Dan and Heather Berger of flooring store Donald E. McNabb in Milford, Mich. examine the carpet at a Mohawk SmartStrand display.

The theme of Mohawk Industries' Sixth Annual Floorscapes convention was "Beyond Expectations," though perhaps a more appropriate name would be "Changing Expectations." At the start of the specialty retailer meeting in Hollywood, Fla. in early December, Mohawk chairman and CEO Jeff Lorberbaum cautioned the more than 1,000 retailers on hand that the challenging economic climate was unlikely to change. In fact, he declared that it has become "the new reality."

It is a situation that may leave floor covering retailers particularly vulnerable, given the amount of carpeting made using petrochemicals. The economy has had a far-reaching effect on the flooring industry. Manufacturers have raised prices, with the increases passed along to retailers and consumers. Lorberbaum acknowledged that retailers are forced to come to terms with this new financial landscape. Still, he stressed that the picture is not bleak. "I believe we will all be able to adapt to this new reality," he said. "Consumers are still buying and remodeling. And they're willing to pay more for products that enhance their lifestyles."

Dewevai Buchanan, Mohawk's director of product marketing - hardwood & laminate flooring (left), with Jeff Lubinsky, Mohawk Residential regional vp. Buchanan displays a product from Mohawk's new line of Scotchgard-protected hardwood.

Toward that end, Mohawk used the event to showcase a collection of new high-end products. Chief among them is a line of hardwood flooring engineered with 3M's new Scotchgard Advanced Repel Technology. The stain-resistant treatment - an upgrade of 3M's 50-year old Scotchgard technology - is exclusive to Mohawk floors. The new partnership between Mohawk and 3M has led to the first use of Scotchgard on hardwood.

Mohawk said it has also inked a deal with Wear-Dated, the residential fiber arm of Solutia. An initial launch of 80 carpets - including both new and revamped styles - incorporates the fiber. In an alliance involving Mohawk, Wear-Dated and 3M, the Wear-Dated carpets will also carry 3M's Scotchgard Advanced Repel stain protection.

"Through extensive consumer research, we've found that the top five consumer-recognized brands are Stainmaster, Mohawk, Wear-Dated, 3M and DuPont." Ed Williams, Mohawk's senior vp of marketing, told NFT. "We are all major players, and Mohawk has relationships with all of these brands. It adds value to our floors, and consumers are willing to pay more for them."

Ed Williams, Mohawk senior vp of marketing, said that his company's partnership with Wear-Dated and 3M will lead to greater value for its products.

Mohawk also announced what it considers a major breakthrough: before the end of 2006, plans call for its SmartStrand fiber to be made using a corn-based derivative. As it stands, the fiber, which is created from DuPont's Sorona polymer, relies on petrochemicals for production. Enthusiasm among those on hand was readily apparent. When Lorberbaum announced the news, attendees erupted into applause.

"I love the SmartStrand system," gushed Heather Berger, assistant retail manager of Donald E. McNabb of Milford, Mich., browsing through products on the show floor. "I love the cleanability of the carpet, and now that it's going to be corn-based, it will be more environmentally friendly."

Berger agreed that the economy has created "a changing environment" for flooring retailers and credited Mohawk for listening to retailers and addressing their concerns. "I feel like we're all fixing the problems together," Berger said.

Earl Blane, vp of CarpetMart in Mentor, Ohio, said that increasing big-box competition and a tougher economy have put pressure on major manufacturers to differentiate themselves. He added that emerging products such as Wear-Dated carpets and hardwood protected with Scotchgard are likely to help retailers distinguish themselves from competitors.

"Mohawk has drawn a line in the sand between its products and everyone else's," Blane said.