That layer of cushioning nestled between the carpet and the floor may be out of sight, but it's not out of mind. Recognizing that carpet cushion remains one of the most reliable money makers in the store, manufacturers are working to build the category with a new generation of stepped up products.
At the same time, they are urging retailers to step up and remind consumers that cushion is an excellent way to protect their investment and get greater enjoyment out of their carpet.
On the product side, the enhancements have been significant: greater durability, mold-and-mildew fighting properties and even the visco-elastic treatments (used to ensure that bedding springs back to its original form) are all finding their way into carpet cushions. The increased options mean more chances for retailers to build their ancillary sales by steering consumers up to the better quality products.
And those involved say it's usually not a hard sell. Even if retail dollar volume remains a small fraction of the overall carpet and rug business, for most consumers, the addition of a carpet cushion is usually a no-brainer. For retailers, margins are often in the 100 percent range or better.
"When someone's spending $30 or $40 a yard for carpet, they can see the logic of spending an additional $3 or $4 on padding-it just makes sense," explains Norm Manning, division vice president for Leggett & Platt. "They can see the benefits."
The company's product lines, for example, include Fresh Dimension which is manufactured with an antimicrobial treatment throughout the product rather than only on the surface.
While the buzz in the cushion segment lately has been about antimicrobial and other advanced treatments, the list of advantages is still topped by two benefits: Enhanced comfort for those walking on the carpet and greater durability because the carpet is not pressing against a hard floor day after day. In addition, cushions used under throw rugs are seen as an added safety measure because the rug is less likely to slip out of place and cause someone to trip. There are also sound absorbing benefits that have prompted some retailers to sell cushion under hard surface floors.
"A Few Big Things"
Perhaps most notable, the material now used in some cushion products have been formulated to reduce the presence of allergens and eliminate problems resulting from moisture. There are also efforts to address environmental concerns that accompany the manufacture of cushion using most synthetic materials.
"There have been a few big things to happen in this category," said David Cutler western region vice president of GFI/Foamex, which markets an extensive line of carpet cushion product under the GFI brand name including the popular Sunburst line. He noted that one of the company's top sellers is designed to minimize the damage and odor that can result from cats and dogs that aren't properly house trained.
"We have a product called Passion and it is designed to be `pet proof,'" he said. "That is a very high growth product for us right now."
Cutler, who described carpet cushion products as "the most profitable thing in a carpet store," noted the attractive profit margins should encourage retailers to expand their selection and pay more attention to merchandising.
"One of the biggest mistakes retailers make is they're afraid to show consumers the best carpet cushion products because they are afraid they will blow the sale," said Cutler. "They want to keep it simple."
Like other manufacturers involved in the category, Cutler said the importance of value will outweigh the price tag if various qualities are carefully explained to them. What it requires, he said, is an in-store presentation that goes beyond simply handing the consumer a piece of carpet cushion.
"You have to get people walking on it," he said. "My advise is to create an area where they can walk on the cushion they are considering."
John Morgan, vice president and national sales manager of No-Muv Corp. Inc agrees. He noted that his company's Dura-Hold and No-Muv cushions, which are designed for area rugs, enjoy stronger sales when retailers embrace carpet cushion as an important category.
"Are retailers doing all they can to sell carpet cushions? The answer is No," said Morgan. "We have found that when the dealer gets into it, sales increase dramatically. It is just a matter of talking about the benefits."
For example, he suggested resting a small piece of carpet on top of a cushion sample then asking the customer to use his finger to slide it on a table or desk. "The rug won't move. It will remain in place as it will when it is on the floor. It is easy to see the advantage."
Foam, The Next Generation
A change that has shaped the carpet cushion category is the introduction of more densely constructed foam material. As such, manufacturers point out that measuring the thickness with a ruler is not always the best way to gauge either the durability or level of comfort offered by a cushion.
"We are using frothed polyurethane that was designed for the bedding industry," said Craig Poteet, president of Healthier Choice Carpet & Cushion. "It is more durable and has a higher density. It can be used under carpet and it can be used under laminate flooring as a means of reducing sound."
His says his company sells to retailers as well as construction companies and frequently encounters resistance in both areas. "Builders often have the mindset that they just want the cheapest thing possible and retailers usually don't showcase all the options.
"When you are buying an expensive carpet consumers know that it makes sense to get the absolute best carpet cushion," said Poteet. "It is a mentality. Consumers want quality. The problem is not selling the consumer. The problem is selling the retailer." Lnft
champions the cause
Carpet cushions may generate solid profit margins for retailers and help consumers protect their investment, but the product category still gets scant respect in many corners of the flooring industry.
There is, however, one well established trade organization that is committed to increasing the profile of a segment of the business that few people ever see outside of a showroom. The Carpet Cushion Council has worked to educate consumers and retailers about the benefits of carpet cushion while also dispelling some misconceptions about cushion underlayment.
"It is an area that really helps build customer satisfaction as well as profits for the retailer," said Bill Oler, executive director of the CCC, which was formed in 1976 and has 16 members along with more than 60 associate members. "For too many people it is an afterthought. We are telling people about the various benefits of carpet cushions: It makes the carpet soft and comfortable and it extends the life of the carpet."
In addition to a web site (www.carpetcushion.org), the Council has worked to educate builders and facility managers about sound absorption and other aspects of cushion that are often overlooked. As part of its effort, the organization has made available a series of educational brochures including "Carpet Cushion In Your Home," "Commercial Carpet Cushion Guidelines" and "The Supporting Facts About Carpet Cushion." They are available through the web site.
Oler says one of the major hurdles for the cushion category is the commercial market. "In the residential market, the benefits are well-known but that is not the case with many commercial builders. We work to convince them that it would be a good idea to use a cushion in a place where they might otherwise just glue the carpet to the floor."
The low down on cushion
It is often said that salespeople are reluctant to make anything more than a perfunctory pitch for carpet cushion. The concern is that the customers will think the salesperson is more interested in padding the bill than the floor and back away from the deal all together.
Those on the front lines of the business insist that just the opposite is true. They say there are a number of misconceptions about carpet cushion and that thorough and accurate information is the best sales tool.
Based on information from the Carpet Cushion Council and interviews with others involved in the business, here are some of the most persistent misconceptions-and realities-about carpet cushioning:
MISCONCEPTION: Cushion drives up the cost of an installation and alienates the consumer.
REALITY: It may seem logical to assume that a direct glue-down installation may initially be less expensive. That, however, may change when it's time to remove the worn down carpet. The added work and clean up will likely cancel out the original savings. Also cushion can conceal surface irregularities like cracks and trowel marks and thereby reduce floor preparation. Cushion should be presented to the consumer as a way to protect their investment and ultimately save money.
MISCONCEPTION: Increasing the pile weight of the caret will accomplish the same thing as a separate cushion.
REALITY: Carpet is typically replaced because its appearance fades. Cushion can reduce pile loss and help extend the life of carpet and help keep it looking new.
MISCONCEPTION: All cushion products are basically the same. Since no one can see it, why use a costly product?
REALITY: There are a range of products designed for various needs including a product for pet owners and products for regions that have a higher degree of humidity. Once the benefits are explained , consumers offered a choice of good, better and best, usually opt for the product tailored to their needs even if it is the most expensive product available.
MISCONCEPTION: The carpet itself is enough to absorb most noise.
REALITY: One of the chief benefits of a carpet is its ability to absorb sound but it is significantly enhanced with the addition of a cushion. The Carpet Cushion Council reports that independent sound absorption studies found a carpet with cushion on a concrete floor had more than twice the noise reduction as the same floor without cushion.
MISCONCEPTION: There is no effective way to merchandise cushion in a showroom environment.
REALITY: A selection of point-of-purchase displays is available. Those who have been successful with the category say it is best to let the consumer walk on a section of carpet with and without cushion. Their feet may be your best salespeople.
MISCONCEPTION: It's a boring category.
REALITY: The cushion segment actually generates higher margins than almost any other area of a flooring store. It is also a product that has been shown to significantly increase customer satisfaction.