Carpet tile is easier to handle than 12’ wide broadloom, easier to install, and is designed to maintain its structural integrity and visual appearance in high traffic areas. Photo of Hook up carpet tile in the Philadelphia Commercial Collection.

If you’re going to sell commercial jobs you need to understand and have a selection of carpet tile to offer. Carpet tile is one of the fastest growing products in the commercial fuzzy floor market. Some commercial market segments (most new or replacement projects) will feature carpet tile and you’ll be shut out of any consideration if you do not offer it.

What follows is general carpet tile information. Specific product data should come from your eventual supplier(s) who will have the most up-to-date info on their specific line, how to sell it, and what is appropriate in your market area.

First, most high quality carpet tile is not 12’, 13’6”, or 15’ wide broadloom carpet that has been cut into 18”, 24”, or 36” squares and backed with PVC or some type of urethane backing. This may have been the case 15 years ago. If a broadloom manufacturer offers this option today, however, I’d run the other way. The problems in trying to turn broadloom into carpet tile generally fall into the category of dimensional stability and pattern anomalies.

The broadloom carpet that lies flat on the floor in a direct glue installation may exhibit edge curl, shrink, or grow, or have a domed effect when turned into carpet tile and installed with pressure sensitive adhesive. Also, the color and pattern that was outstanding in broadloom could become a nightmare because of pattern disruption caused when die cutting broadloom into carpet tile squares. All of a sudden, there are visual pattern breaks or “lines” that appear in regular or random areas. The client is then faced with a visual blemish or defect that he was not expecting which keeps you from getting paid and causes a headache for your supplier.

I have made these points to make the case that you should stay with manufacturers that have a great reputation for their specialization in making high quality carpet tile.  Companies like Interface, Lees, Milliken, Shaw, and Tandus come to mind and there are certainly others. One top carpet executive was heard to say, “No, we’re not in it [carpet tile], and I know enough about it to know that you can lose a lot of money real quick.”

So, why do you need carpet tile? The short answer is that it is easier to handle boxes or pallets of carpet tile than 12’ wide broadloom, easier to install with less skilled people, and will usually maintain its structural integrity and visual appearance longer than broadloom. Carpet tile is more economical and cost effective when all costs are taken into account.

Many clients have been introduced to carpet tile when they got ready to replace old, worn out, dirty broadloom carpet and were confronted by the logistics of what to do with several acres of modular systems furniture. The tear down, movement, storage, and replacement of such furniture may exceed $500 per workstation. And that doesn’t count lost employee productivity during removal and re-installation. With specialized techniques, such as vertical lift installation, the pain of carpet replacement may become relatively painless. I once had a client who candidly told me, “Dave, I’ve got the money to replace the carpet, but I cannot afford the downtime and loss of productivity of my people while the work is being done.” When I told him about carpet tile, new installation techniques, and doing the work after hours, he was thrilled!  So, a big reason to offer carpet tile is to serve the office carpet replacement market.  

With the right carpet tile, the job can be installed more quickly and with less skilled installers. This does not mean there are not obstacles to overcome, but you may not need four journeyman mechanics; rather, one journeyman, two apprentices, and a helper. With carpet tile, you have to lay out the job and snap the chalk lines, but then it becomes more of a matter of organizing the work flow for efficient production. One of our six-man teams installed almost 1,000 yards of carpet tile in a large area in one day!  

Patterns become easier to install. When working with different patterns and solid colors, you can end up with border work, insets, and stunning visual effects quicker than with broadloom. Of course, you still have to be careful in how you install. Once the template for border work or inset design is laid out, then you are working with an 18” to 36” size single tile rather than having to cut broadloom into strips.

The carpet tile manufacturing process is more involved than broadloom. In virtually all cases, carpet tile has a vinyl, urethane, or some other type of composite backing. This may result in hard backed tile or some type of cushion backed tile. For years, the only type of carpet tile you could get was the hard backed variety; if you walked on it all day it felt similar to walking on concrete.

Following the introduction of attached cushion backing for broadloom, manufacturers began to offer a similar type of cushion option on carpet tile. This not only became a popular option, but has become the de facto standard with many manufacturers. The next time you are in one of the large, major airports, look down and you may be walking on a cushion backed carpet tile. A byproduct of the care with which carpet tile is manufactured is that it is usually superior in structural strength as compared to most commercial broadloom -- the total weight per yard may exceed 80 ounces per yard versus half that for broadloom. Under heavy use conditions, carpet tile (at a lower face weight) will still outperform broadloom.  

When adding carpet tile to your commercial products offering consider carefully the manufacturer, their reputation, and product array. Get to know their strengths and how their line may complement what you are already doing with broadloom. Have them make a presentation of their carpet tile offering and compare the dealer price point variances from low to high end. Look for a series of products that provide a variety of patterns, especially small to medium scale graphics.

Lower face weights in tight loops may be a great value; while some will be available in a plain, heather look – the best value for your client may be to spend a little more and have some pattern that will hide soil and seams.

In today’s competitive market, there is usually a price point to fit everyone’s budget. You can suggest some terrific visual accents to your client that will add pizzazz with a small amount of cost. Carpet tile is a way to participate in certain market segments with a competitive product/installation package. One note of caution is that you must carefully do a site inspection and moisture testing.  Carpet tile installation failures have a tendency to be extremely expensive.

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