The Olansky Files: 50 Years of Passion From the Subfloor Up
It is impossible to list all of the products, events and people that impacted on all of us. Keep in mind that the industry has achieved greatness because of the huge number of people in all facets: It is a combination of movers and shakers who have gained prominence and the grass roots men and women in retailing, contracting, distributing, installation, manufacturing and floor care/restoration that propelled the industry to mind-boggling heights during the past 50 years. It is the same combination that will propel the industry to heights far beyond its fondest hopes during the coming years.
There were numerous people whom I counseled with in reviewing the events that impacted on the industry these past 50 years. You will find their names listed elsewhere in this section.
Carpet/Rugs/Cushion Events Impacting the IndustryIn the mid fifties there were only a handful of carpet manufacturers - a few dozen woven and even fewer tufters. Tufting really gained momentum in the sixties and soared to dominance - spurred by the growth of synthetic fiber, increasing widths from 3' to 12' and the desire of consumers for the more affordable carpets. The leap from a "weaver" and a helper on a loom that turned out 200 yards a day to automated tufting machines with one technician controlling multiple machines producing thousands of yards per shift brought carpet prices down and value up.
The number of manufacturers grew from a couple handfuls to more than 400 at the high point. In the 90s, came the era of consolidation - mergers and acquisitions to a large degree, attrition to a lesser degree, slashed the number of mills to less than 50. Familiar names bought out remain in many cases - as brand names not as manufacturer names.
The first carpet cushion was made from cattle hair. Tufting brought huge increases in the amount of carpet in the marketplace, and the tremendous ever-growing carpet production exceeded the availability of cattle hair. To meet the demands of the market, new cushions came on the scene - first, hair was combined with rubberized jute then followed by synthetic fiber, urethane, rubber (all of these represent a very small percentage of the total) and polyurethane foam cushions. Today, the overwhelming percentage of carpet cushion business belongs to polyurethane foam - both prime and bonded.
For many years shag carpet captivated the industry and consumers before eventually going out of vogue. Shag's strong appeal resulted in healthy increases in sales. Cheap carpet was referred to in the industry as "$2.95 a yard FHA Shag."
Between the mid 50s and 1970 there were two manufacturer associations serving the carpet industry. One was the American Carpets Institute (ACI) headquartered in New York, and founded by the woven carpet industry. The other was the Tufted Textile Manufacturers Association (TTMA), a long-established group that served a variety of textile producers, including bedspreads and rugs. With the growth of tufted carpet manufacturers, carpet became a large and important part of TTMA. Both associations served their members well. It soon became obvious that the carpet industry associations should be under one roof. In 1970, the two merged under the present name, Carpet and Rug Institute, headquartered in Dalton.
Tufted carpet in the early years was plagued by restretches. Carpet literally grew on the floor, creating wrinkles galore. Some carpet pros performed almost as many restretches as original installations. The problem was greatly reduced when double jute backed carpets replaced single-backed. In the early 60s synthetic (olefin) backing came on stream for primary backing, then for the secondary backing. In time, jute basically disappeared. The addition of secondary backs to tufted carpet gave the needed dimensional stability.
Bonded cushion standards for carpet was a major step forward. Carpet manufacturers got behind the standards and now only warrant their goods when they're installed over these standardized cushions, enabling a carpet to perform the functions for which it is designed. Over the years, technology unleashed a wide selection of backings, including cushion-backed carpet, rubber backed, unitary backs and unibond backings.
Modular carpet expanded opportunities for commercial installations. Early on, some tiles were manufactured for residential d-i-y, a trend that came and went quickly. Modular carpet has achieved great importance and a strong position in the commercial market.
In the 60s, patio carpet hit the market - carpet for outdoors. Technology took another step forward with the developments of indoor-outdoor carpet.
The introduction of DuPont's 501 continuous filament nylon captured attention and strong market share with Lees Lasting Star. One of the attributes of continuous filament fibers was the elimination of pilling problems. DuPont advertising of Stainmaster ranks among the strongest programs in the industry's history. A collector's item became the toy airplane and Little Ricky.
The American Carpet Institute's advertising campaign in the 60s pounded a slogan "Home Means More with Carpet on the Floor." It delivered a strong message to the consumer that carpet was no longer just an expensive luxury limited to just a few but that it was available at a variety of price points and did belong and was affordable for all homes.
A few years back, the CRI launched the "Carpet, it just feels better" advertising campaign. Many feel it was aborted much too soon. We'll never know if it could have had an impact.
Ears perked up when Barwick announced that it was the first carpet mill to reach $200 million in annual sales.
A major breakthrough was the development of flurochemicals that provided soil resistance, stain resistance/blocker features to carpet. The development of trilobal fibers also contributed to soil-hiding qualities of carpet.
The Carpet Cushion Council brochure Residential Guidelines provides minimum recommendations for cushions to use in different areas of the home. The Carpet Cushion Council brochure Commercial Guidelines provides architects, interior designers, specifiers and facility managers with minimum recommended criteria for satisfactory carpet cushion performance in contract installations.
Square foot pricing programs were put forth many times, the last about 10 years ago by the CRI. However, it died before it really got started. A few retailers adopted it, and some still use it in their ads.
The number of Western carpet manufacturers grew to more than 30 by 1970. In 1973, the Carpet Manufactures Association of the West (CMAW) was founded. The combined membership of regular and associate members was 60. This made Southern California the second largest carpet manufacturing area in the nation. In October 1994, the CMAW merged with the CRI.
Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) is a joint industry-government effort to increase the amount of recycling and reuse of post-consumer carpet and reduce the amount of waste carpet going into landfills. Anti-stats, flame retardants and mothproofing are other breakthrough developments that technology delivered to carpets.
Improvements continue to be made in Axminster, Velvet and Wilton looms contributing to the ability to produce woven carpet to meet commercial and residential demand. Advances in equipment and fibers make it possible to produce machine-made design rugs that replicate handmade rugs. They are popular with consumers because machine-made rugs combine style and looks in a wide selection at more affordable price points than hand-made rugs.
The development of appropriate backings and adhesives led to the introduction and wide use of glue-down carpets for the commercial market. In the residential market, glue-down kitchen carpet was introduced.
Technology led to the development of double-glue carpet cushion - cushion glued to the floor, carpet glued to the cushion.
Carpet fiber producers changed and consolidated as did other companies in the industry beginning in the 90s. Familiar names disappeared, new names were born. Among the changes were: DuPont spinning off its carpet fiber business and creating Invista. Then a few years ago, it sold Invista and Stainmaster to Koch Industries. Allied sold its Anso and Zeftron fiber business to Honeywell and this spring Shaw bought Honeywell's Anso and Zeftron (deal expected to close before the end of the year).
Ceramic & Stone Events Impacting the IndustryIn 1955, and for many years after that, ceramics and stone held a negligible position among floor covering retailers, contractors and distributors. In the 90s things changed dramatically with full-line floor covering retailers and distributors taking on ceramics and stone in significant and ever-increasing numbers.
Some resilient manufacturers have added ceramics along with three carpet manufacturers, Shaw, Mannington and Mohawk (which bought Dal-Tile).
Simpler installation procedures, technological innovation in adhesive, grouts and mortars make ceramics and stone a comfortable fit for full-line retailers and contractors. Fashion breakthroughs in colors, styles, patterns and tile sizes/shapes - have been given increased attention by ceramic manufacturers, distributors and importers. Tile and stone associations, manufacturers, importers and distributors have developed programs that fit into floor covering stores and contractors. Clinics and training for installation, products and marketing have been developed and expanded.
Laminate Floor Events Impacting the IndustryLaminate floors gained a strong position in Europe in the 80s, but it wasn't until the early 90s that they crossed the Atlantic to North America. While Pergo wasn't the only laminate floor to initially enter the North American market, its marketing plan led the parade. Laminate floors' rapid success in North America was truly remarkable and sensational and the product continues its remarkable growth.
In 1997, the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA) was formed by U.S. and Canadian manufacturers and importers of laminate floors. Its primary purpose is to create voluntary product performance standards for laminate floors in North America. Manufacturers developing new sizes, shapes, designs, patterns and colors for both residential and commercial have increased sales. Earlier the patterns for the most part replicated wood. Now, other looks are being introduced, including marble and stone. The number of producers has dramatically increased, including carpet and resilient manufacturers who are producing and/or distributing laminate floors. Mohawk is acquiring laminate floor manufacturer Unilin, a deal expected to close by the end of the year.
Distributors continue to strongly emphasize laminate floors in their operations. Many report that their success with laminate floors has filled the gaps created by reduced availability of carpet to distributors.
Close attention given to installation for both the d-i-y and professionally-installed markets continue to contribute to sales growth. It is a floating floor, tongue-and-groove that includes choice of glued joints, glueless click together systems and joints that are pre-glued. The sound problem has been addressed with separate underlayments or sound control foam attached to the product.
Research and development have produced laminate floors with the ability to be installed in a wide array of sites and every room in a home.
Resilient Floor Events Impacting the IndustryFor the most part, in the early 50s resilient floors consisted of asphalt tile, rotogravure, felt base, linoleum, cork, rubber floors and vinyl asbestos tile. Back then resilient did a great job with its performance characteristics, but styling, color, design left much to be desired. Sizes: The biggie in asphalt tile was 9" x 9" (a step up from the previous sizes). Planks: lots of luck. Colors: not much to excite decorators, specifiers and the residential and commercial markets. The resilient industry faced the problem squarely and fashion entered the industry full force.
The industry took the steps necessary to eliminate asbestos from tile and sheet vinyl backings. In the late 80s, vinyl composition tile replaced asphalt and vinyl asbestos tile. Manufacturers, both individually and in concert with the Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI), developed proper, safe methods for handling and removing floor coverings containing asbestos.
Styling changes beginning in the late 50s included 12"x 12" and larger tile, planks and other shapes (October 19, 1957 Mannington began producing 12' rotogravure). Resilient patterns and colors were modernized. It was a start on the right path. Embossed resilient floors (introduced by Congoleum) brought a much needed additional look to resilient floors.
Mergers and acquisitions reduced the number of old line resilient manufacturers. Many names still exist but as brand names of the new owners. At the same time several new companies have come on stream and are doing well. For years rubber was rightfully considered a hard working, utilitarian floor and the segment's aesthetics left much to be desired. Colors didn't go much beyond black and green. In the 80s, technology took a quantum leap forward. Rubber floors were developed that withstood many of the "abuses" characteristics of the commercial environment and more - a much needed, wide choice and variety of styles, patterns, colors and shapes. Aesthetics made a strong fashion statement welcomed by specifiers, designers, commercial end-users and consumers.
Research & development opened the door to the introduction of sheet vinyl floors followed by the debut of inlaid sheet vinyl (Tarkett first to market 12' width). In addition among other advancements along came commercial sheet vinyl, homogenous vinyl floor coverings, no-wax floors, high performance wear layer surfaces, 12' wide sheet vinyl, non rip/tear sheet vinyl and more.
Technology has dramatically enhanced the position of cork floors, greatly broadening where and how they can be used. In terms of aesthetics (patterns, design, etc.) cork has gone from just okay to truly outstanding. It is being used in an impressive and wider array of job sites than ever before.
As the industry increased its attention on maintenance, important breakthroughs resulted for commercial and residential floors. The development of such things as improved wear surfaces, maintenance products, no-wax floors and the like, made resilient floors far easier to maintain. Maintenance equipment and product manufacturers continue to develop even better products, machines and systems for the maintenance of resilient floors used in the commercial market.
Federal specifications evolved and were replaced by ASTM specifications and standards. ASTM Committee F-06 on Resilient Flooring, formed in 1968, now has 155 members consisting of producers, such as floor covering manufacturers; end-users, such as architects and dealers; and general interest members, such as concrete specialists, inspectors and consultants. The committee has created product standards for almost everything in resilient flooring (cork and recycled rubber are two of the last products with standards under development).
In 1986, Azrock introduced the fist mass produced print film solid vinyl, followed by many others after 1989.
Handling a Failure with Class. September 13-15, 1990: Mannington's biggest product launch to that date, Mannington Gold, was premiered at the Disney World Dolphin Hotel. The product was backed by a one year "No questions asked" warranty. When it performed poorly, the Campbell family and the management committed to "do the right thing" and settled all legitimate consumer claims. The product was discontinued in 1994. In 1990, came the re-birth of natural linoleum. Technology opened the door to more of a fashion look to linoleum products, an important addition to its many functional attributes. The development of extruded vinyl and rubberized cove base and trims was a major breakthrough. In addition, cove base, trims, and feature strips are now more than just green and brown colors, but a rainbow of colors, a true fashion product.
A standout advertising program was the Armstrong Circle Theatre which was an avidly watched television show for many years. It not only gave Armstrong a highly visible position among the buying public, it benefited the entire floor covering industry. Now known as the Resilient Floor Covering Institute, this long-established association went through several name changes. It began as the Asphalt & Vinyl Asbestos Tile Institute (AVATI), then the Tile Institute and then the association recognized the importance of sheet flooring and adopted its present name, The Resilient Floor Covering Institute - covering all of the bases.
Wood Floor Events Impacting the IndsutryIn 1955, the number of full-line floor covering dealers, contractors and distributors in the wood business were few and far between. Wood took a hard hit in the late 50s when the FHA approved carpet as a finished floor. The result: wood floors dropped from 22% of the market in the 50s to 2%. Things changed for the better for the wood industry in the 1960s. A strong catalyst for change was the introduction of adhesives to install wood floors. A new generation of wood products, adhesives and finishes has spurred the wood industry to new heights. Today, wood floors represent an extremely important part of the business for floor covering retailers, contractors and distributors.
Adhesive installations eliminate the need for fasteners and wood subfloors. Wood can be installed directly over concrete slabs, which makes wood a popular choice in areas where basement and crawl space construction are not common. Wood floors can also be installed over wood subfloors.
Over the past few decades improvements in finishes have made wood flooring one of the lowest maintenance floors. Routine maintenance requires sweeping and dust mopping. An important breakthrough was the introduction of surface finishes that provide faster dry times, lower VOCs, better performance and better durability. Water-based finishes also reduce the tendency for the finish to amber over time, while aluminum oxide technology brings wood floors into high-traffic public settings.
The introduction of dust containment systems has significantly reduced the dust and debris associated with wood floor installations, repairs and refinishes. Dust control systems make wood floors more appealing to consumers because they minimize disruption of home life.
Advancing technology created new areas for wood with engineered wood floors' entry into the market. Included in these new areas for wood are bathrooms, utility rooms and basements. Along with expanding the market, engineered wood makes flooring more affordable and allows wood manufacturers to increase yields from harvested timber. In 1985, the founding of the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) marked the fist time the wood flooring industry came together as a whole. Members work together to promote and advance wood flooring on behalf of the entire industry. It provides technical assistance 24 hours a day throughout the year.
In 1986, Jim Sweet built the first urethane finishing line for wood floors - after Mannington bought American Hardwood Floors (owned by Sweet and Ron McCracken). Within a few years everyone converted to urethane. The first full-filled urethane wood floor was produced by Anderson Hardwood in 1990.
In 1983, Harris-Tarkett introduced pre-finished engineered hardwood long-strip flooring to the U.S. market - called the first floating installation system for hardwood. Oak remains the majority species in engineered wood products. A few years after it debuted oak was joined by hickory/pecan in 1986 in commercial and hickory and pecan in residential in 1991. The first engineered maple came out in 1989 - and the race was on to introduce new engineered wood species.
The large influx of exotic species in recent years has increased the import market substantially. Exotics' advantage: They are more affordable and offer greater variety, color and beauty.
Floor Care Events Impacting the IndustryFifty years ago the carpet cleaning scene bore little resemblance to today. However, unbelievable growth, changes and opportunities were right around the corner thanks to tufted carpet. It burst on the scene in the late 50s and gained momentum in the 60s. Spurred on by synthetic fibers and new manufacturing methods tufted brought affordable carpet to the masses. More wall-to-wall residential and commercial carpet was being sold than ever in history. It opened the door to growth for the cleaners and manufacturers of tools, chemicals and equipment.
In 1989, the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration (IICRC - founded in 1972 as the IICUC) became a non-profit organization. IICRC is a certifying body and sets standards for the flooring inspection, floor covering and specialized fabric cleaning and disaster restoration industries. It has more than 3,500 certified firms and more than 33,000 certified technicians in 30 countries.
An important milestone took place in 2003 with the beginning of the Connections Convention and Trade Show, which brought together the largest and widest variety of floor care companies/technicians, products, service providers and manufacturers ever assembled under one roof. In 2004, it was even bigger and better; and in 2005, even bigger and better. The Connections Committee and Textile Consultants are most responsible for the show.
The beginning of synthetic fibers presented major challenges to technology: i.e., natural soap gave way to synthetic detergents and the advent of extraction cleaning (steamers). The chemical manufacturers produced such support products as brighteners and pre-sprays. Over the years there has been a continuing introduction of chemicals and equipment opening the door to more add-ons for cleaners.
With the growth of the market, the cleaning industry began to spread its wings and diversify. In the 70s, Lloyd Weaver put a sheet metal housing around a furnace fan, giving birth to the dryer/air mover - considered by many to be the introduction of water restoration to on-location cleaners.
Recently issued is the IICRC "Standard and Reference Guide for Mold Remediation." It establishes mold contamination definitions; descriptions and conditions which when properly applied can assist remediators and others in determining remediation activities or confirm remediation success.
Portable steam cleaning machines, introduced in the late sixties, revolutionized carpet and upholstery cleaning techniques. These machines introduced more carpet cleaners to the industry in a relatively short period of time than ever before. Too, the introduction and acceptance of steam cleaning redefined the way cleaning was going to be done. The tremendous growth of carpet increased by leaps and bounds the number of cleaning businesses and technicians and manufacturers of equipment and chemicals.
The great "steam controversy" with the Council of Better Business Bureaus in 1977 could have been a real industry disaster. The use by cleaners of the word "steam" was attacked by several BBBs (some sided with the industry). A group of Milwaukee cleaners even faced legal problems for using the word steam. Bill Bane of Bane-Clene drew the industry together and led a successful defense that resolved the problem in the industry's favor.
In 1987, DuPont Stainmaster Carpets formed an active linkage of a performance warranty for carpet tied to cleaning and maintenance procedures in a new stain resistant warranty. This was the launch of dialog between carpet manufacturers, fiber producers and the cleaning industry. DuPont, and specifically Bill Doan (at the time with DuPont), started building the carpet value chain that is stronger today than ever.
Dr. Michael Berry's book, "Protecting the Built Environment: Cleaning for Health" caused a paradigm shift within the floor care industry at the same time that the public was beginning to recognize IAQ as an important segment.
In 1975, a new steam cleaning machine came on the scene - the truck mount. It, too, markedly changed and redefined how cleaning is to be done. It further led to the dominance of steam cleaning as we know it today.
In 1991, a major document with far reaching effects was issued by the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration (IICRC). Its title: "Carpet Cleaning Standard." For the first time such a standard was developed by the industry. It truly defines what carpet cleaning and the standards that a cleaner is expected to meet (also valuable in the case legal disputes). Its fourth edition came out in 2002. Other Standard and Reference Guides issued by the Institute include ones for Professional Carpet Cleaning, Professional Upholstery Cleaning and Water Damage Restoration.
Installation Events Impacting the IndustryNow in its twelfth year, the Floor Installation Association of North America (FIANA) was founded to meet the unique needs of manufacturers and distributors of floor installation products and/or flooring accessories. Its stated mission: "With the highest integrity, FIANA members will continue to raise the level of professionalism of the floor covering installation products industry through education and seek solutions to industry issues." A convention and trade show is held annually.
The development of heat seaming in the 1960s was a major advancement that changed carpet installation forever. Many call it the most significant advancement in installation. Improvements in tapes and systems continue to be brought out.
It was in 1993 that the International Certified Floocovering Installers Association (CFI) made its debut. CFI installers are required to pass rigorous hands-on tests in five categories to demonstrate their skills, complete extensive written and oral tests and sign the CFI agreement prior receiving their certification. The agreement states the "installation will be performed in accordance with CFI standards and the manufacturer's specifications."
Floor removal machines for taking up glue-down floor coverings of all types reduced costs and time on rehab commercial jobs.
Pourable floor prep products have made rehab work better and faster. No longer is there a need to demolish the entire structure to get a clean subfloor. Other floor prep products that came on stream were self-leveling and self-drying concrete topping.
Seam welding for homogeneous vinyl and seam sealers for sheet vinyl eliminated a host of problems and helped ensure a professional, acceptable installation.
In the late 50s and early 60s, W.W. Henry introduced the first latex based adhesive for sheet vinyl and vinyl composition tile along with a true-latex multi-purpose adhesive in the late 60s.
The portable binding machine increased efficiency and saved time. Laser rulers and levels made measuring and figuring jobs easy, fast and accurate. In 1982, the CRI, working with a committee of experts, produced CRI 104 for the Installation of Commercial Carpet. It has been revised several times, most recently in 2002. Then in 1990, the CRI, working with a committee of experts, produced CRI 105 for the Installation of Residential Carpet. It has been revised several times, most recently in 2002.
From 1990 to 1992, the Floor Covering Adhesives Manufacturers Committee (FCAMC) undertook voluntary testing for total volatile organic compound (TVOC) emissions from adhesives and sealers. The protocol is a part of the CRI Green Label program.
Miscellaneous Events Impacting the Industry RetailingIn 1955, department and furniture stores were the leaders in floor coverings. The specialty store steadily gained strength and assumed the lead positions by the late 50s. Today, the specialty store is being challenged on some fronts by big box retailers. In the 90s, four manufacturers decided to enter the commercial flooring contract business - with little success. Few such operations remain; the majority were closed or sold. One went into the retail business with several hundred stores. Eighteen months later it sold off that division.
In both commercial and residential the majority of retailers and contractors have gone full line. Those who concentrate on just a few types of products are few and far between. Specialty store buying groups/franchises/alliances with manufacturers and distributors/cooperatives have undergone phenomenal growth in recent years.
Carpet One, founded in 1985, made an impact on the entire industry with its multitude and variety of programs for members, including product, marketing, management, etc. The merger of the Western Floor Covering Association and the American Floor Covering Association resulted in the World Floor Covering Association. By bringing these two organizations together a truly national association was created to satisfy the growing needs of the floor covering industry.
The founding several years ago of the Floor Covering Consumer Credit Association (Flex) - filled a tremendous void for floor covering retailers and contractors. The need was there to increase sales by offering credit, but it was hard to come by. That's when Flex came to the rescue.
MarketsIn 1955, Winter and Summer Markets took place at permanent spaces in home furnishing buildings in Chicago and San Francisco along with a few local markets in hotels. Next, permanent buildings opened in Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle. At the same time numerous local markets were held in hotels. The industry then went from Summer-Winter markets to just a Winter event and finally to none. With the exception of Atlanta's Rug Market, the rest were gone as floor covering markets. Gone, too were the regional and local markets.
In 1990, the Western Floor Covering Association stepped boldly forward to fill the void with Surfaces held at the Las Vegas Convention Center. It started strong and in a few short years became gigantic, drawing exhibitors and attendees from around the world. Surfaces showed that the industry doesn't want permanent mart buildings/spaces or regional/local markets, it wants what Surfaces provides. In 1999, Surfaces was sold to Hanley-Wood (WFCA continues as a sponsor).
DistributionThe distributor continues to play an extremely important part in the industry. Some significant changes include mergers, exclusive distribution replacing dual distribution and fewer distributors with more distribution points. What's happened is that through mergers and attrition there are fewer distributors but there are larger ones with increases number of branches.
Product wise, an extremely important change has taken place - the movement of distributors into full-line products - particularly resilient, wood, ceramics, laminate floors, rubber floors, cushion, accessories, and to a lesser degree carpet.
Financial AidThe Floor Covering Industry Fund was founded in 1980 by the late Walter Guinan along with several prominent industry figures. It is dedicated to financially assisting people who are or have been affiliated with the floor covering industry who experience catastrophic illnesses, severe disabilities or other life-altering hardship. Grants are based on need for expenses such as medical care, medications, medical supplies and other expenses directly related to beneficiary care as well as such basic necessities and food, shelter and utilities.
Indoor Air QualityThe Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI) introduced FloorScore, a voluntary certification program that identifies flooring products that meet stringent air quality requirements for low-emitting building materials. The testing program requires both independent laboratory testing and third-party certification to show compliance with California Section 01350 VOC emissions limits and includes certified site audit and documented control system requirements.
The CRI Green Label Testing Program, begun in 1992, administers the Green testing for carpet, cushion and vacuum cleaners. There is also a Seal of Approval for floor cleaning chemicals.