Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Carpet's shrinking market share - is appearance retention to blame?

Warren Tyler
We all understand that carpeting is losing share of the floor covering business – once nearly 80% its now approaching 40%. We hear all sorts of reasons for this. Those close to the manufacturers put the blame squarely on consumer preferences. I can’t accept this. Years ago the industry used to drive consumer preferences much like the women’s fashion industry does. Since when has good taste and designer expertise been trumped by popular opinion?

The mill marketing people, convinced that retail salespeople (Depot and Lowes?) can’t sell, use focus groups to tell them how to market carpet where women tell them that they shop with their fingers - as if anyone of us couldn’t tell them that. The women say warranties are important so the manufacturers make soft hand carpet with unbelievable warranties.

So now we have a new generation of shoppers who read 20 year wear, unlimited stain and lifetime urine warranties and they actually believe that they can treat carpeting like ceramic, allowing the kids to have juice boxes and eat on the carpeting whereas an older generation realized that carpeting is fabric and should be treated as such.This is the reason that we have lost a gigantic share of the flooring business. Appearance retention was always the hallmark of quality carpeting. Consumers have had it with carpet that “uglies out."

The trend now is toward the new friezes—high-pile, loose, shaggy carpets. Retailers tell me that their reps tell them these loose high pile carpets will perform.
Friezes Carpet

In my discussion groups where I bring up the fact that shags have somehow morphed into friezes -  I hear the term so often that I am giving in to the notion that the mills have renamed shags - the question remains, what happened to the real frieze known as the carpetman’s carpet?

The next issue is construction. I am not a technical guy, but I’ve always been taught the greater the turns per inch (TPI), the denser the carpet and the lower the pile, the heavier the denier, the better the appearance retention  - that’s how long carpeting looks good. Sounds like the original frieze to me. Since when do none of these things matter? Am I wrong and the fiber reps aren’t lying to the retailers that soft, high pile in a loose construction will perform well?

"Inky Dinky Carpet Samples"
Maybe the carpet manufacturers have already realized the error of their ways and to make sure they don’t sell too much they’re only making inky dinky samples from which no one could possibly make a color decision. Once when we were proud of carpet, retailers bought 18” by 27” and 27” x 54” samples for customers to feel, caress and lay down to see the beauty of American carpeting.

We deserve what we get and marketing people in compliance with their masters are seeing these claims turning around to bite them. It’s a good thing that the carpet mills are selling hard surface, because we will continue to lose share in a product that once was a consumer best buy, something that beautified American homes in less time and for less money than anything else on the market.  Rest in peace carpet.

As always, I'm interested to hear your opinions...


Warren Tyler is a professional speaker, retail consultant and educator as well as author of several books, CDs and DVDs targeted toward flooring retailers and salespeople. He is also a consultant with the Floor Covering Institute. Read Warren's column at Floor Covering News.


  1. Perhaps the answer may lie in the better marketing of rugs or "edged carpet" for use on top of hard flooring.

    Certainly in the UK, rugs seem to be having a resurgence given a homeowner's ability to change the look of their room quickly by simply swapping one rug for another.

    When it comes time to sell their house, they have the desirable hard flooring in place and can slap down a brand new fresh rug to style the room and get the house sold.

  2. Warren, I enjoyed your post on the carpet situation. I appreciate you insights on the nature of the product, and how the industry's "product enhancements" have actually reduced consumer demand. I usually see the economic side of the industry changes-homeowners staying in their homes longer, carpet prices becoming less competitive, and a wider array of easier to install hard surfaces products (my daughter replaced carpet in her bedrooms with laminate flooring-simple and cost effective). I look forward to your future posts, and I hope to see you at Surfaces.