square yard of branded cushion purchased to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The branded cushion adds value to Shaw’s branded carpet warranties while also providing awareness and financial support to the hospital. To date, Shaw and its partners have donated more than $6 million to the St. Jude, with donations coming from residential and commercial cushion and carpet sales and run/walk fundraisers.

“The St. Jude cushion has been well received,” Hankins said. “We feel like that’s giving us an identity and a brand and that collection had a good reputation for quality. We hope to build something for our dealer partners that is unique, has value and also gives us all an opportunity to do something that really makes a difference in someone’s life. We started with a couple of cushions and we have enhanced that every year. This is our fourth year with St. Jude and we try to establish an upgrade cushion for each price point: better, best and premium.”

Mohawk continues its partnership with Susan G. Komen to raise breast cancer awareness and funds supporting the mission. The company and its retail partners donate to Komen $0.25 per square yard unit of each Mohawk Group Carpet sold and $0.25 per square yard unit of Durkan Carpet that is registered and sold to interior designers and architects for their clients. Since 2011, Mohawk has donated more than $3.22 million dollars.

In 2016, Mohawk Flooring expanded its support of the 2016 Susan G. Komen 3-Day fundraiser, placing more than 6,000 pieces of SmartCushion under the sleeping bags of walkers and crewmembers in cities across the country. The three-day event held in seven cities, walkers cover 60 miles to accomplish one mission: a world without breast cancer.

Commercial Sales

In commercial environments, choosing the right carpet backing designed to address the specific performance needs of a space—be it moisture, staining or wear and tear—helps to ensure ensuring comfort and visual appeal.

Philadelphia Commercial recently introduced StrataWorx tile, a lightweight polymer composite backing that offers efficiency in manufacturing, transportation and installation. Featuring easy installation and efficiently packaged boxes of 20 tiles, StrataWorx works with the company’s EcoWorx backing to create one backing system. The company also released the Design Smart Collection, the first carpet collection to feature the StrataWorx backing. The collection comes in three 24x24-inch styles and six colors. All are quick-ship and are Green Label Plus certified with a 10-year warranty.

“In commercial environments, carpet tile backing is the number one factor that impacts the durability of carpet tiles in office environments,” said Michael Eckert, director of strategic marketing for the Milliken floor covering division.

Milliken’s open-cell cushion backing comes standard on all Milliken modular carpet collections and extends the lifespan 40% to 50% longer than hard-backed tiles, reduces up to 50% more noise than hard-backed products, and manages subfloor moisture by allowing vapor to wick away through the tile seams before pooling into damaging liquid water.

“Milliken modular carpet collections are reliable site-related solutions,” Eckert said. “They allow dealers to turn high-moisture projects into a competitive advantage with a more cost-effective solution that is guaranteed to remove subfloor moisture, and the issues it ensues, from the equation.”

Dealers can now secure a warranty directly from the flooring manufacturer covering the riskiest parts of installing modular carpet – moisture and floor compatibility. They no longer have to rely on moisture testing and third-party moisture mitigation solutions to solve the problem, both of which come with risk, Eckert added.

Allowing concrete subfloors to dry is one of the biggest hold-ups in new construction projects, and Eckart said using a carpet with the open-cell cushion backing can speed up timelines. Milliken modular carpet can be installed as soon as 90 days after pouring a new concrete subfloor, using a non-reactive standard adhesive. With Milliken Moisture Extreme adhesives, installers can reduce that by half to just 45 days after a new pour.