In my pivotal conversation with industry veteran Lloyd Cooper from Professional Testing Labs, we dove deep into the significant transformations he’s witnessed throughout his career in flooring. Lloyd underscored how we’re grappling with a decline in seasoned personnel, leading to a resurgence of previously solved problems.
We reflected on times when the industry was more tightly knit and cross-profession collaboration led to superior products and fewer customer complaints. Lloyd also broke down the dynamics of testing various flooring materials and products, explaining how market demands shift the balance between carpet and resilient testing. He highlighted the meticulous testing procedures in place to guarantee product performance, durability, and customer satisfaction.
Discussing the hurdles the industry is facing, Lloyd touched on regulatory changes and the difficulty in finding suitable chemical treatments. He emphasized the necessity of relentless innovation and adaptation to these evolving scenarios.
Above all, Lloyd advocated for a resurgence of the collaborative and educational practices from the past to tackle the current and future challenges our industry faces.
For deeper insights into this vital conversation, read the full interview below.
Bill: I’ve known you and Professional Testing Labs for a long time, and I thought it’d be cool to get your perspective on the industry and how it has evolved over the years.
Lloyd: It’d be hard to do all that in one interview! It’s hard to compress and condense that down. The biggest thing, I don’t want to say that has hurt the industry and has affected communication, is that a lot of the people that I’ve dealt with through the IICRC, CRI, and other companies are no longer there. They’re gone.
There’s a lot of knowledge that has left the industry and the guys that are coming up that we’re dealing with now, we spend a lot of time just educating them on the challenges, from our experience, that we’ve had so they don’t repeat them. We’re dealing with guys now that are having issues that we thought were settled years ago, and now they’ve come back around again.
Bill: I started back when we had channels. We had the DuPont channel, the Shaw channel, the Interface channel, and messaging was everything back then. I know that y’all probably did a lot of testing and work with the manufacturing side and certainly the maintenance side of things. How did things start to, I don’t want to use the term loosen up, but when was there a big focus on marketing that knowledge? We all spent a lot of time talking about performance of fiber, performance of the flooring itself, and the maintenance of it. And most of that was driven by a lot of the testing that you all do. So how has that evolved?
Lloyd: Well, it’s kind of un-evolved. When we were doing this back in 1996, we were surprised at how the carpet manufacturing industry wasn’t really communicating with the service industry, the maintenance side of it. Not only that, but the yarn producers weren’t really involved in the conversation. The manufacturers of this equipment weren’t sitting down and communicating about what type of equipment would meet the needs of the industry.
This goes back to 1996, maybe before that, we were working with DuPont, DuPont Canada, Interface, Shaw, the IICRC, and VCMA and commercial manufacturers, and manufacturers that deal strictly to the residential market. We would have these meetings, and we’d get a meet and greet and just talk about what the challenges were in the industry, and what some of the consumer complaints were.
The biggest consumer complaint was, “I can’t clean my carpet.” The second complaint was,” I’ve cleaned my carpet, but now it looks worse.” It brought us together because of consumer complaints. In the testing facility, we were getting samples that were being removed from homes, removed from commercial installation, sent to our laboratory trying to discover what had happened. Why is this carpet filthy? Why has it changed color? Why does it look like a herd of elephants has walked on it, and we know it’s only been down for six months, so what’s going on?
We brought all that information together and met with DuPont, Allied Fiber, BASF, and the equipment manufacturers. We sat down and we started exploring and investigating what was going on. We got information from chemical manufacturers, as well. What we found was a combination of improper chemical use, a technician that wasn’t properly trained, the wrong type of equipment being used, and no follow up on the other side of it. There were a lot of things that, as the industry was just motoring along, these issues were out there.
Finally, they said, “All right, let’s take a look at this.” Because of that, Carpet and Rug Institute started developing some protocols. We worked with them on dealing with customer complaints, because they would get daily complaints in their call center about issues customers were having with their carpet. Manufacturer call centers were also getting complaints about mainly maintenance issues.
We started looking at all that, and as the industry was evolving and a lot of this got traction, there was a cooperation with carpet manufacturers, yarn manufacturers, and the chemical manufacturers that make the treatment to go on the fiber. We were all working together and trying ultimately to keep the end user happy, to minimize the number of complaints and why they were calling.
Fast forward to today. We’re not having those meetings anymore, but we’re still getting complaint pieces coming in. What’s interesting is that we see a repeat of things that we thought we took care of or addressed 20 years ago, and now these issues are coming back. How do you address that? I think there needs to be another push of people within the industry, different parts of the industry, that say, “Hey, we need to come back together again.”
It was successful 15 years ago. It was really working well. Let’s start this back again and bring alongside some of these younger technicians, engineers, and newly introduced marketing folks. This is where the industry was. This is a problem we took care of, and it looks like we’re headed now into getting close to that again simply because there’s no communication between the industry.
The maintenance issues now seem like they’re coming full circle again, and I just think it’s partly because the communication is not there. We still have coming through our facility every day hard surface complaint samples and soft floor complaint samples. We even get upholstery from time to time.
So it seems there was a time when we didn’t notice a lot of complaints, but now we’re seeing them again, and we know a lot of it is because the floor chemical treatment that was working is no longer available to the industry, per the EPA.
Bill: Can you speak to fluorinated material versus hydrocarbon material? Are you able to speak to those generalities?
Lloyd: Generally, what they’re trying to do now to make it work is limited.
The current chemistries and technology that are available today are struggling to meet what the consumer historically was used to. We’ve been working with Steve Brown and Foaming Floors’ High Energy Foam testing the potential of these new polymer formulations to actually become a barrier, a soil barrier, and then not only that, also release any soil that’s being attracted to it.
It has piqued our interest to hopefully have things develop like that. I don’t think it’d be a mill-applied product, but certainly a post-applied product that will really benefit the consumer, the end user, to have a longer service life of their material.
Bill: Are you in roughly at 50:50 or 60:40 carpet versus resilient testing at this point?
Lloyd: It comes in waves. It would be like 90:10, but then it’ll flip and we’re doing 20:80. In commercial, you can’t beat carpet. It’s just a good floor covering for commercial buildings. So, on the commercial side, obviously we deal with more carpet. Consistently, if you look at it by average it’s close to, on soft floors, I would say less than half, just because of the market surge on hard surface that took place.
We have one room here where all we test is hard surface material, from laminate, to LVT/PVC, to engineered products, a whole list of hard surfaces. We test what office chairs will do to LVT, what mail carts will do to LVT, and that’s on not only the complaint side, but on the manufacturing side because they’re trying to avoid some of these calls.
It’s not that hard surface is something new to the market, but just the sheer volume of it. We see a lot of that simply because there’s a lot of it out there.
Bill: When somebody brings you a product, let’s say it’s a manufacturer that says, “Hey, Lloyd, we have this new product we’d like Professional Testing Labs to test.” Do you create a protocol for them? Do you help them use a standard protocol? What are some of the things that a professional testing laboratory does?
Lloyd: So yes, there’s performance testing. Really that’s what we do, whether it’s hard surfaces or soft floor. We do develop protocols, but as a whole, there’s a lot of standardized testing. Standardized testing for hard surface, we’re doing dimensional changes, when the flooring is exposed to elevated temperatures and reduced temperatures, what happens? Or elevated humidity, what happens to that surface?
We also test on the finishes on the surface. How durable are those finishes? There’s standardized testing for what’s called surface attack, to test what happens to the surface of the covering, whether it’s a wood solids or engineered products, to everything from LVT to VCT. We can investigate what happens to that surface when regular maintenance is done?
Also, we can help a manufacturer identify some pitfalls on their product. Once manufacturers go to market, we’ve done a lot of research for them so that on the end purchase, the consumer will have a good experience with that product. Retailers hate when they get the call because a customer who bought their floor, has some complaints.
We do a whole plethora of testing to meet what large box stores have internal requirements for anything sold in their store. Whether it’s a vacuum cleaner, extractor, the chemicals, the hard surface, the cleaning, the LVT, the engineered flooring, all that has to go through a protocol. They don’t want consumers to have a negative experience.
Bill: I know you are the laboratory that tests the SOAs for Carpet and Rug Institute, and you’ve probably seen a lot of changes over the years in chemistry that manufacturers presented. Do you want to speak to any of that?
Lloyd: There were really no protocols out there, other than what we were doing through AATCC for testing chemicals. With the CRI Seal of Approval program, when the program first launched, we had a lot of failures. The safety requirements are it cannot resoil, it cannot have optical brighteners, the pH can’t exceed 4 or 10 on the scale, and it must not cause an accelerated color change to the controlled carpet.
Also, it has to meet what’s called the resoiling requirement meaning once the product is used, it can’t cause accelerated soiling of the carpet after it’s been cleaned. Lastly, the chemical has to outperform water. We thought, “That’s fair enough.”
We were surprised to see a lot of chemicals, I would say if we looked at fifty chemicals, there were probably four or five that would not clean better than water, for whatever reason. Because of the exposure that was taking place and because of the group that we had in these rooms, chemical guys and fiber manufacturers, everything came to light and we started seeing fewer instances where we have failures.
A couple of years went by, and we started seeing fewer and fewer of chemicals that would not pass the safety or the minimum cleaning requirement. The resoiling issues started dropping and then when the consumer or the commercial guy were using chemicals that were known not the resoil, that helped the independent business owner have fewer callbacks.
There was a shift where it not only helped the consumer, but it also helped the independent business owners. It also helped the industry overall, in my opinion. When consumers are happy, they’re going to have a better opinion about the carpet as a whole. We saw that taking place.
Bill: We’ve talked a lot about maintenance, but you do a lot more than just testing things to maintain these materials. What are some of the services that PTL can do for flooring contractors?
Lloyd: We’ve helped flooring contractors who’ve gotten into a situation where maybe it’s a 20,000 square foot job, a large job, and there was an issue with it and a complaint. They had to pull the flooring up and come to find out, it was properly installed, but the material they used to install it was not adequate.
If you put the wrong adhesive down, depending on the substrate, you’re going to have a product failure. We work with adhesive manufacturers where we do testing in our facility, taking adhesives and testing on different scenarios, whether we modify the pH of the substrate but try to stay as close to what would be a typical installation. We evaluate these adhesive samples for bond strength, tear strength, degradation, whether the adhesive completely breaks apart, and what happens over repeated environmental changes.
We help adhesive manufacturers develop their product to make sure there’s not going to be a future issue with it. There are specialty adhesives made for concrete and some made for other than concrete. And if you use the wrong adhesive, well, there’s going to be a failure.
We work with carpet inspectors and other different types of inspectors who are trying to help the customer to help figure out what went wrong.
Bill: How does the industry get educated? The DuPont fiber reps were some of the most educated people out there as far as educating the design community, the facility manager, and the flooring contractor. We don’t have those anymore.
Lloyd: No. Like I said earlier, those guys have moved on and nobody’s picked up the ball and gone with it. It’s sad to see what’s taking place. I don’t know if it’s because the manufacturers don’t think there’s a need for it anymore? I think there certainly is a need because we’re still seeing complaints.
We’re still dealing with customers that are very unhappy. I think we need to get back to the basics and have someone other than us that can reach out saying, “Hey, we need to have some resources. We need to get back to educating. We need to sit back down at the table and discuss these issues.”
About Professional Testing Labs
Professional Testing Laboratory, Inc. was established in 1988 in Dalton, Georgia the heart of the carpet industry. Our 25,000 square foot facility houses two storage warehouses and seven environmentally controlled laboratory departments designed for specific tests. These tests cover a wide range of products primarily related to the carpet industry as well as underlayments, fibers, fabrics, laminate flooring, wood and resilient flooring. We also are capable of analyzing the performance of vacuum cleaners and cleaning systems commonly used in the industry.