Call it a revolution or an evolution, the fact is, carpets have been getting softer since the turn of the millennium and they are not going away. In fact, manufacturers noted soft is not a fad or trend but rather a mainstay and needs to be a part of every specialty dealer’s portfolio in order to meet their customers’ expectations of what they will see in the store.
Since their initial introduction more than a dozen years ago, retailers have expressed pros and cons—some based on past experiences with the shag styles of the 1970s, some based on pure perception of what they are seeing and feeling, and some based on actual consumer experiences. Over the years, opinions have swayed both ways depending on the fiber type, the product and circumstance.
Even today, some dealers love them, some hate them, some tolerate them—and all for a variety of reasons. With 2014 expecting to see more introductions into what is now being referred to as the premium or ultra soft carpet segment, Floor Trendsspoke with dealers of all shapes and sizes and from all parts of the country to gather their thoughts on the subject.
The following is what some of them had to say:
Carlton Billingsley of Floors and More in Arkansas
Softer carpet is a huge selling item for residential flooring for our company, and as carpet is still a huge value this has increased the opportunity for greater sales with broadloom.
We do not sell on warranty and work to position the flooring selection with our customers as a fashion item for the home. As such we understand construction of the carpet is a huge part of the customer being satisfied with her purchase, and her determination in whether to purchase from us again down the road.
We work hard to position branded soft nylon as the go-to choice along with mill aligned continuous filament soft polyester. Of our sample merchandise in our carpet department, 65% is a soft yarn—nylon and polyester combined—and the other 35% is a construction for a customer looking beyond the ‘soft’ sell.
Softer carpet sold as a fashion item will usually command a higher profit margin as the customer is willing to bypass the lower priced carpet that is not as soft for a more luxurious look/feel.
As part of creating long-term customer satisfaction, one of our roles as a trusted advisor is to ask questions as to the expectations the customer has of her new purchase, and educate the choices available so an informed decision can be made without long-term regret.
Selling soft carpet requires education and training for the salesperson as well because this is not the same carpet of 10 years ago. As a member of our retail group, FCA Network, we have had the privilege to speak with mill executives, put together an impressive list of merchandise samples and technical assistance to be informed of issues/challenges of which we should be aware. A great example was our recent fall meeting where we discussed the brands/types of vacuums preferred so we could have a chart with requirements from the mills so our sales team can be another solution to our customers.
Soft carpet is a great solution for many homes and technology has allowed a greater advancement to have a more luxurious look/feel with a well-constructed product.
Janice Clifton of Abbey Carpets Unlimited in California
Most of my sales staff are women and they are not very excited about the new soft trend. Although it feels great for hand appeal, it tends to flatten out and show footprints much more than the previous fibers.
We understand it is a trend, but tend to try to find shorter, denser soft carpets that do not look like bathmats after installation. We also try to educate our clients about the possible foot traffic appearance on the softer carpets. At least then they have correct expectations about its appearance.
Our showroom has substantially more soft samples than last year since it appears to be the only new product releases coming out. We get very excited when we get a chance to have a new product without the super soft yarn but they are few and far between.
I’m afraid the soft yarn will cause people to become even more disillusioned with carpet and once again head more toward hard surface.
Once again, we have a bunch of women here who like soft to touch but don’t want it to mat down and show every footprint when we walk on it. We may be isolated in our opinions but it is how we feel. We have no testing results just use of the “put your hand on the sample and see how it looks” results.
Jim Mudd of Sam Kinnaird’s Flooring in Kentucky
Personally I like all the new super soft carpets because it is great to talk about and the consumer can feel the softness with her hands. Both the salesperson and the consumer get excited.
The problem is, the consumers don’t walk on it with their hands.
Currently about 25% of our cut samples on the floor is “super” soft—[Mohawk’s] Silk, [Invista’s] TruSoft, [Shaw’s] Carress—and 25% of our floor is soft—[Invista’s] Luxerell, SolarMax and Tactesse.
We feel that Luxerell is soft enough and has a long track record of success so we really push that first.
The problems we have had with the super soft besides no track record are vacuuming issues—although they appear to have mostly gone away. Educating the consumer has [certainly] helped.
Tracking is another major issue that most consumers don’t understand until the product is installed.
Finally, when the consumer walks on these super soft products, they are so soft the carpet “bottoms out” so the consumer thinks we didn’t sell them a heavy enough carpet and/or pad.
Jon Pierce of Pierce Flooring & Design in Montana
I am in favor of selling and promoting soft carpet. It is what the customers are gravitating to these days. It is unique that it also falls in the middle of the demand for “value” products, meaning the surge in value-based polyesters. Our showroom floor of carpet samples is ever-increasing with soft offerings.
The challenge with our industry is a failure to be 100% transparent with the end results of some or all fibers and how they are constructed. The industry in general makes false promises, which in the end leads consumers away from carpet all together. Ask 1,000 homeowners what their floor of choice is today and I will wager they want wood or some sort of hard surface as opposed to carpet.
Part of the reason is that is where fashion has led them and the other is a lack of confidence in performance and over-stated warranties that hold little or no water. Tell and inform the customers that in general soft fibers may be more delicate and require additional attention to help them maintain their look and feel.
When I wait on customers who are shopping for carpet, once I get past the “get to know me” stage and discover these people have not purchased carpet for some time, I set out to re-educate them with a little humorous twist. I tell them when I die my tombstone will say, “Jon Pierce…he was short, dense and tightly twisted.” This obviously gets their attention and curiosity.
I go on to explain the shorter, more dense, and tighter twisted carpet is constructed, the longer it will look and perform better. I then show them commercial carpet and state most people don’t want that in their living room. I then state the longer the fiber gets, the looser it is constructed, and the less twist it has will result in a more luxurious feel.
I state, “You are giving up a little practicality for a little luxury.” They get that. Common sense applied. That is what the industry needs to be telling its customers.
As for soft carpet, which I am in favor of, we need to continue telling the consumer, with common sense, what needs to be done to maintain the integrity of the carpet, all while educating her this carpet—any carpet—is one of the most physically worn surfaces in their home. It may not wear out but it will change in its appearance over time—i.e., ugly out. Soft fibers need to be marketed with the delicacy of cashmere, silk, suede, and the likes of all delicate fabrics.
Steve Weisberg of Crest Flooring in Pennsylvania
I cannot be against the softer carpets because customers tend to love them, however, I am not crazy about having to present a potential caveat to the end user about the possibility of needing a different vacuum cleaner prior to closing the sale.
My staff sells a larger percentage of the lower pile products vs. the real thick 80- or 100-oz plush. The salesperson has to provide a bit of romance when selling these products, but the truth is that when a customer feels it she can’t help but fall in love.
Our showrooms primarily feature Shaw’s Caress as well as both Tuftex and Shaw products made with Invista’s TruSoft. The Caress display itself is fantastic and basically draws customers to it. We also show and sell Mohawk’s SmartStrand Silk carpets.
To date we have experienced no problems with any of the orders we’ve sold and that includes all three fibers. We do mention the vacuum situation and try and make it a positive rather than a negative.
The revolution to soft fiber is here to stay. I have no doubt the fiber will perform but you really have to be proactive with your customer by explaining how it will ‘look’ when put to use—especially the heavier, higher pile plush constructions.
(Editor’s note: Weisberg shared knowledge of a “softer more premium polyester fiber, which will be positioned at the top of the quality scale.” Because this product was not officially launched as of press time we included Weisberg’s general thoughts on it while editing out company and product names.)
To me, this makes for an excellent selling base for both polyesters and nylons. In polyester, you will have [basic PET all the way up to premium] while on the nylon side, you have generic nylon [and the various stages of soft and super soft]. This makes for an easy assessment of fiber vs. performance and budget.
When I was explaining all of the fiber hierarchy to my company, one of my sales staff equated it to gasoline: 80 octane, 90 octane, 93 octane and finally 100 octane used in aviation and racing. This was an excellent analogy that a customer will easily understand and one that my entire staff will use to help a customer truly understand what they’re getting.