A change in residential carpet warranties that quietly slipped into the industry on Jan. 1, 2007 will hopefully help consumers get the right cleaning and maintenance for their carpets.
Shaw, Mohawk, Beaulieu, Blue Ridge and Tai Ping Options have all announced that they will tie warranties on carpet sold as of Jan. 1, 2007 to the Carpet & Rug Institute’s (CRI) Seal of Approval (SOA) program for cleaning products and equipment. Shaw has also announced that as of Jan. 1, 2008, it will require that the cleaning work be done by companies holding certification from the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification. (IICRC)
"We think it’s a good move, especially because it shows that the mills take carpet cleaning and maintenance seriously," stated Chris Davis, president and chief executive of the World Floor Covering Association. "We support new cleaning requirements as long as manufacturers take steps to communicate the changes — labels on the carpet, point-of-purchase materials — to let everyone know what’s happening."
Shaw started looking at the cleaning and maintenance issue about 10 years ago, said Carey Mitchell, director, technical services. "In gathering our information, we found that there was no real testing going on to determine the efficacy of cleaning products," he said.
There are three categories of cleaners:
"The three areas weren’t communicating," Mitchell noted. "Shaw had to create its own testing procedure from the ground up. We decided that, as a benchmark, all the products should clean as well as water, and found that about 60 percent of the products we tested didn’t and about 70 percent caused re-soiling."
Eventually, CRI’s SOA program took on the testing and certification of cleaning products and equipment. There are currently 81 cleaning products, 44 deep-cleaning extractors and 25 deep-cleaning systems that are certified by the program.
Shaw’s new requirements will be on residential offerings that already have cleaning specifications, consisting of about two-thirds of residential carpet products, Mitchell said. He explained that Shaw’s traditional warranty on residential carpet required cleaning every two years, either by a professional cleaning company or, if DIY methods were used, approved systems. The change for 2007 is that products and equipment have to carry the CRI SOA (Carpet & Rug Institute’s Seal of Approval).
Mohawk’s residential warranties will also require cleaning with SOA products in 2007. "We are interested in consumer perception of our product throughout its lifetime," said David Duncan, vice president of marketing for Mohawk. "Our brand is successful if the homeowner is pleased not just when the carpet is installed, but maintains her satisfaction for years. This requires ongoing care that is done right. CRI’s standards help make this happen."
Mohawk residential carpet warranties will require a minimum of one professional cleaning every 18 months using products, equipment or systems that carry the CRI SOA(Carpet & Rug Institute’s Seal of Approval). Depending on the level of traffic, family size, soil conditions adjacent to the home and other circumstances, more frequent cleanings may be advisable. "For flooring, consumer satisfaction and brand loyalty are built over the course of many years," Duncan said. "We as an industry have to look at it that way."
In terms of carpet claims, approximately one-third are product-related, one-third are installation-related and the rest are maintenance issues, Mitchell explained. "We’ve tried to put a dollar value on the cost of consumer dissatisfaction and the range runs from five to 50 times the amount of the maintenance-related claims," he said. Many have attributed carpet’s loss of market share in the last decade to consumers turning to hard surface when they couldn’t clean carpet adequately.
"It’s not so much about claims as consumer satisfaction," Mitchell stressed. "We want the consumer to have a good experience with carpet cleaning, equipment and the technician who does the work. Before that can happen, consumers need to have access to information regarding the most-effective cleaning products and equipment. Once the new requirements are in force, the manufacturer, the retailer and the consumer will all win."
There are now approximately 5,000 IICRC-certified firms and 43,000 certified technicians in the U.S., according to Tom Hill, IICRC spokesman, and both numbers are growing rapidly in anticipation of the change to Shaw’s warranties in 2008. To be a certified company, the firm must have at least one IICRC-certified technician on all jobsites, have a business license, carry both general liability and workers’ compensation insurance (where required), have an approved consumer complaint policy, and must agree to adhere to the IICRC code of ethics, he said.
"We are finding out that a lot of cleaning companies are owner operated and, while many of those individuals are IICRC certified, they have never gone through the process of becoming an IICRC-certified company," Hill noted. "Many of the companies did not realize that they needed to register the entire company as well as the technician. The IICRC is now contacting those firms and asking them to register."
In the meantime, the number of classes and attendance at those certification classes is up. The IICRC-certified carpet cleaning technician or commercial carpet maintenance technician class is 14 hours long and taught over two days.
"Shaw chose to do this [change the requirements] in 2008 to give the group ample time to provide coverage," Hill said. "The intent is to reduce the number of claims caused by carpet cleaners who use inappropriate equipment, products or technicians. We are hoping for pull-though from cleaning companies who will be able to promote their qualifications."
IICRC will be aided in its efforts to train and certify technicians by MilliCare, which was approved to offer IICRC courses to its network members in October 2006. "Our customers are asking for this certification — that’s why we worked with the organization diligently to become an approved school," said Stephen Lewis, MilliCare technical director. "Now we can teach these classes within our organization, making them available to each of our individual franchises."