And so it was

And so it was

Friday, May 27, 2022 from Floor Covering Weekly

And so it was
My short-term memory might be really awful but I do remember way back quite clearly. Yep, I was eight years old and I remember telling my parents that what I wanted for Christmas was this new magazine. No, not Life nor Look; I wanted Floor Covering Weekly. I mean glossy pictures of woven carpet; mostly made of wool. How exciting! (Okay, that is pure nonsense.)

In about 1951, the carpet segment of our industry was blown up, as it were. We’re talking about the tufting machine. Somehow, some way, this was the biggest transformative event in the history of carpet. Yes, even bigger than “cuts at roll,” or the introduction of new shag carpet, non-heat set to unravel before your very eyes.

Wilton and Axminster weaves were the standard until 1951. It took all day to weave one roll of carpet. Tufting took one hour to do the same. And that’s all she wrote.

The tufting machine in 1951 was our industry’s version of the iPhone. Totally disruptive, totally new systems to color the carpet and backing systems never heard of. It (tufting) created opportunities for entrepreneurs. In this case, when the tufting machine came on the scene, you could say, “build it and we will come.” Within 15 years, there were around 300 carpet manufacturers and 13 yarn suppliers. Remember Bigelow Sanford (who was Sanford?), World, Coronet, Alexander Smith, Atlas, Camelot, Cabin Crafts, Collins and Aikman, Lees, Barwick and about 290 more carpet brands? Today, there are about 18 carpet manufacturers of which the top four control 95 percent of carpet sales.

When an industry grows exponentially, a whole host of young entrepreneurs come on the scene. The award for coolness goes to Gene Barwick and Peter Spirer. The award for visionary, but no smiling, goes to Shaheen Shaheen. And when there were flooring shows in six different cities (Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, Seattle, etc.) the mills would shop their competiton, see what was new and hot and they would race to knock off the style leader for the later shows. Coronet was the best at knocking off a winner. Bud Serentean would rather be a fast second than unsure first. And they were very good at that.

And big hitters at retail were department stores; Sears, Ward and Penneys. They controlled almost 40 percent of carpet and vinyl sales. Today, they control their memories of greatness and no sales.

For almost 20 years, the carpet industry became “beigeified.” Literally 65 percent of carpet sales were from some beige, almost beige, beige over beige carpet look.

What happened next is best understood by watching one Seinfeld episode. By accident, the carpet in his home was slightly ripped and when they tore it up there were beautiful wood floors underneath. And he can hardly contain himself as he runs around his neighborhood yelling that he has discovered wood floors.

That is pretty much what happened. The very customers who had bought carpet and placed them over wood floors were going back to wood floors. And any other kind of hard surface.

More than 12 years ago, we wrote this headline: “When will ceramic tile outsell carpet?” That was provocative but did not happen. Today, the question is “When will LVT (and its cousins) outsell carpet?” That is not so far-fetched.

Here’s to the next 70 years.

Jonathan Trivers, a regular contributor to Floor Covering Weekly, is also the author of the marketWise section of FCW’s Statistical Report. He can be reached by email at [email protected]