Lowe's recently announced its acquisition of the Stainmaster brand from Invista, which first rose to fame in 1986. What does it mean for the independent flooring retailer? Ralph Boe, president of specialty chemical manufacturer ArrowStar, LLC, and former DuPont executive, spoke with Dave Foster about what the acquisition means for flooring covering. This is an excerpt of the interview. Listen to the full podcast here.
Foster: Lowe's recently announced that it had acquired the Stainmaster brand. Is there any chance that you were there involved in the Stainmaster development?
Boe: Actually, I wasn't. I was always in the apparel side of the business at DuPont running their Dacron polyester business, before I left in '84 and went into the carpet industry with Peter Spirer at Horizon. Stainmaster really didn't come out until ‘86.
Foster: What does Lowe’s gain from this acquisition?
Boe: If you look at the marketplace, it was broadly distributed at first, from a retail standpoint, and ultimately ended up in a more select group. They had the Stainmaster dealer network that was set up at retail, and from the big box standpoint, Lowe's really embraced the name Stainmaster more than anyone else. Of course, DuPont and Invista were doing a lot of advertising early on, so I think they felt that they benefited from that. They basically got to the point that they were the only big box that was Stainmaster, and they felt that that was a real advantage to them over the other competitors that they had at retail.
Foster: What do you think this acquisition means for the carpet industry and the retail sector? Lots of retailers have various Stainmaster products on their floors.
Boe: I'm not really involved in the whole program at this point in time. So, I don't know how it's going to actually be laid out because you still have all these Stainmaster dealers, independent dealers, who have run with Stainmaster. You've got the mills that have been supporting the Stainmaster brand and manufacturing it. So, if over time it's going to be an exclusive Lowe's product line, then those mills involved will have to take new products to replace the ones they have with Stainmaster, because not everybody will likely supply those lines to Lowe's and still have a sizable enough business if it's spread around too broadly. The carpet mills will quickly be looking at alternatives to running Stainmaster and running under their own brands, but still providing the same benefits that Stainmaster provides in terms of stain resistance.
Foster: Which isn't going to be a problem in terms of the technology. Is it?
Boe: No. I mean, the technology was actually there before DuPont came out with Stainmaster. It was really a chemistry that was used to resist acid-based dying that was used in the industry. They just happened to jump on that idea and market it very well.
Foster: Do you expect Lowe’s is going to put a lot more emphasis on those products going forward?
Boe: After this pandemic started, the flooring industry dropped down about 40 per or more in terms of production in the second quarter of last year. And then as more people were staying home, operating out of the home, they started looking at where they were living and where they were working and started to upgrade and improve the quality of their surroundings. And so, the flooring business really recovered strongly in the third quarter last year.
Today, the carpet mills ... are much more bullish about the carpet business going forward. And I think in the case of Lowe's, that it gives them maybe an edge over their competition to have that brand and have the benefits that that brand is offering.
Carpet mills were caught with lower inventories and have been trying to recover ever since. The businesses remained very strong. The question then going forward is carpet still going to continue at that high level, considering all the effort and movement to hard surface alternatives? Today, the carpet mills, I think, are much more bullish about the carpet business going forward. And I think in the case of Lowe's, that it gives them maybe an edge over their competition to have that brand and have the benefits that that brand is offering in terms of Stainmaster, and also PetProtect, which gives them an edge going into more of the replacement business with higher-end products.
Foster: Is it possible long-term carpet can make a comeback?
Boe: When you put hard surface on the floor, while it may be very durable, there's also a coldness factor about it. Carpet adds warmth in a home or building, reduces the noise level, it’s just more comfortable to walk on and sit on. So, I think when you look at the bedrooms in the home, and maybe more of relaxing areas in the home, that carpet's probably there to stay.
Foster: The release from Lowe’s said that Stainmaster was the most recognized and trusted carpet brand. As you mentioned, it was introduced in 1986. It took the market by storm. What would you say the strength of the brand is today?
Boe: If you look back in the ‘86, the industry was still fairly fragmented at the time from the manufacturer. The fiber companies were in a much better position then to really drive the business. And certainly, DuPont took advantage of that to try and establish sustainment as to brand and really kind of control the industry as the industry has consolidated over the last 40 years. Now, you have just several large manufacturers who are making most of the residential carpet. And along with that, they've established their own stain-resist brands along with Stainmaster. And I'd say today, there's much more dependence on the brand of the manufacturer than there is on a fiber.