Tuftex: Beating the Odds in Soft Surface
Tuftex, the premium carpet division of Shaw Industries, is assertively working to put soft surface back on the map. In a landscape where hard surface continues to capture majority market share, the company has beaten the odds, growing sales over the past three years thanks to a revised go-to-market plan.
Doug Jackson, vice president of sales marketing, joined Tuftex at the end of 2014. Together with Michael Belprez, residential product category manager, they have worked to focus the company’s premium brand messaging and streamline operations.
Tuftex has always marketed itself as premium California styling. The company, founded in 1969 by Leo Cook, became a division of Queen Carpet in 1994 before being acquired by Shaw Industries in 1998. When Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway acquired majority ownership of Shaw in 2002, Tuftex enjoyed the benefits of a cash infusion, which opened doors to greater investments in production, processes and people.
Erik Johnson, divisional technical manager, Tuftex, says Shaw has invested nearly $50 million in infrastructure in the division. The investments have expanded Tuftex’s manufacturing capabilities—allowing product designers to dream up and produce products that other manufactures would never touch. “Tuftex will build what others won’t or don’t want to,” Belprez said.
Tuftex, which is known for its prolific color options, has a dye line that can make hundreds of changes a day. The technology enabled Tuftex to launch a custom-dye program that can execute any designer’s vision. The equipment investments have also helped the company invest in better working conditions for its factory workers, increasing longevity and knowledge retention. “Our average tenure is over 18 years,” Johnson said.
The team’s first strategic move was to put sales, manufacturing, product development and marketing under one roof, and moving tufting back to Tuftex’s Santa Fe Springs, Calif., plant allows the company to work more efficiently. Walking through the halls it’s common to see product development, marketing and production managers sharing conversations to execute a more fluid strategy at every level. The company’s yarn mill in Yuma, Ariz., which services Tuftex exclusively, is also close enough that production can drive there to collaborate on projects.
“The Tuftex statement is we are all under one roof,” Belprez said. “Our manufacturing folks, our product designers, our manufacturing, are based here. Not only can you see what’s coming to life, there are new things all the time. The hardest part is deciding what to make or what not to make.”
Jackson and Belprez refocused how Tuftex goes to market, clearly communicating its premium brand messaging—which is infused in every aspect of its business, from construction, color and finishing to styling and merchandising.
“We have always thought of Tuftex as a solid brand on its own, and we are very protective of it,” Belprez said. “Shaw tends to want to make all things Shaw, but you have to come to California to get to Tuftex, and there’s a reason why it’s here: style, fashion, color and design. There is an autonomy we appreciate and protect.”
Belprez compares Tuftex’s market positioning to that of auto makers. If the Shaw Floors brand is Toyota or Volkswagen, the Tuftex brand is Lexus or Audi: “They go after different target markets, positioning and advertising them differently, and the same goes for us.”
The goal, Belprez says, it to have Tuftex products speak for themselves. “I don’t want to have to say it. I want people to look at us and just know that we are the premier division of Shaw Industries.”
When Jackson joined Tuftex, he organized products into three distinct neighborhoods: the Classics collection, the Pet Protect collection and Signature collection.
Classics, known internally as “the start of it,” offers a range of simple and traditional styles that have a sophisticated color palette encompassing timeless neutrals and accent shades. These products are suited for mass distribution and home construction and range from small-scale cut and loop designs to casual loop patterns to everyday cut pile textures. The Classics retail display, built at a height comfortable for most female shoppers, features an ebony finish and holds 18 sample cards and 26 of the collection’s best-selling styles.
Tuftex’s Stainmaster PetProtect collection, referred to internally as “part of it,” includes a mix of patterns, loops and cut pile carpets built to retain texture and offer superior soil protection. The PetProtect display currently comes with crown molding, header and footer graphics, wing cards and holds up to 15 sample cards and 18 products. Belprez and the team are working to revamp the merchandising and marketing of this collection. “To me, PetProtect is lost if you don’t wrap it in their branding, their story. You have to tell the story with all the emotion that pets evoke, and they represent a $60 billion industry.”
The Signature collection, referred to by the team as “the heart of it,” includes an assortment of uniquely styled products and colors that range from luxurious cut and loop patterns, finely finished solids, heathers, multi-colored textures, and lavish shags. The Signature wall display elevates the consumer shopping experience, presenting carpets in an elegant and easy-to-shop manner. Smaller displays and towers are also available for retailers who need to accommodate a smaller footprint.
The repeatable talk track—the start of it, part of it and the heart of it—realigned the brands with clear-cut messaging that would help retailers better target products to the right customers.
“What happened at Tuftex is that we went very random and ala carte,” Belprez said. “We would make these beautiful $35 or $40 products and just put them in a flip card, throw it on a display and say, ‘That’s Tuftex.’ It made no sense from a collection or sales person standpoint.”
In the past, all product was put in every sample vehicle and store owners had their own way of showcasing and merchandising. Territory managers would manage which sample vehicles to order. “We found that this strategy was somewhat diluting the line,” said Lisa Lux, director of product development, Tuftex. “When Mike and Doug started here almost three years ago, what we found was that we had value, low-ounce-weight products sitting next to $100-per-yard products.”
The team did a style out, coordinating volume drivers, neutrals and day-in and day-out styles in one merchandising plan, which was the start of the Classics branding. “At the end of 2016 we wanted to see what dollar volume are we getting off each of these franchises, and it was cool to see it is working,” Lux said. “Classics is a relatively small footprint, but it represents a nearly $60 million in business.”
The reorganization of these collections helped Tuftex better compete against companies like Dixie. “They had three companies that made up that kind of brand structure, but we are one company,” Belprez said. “It’s hard when you are trying to be all things to all people, so realigning our neighborhoods, or collections, transformed how we go to market.”
Lux said she now approaches product development in terms of Classics, Pet Protect and Signature. The team looks at sales analytics and can quickly see which products might not be working and starts product development in those categories to answer market needs.
“Back in the heyday, before the crash when builder business was booming, we had products that for us were 100,000 yards per month, so it’s cool because we have several styles that do that sort of volume today,” Lux said. “It’s nice to see that there is still a lot of carpet being sold.”
A recent cut-and-loop introduction, Colorpoint, is doing very well and allows the company to get closer to woven looks produced with efficiencies and speed of today’s tufting machines. The stair runner business is also booming, particularly in states like Kansas where builders are adding stair runners as part of their décor packages. “I’ve been with Tuftex for 24 years and I think what we used to build was 50 solid color cut piles, but tufting machine technology has really advanced,” Lux said. “You’re using machine technology in the residential market that is commonly used in the commercial market.”
In addition to elevated in-store displays, Tuftex is telling its premium story through social media. As consumers read less and rely on images and video to learn about brands, Jacqueline Suciu, marketing specialist for Tuftex, is leading the charge on creating and sharing beautiful graphics for Instagram, Houzz, Facebook and Pinterest. “It’s amazing when you look at the analytics of what consumers are drawn to,” Suiciu said. “People love to see a before and after,” she added. Tuftex has loyal brand followers on social media who regularly send in photos of their installations.
“We make such beautiful carpets, and as an industry we need to do a better job of educating the consumer to appreciate the craftsmanship that is going into soft surface,” Lux said.