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Rug Suppliers Look to Retailers to Spruce up Assortments

Jaipur RugsJaipur Rugs evokes the Catalonian countryside with its new collection of indoor outdoor rugs, Barcelona. Hand-Hooked of 100% polypropylene.
ATLANTA - The summer always promises sunshine, warmth, and some rest and relaxation, and area rug companies are hoping this year it will also generate new business.
     While the July version of the biannual Atlanta International Area Rug Market is typically slower in retailer attendance compared to the January show, exhibiting area rug manufacturers and importers are cautiously hopeful that trend will shift.
     They argue that while the still-sluggish economy, housing market and unemployment continue to affect business, these conditions potentially pose an opportunity for retailers to expand their soft flooring assortments and stir sales.
     "Although it's usually a slower market for us in terms of traffic, the Atlanta July market looks to be very productive this year with several key customer meetings scheduled throughout the week," said Jason Moody, creative director of Jaipur Rugs. "It's also an important opportunity for us to reconnect with our national sales team, providing training on new sales programs and product introductions."
     Conscious that price "continues to play a large role with several of our buyers," Moody added, Jaipur "continues to respond to this trend with several new, fashion-forward collection introductions offered at popular price points."
     These include synthetic indoor/outdoor varieties that speak to two trends: shoppers' orientation toward value-priced goods and at-home entertainment as an economical alternative to dining out.
     "The outdoor/indoor category is so important right now, and for it we are showing pillows, rugs and mats - products with very wide appeal," noted designer Liora Manne, who is launching several new collections with longtime partner Trans-Ocean.
     "We are excited," she went on. "We are expecting lots of walk-in traffic and new customers. Price is important, however, our product is fashion, and retailers are coming to us for the bright colors and the uplifting designs."
     Linon also has a heftier appointment list for market than it had a year ago, said Steve Mazarakis, who heads the company's rug business.
     "A lot of key players will be attending, and many of the smaller accounts will be coming as well," he said. "The majority will be still looking for price and value and they will be trying to get the best look for their dollar."
     But Mazarakis believes that as long as the housing market continues to be slow, "so will be the home furnishing business as we know it. Where there was once a large market for mid-price- level products, it seems it is now [focused on] high-end for the rich and [lower-end] affordable for everyone else."
     Capel Rugs holds a contrary view.
     "Definitely our mid- to high-end collections are what are selling best, and that is where buyers will be looking," observed Allen Robertson, vp of sales. "We have really strengthened our collections that retail from $999 to $1,499 in the 8- by-11 size, and these represent areas that we have always been successful."
     Robertson said this is the result of an improving economy. "My instinct is that we have weathered the worst of the financial storm. The customers that usually come [to market] will be here ... I feel certain that we will write more business than we did last. Several dealers have shared with us that store traffic is increasing and many need to buy new fresh rugs."
     Capel is presenting 75 new rugs, "with much emphasis on new creative transitional and soft contemporary designs," Robertson added.
     Natco/Central Oriental is also seeing a slight shift in retailers' attention on price, said Jim Thompson, vp of sales and marketing.
     "At the past few markets all of the action has been in the lower opening price points with retailers looking to add value priced rugs to their assortments," he said. "But I am finally hearing that there is a need for better rugs with slightly higher retails."
     He added: "I do not foresee a dramatic up-swing in retail prices, but at least they are going in the right direction ... It is still a matter of quality over quantity, and if vendors make their appointments the buyers who do attend are likely to buy. The retailers who attend the summer markets are driving the rug business in their market place and despite tough economic conditions are selling rugs and, hopefully, buying rugs for the upcoming fall selling season. From a product standpoint I expect to see retails creep up, which is good news."
     Anticipating the typical summer traffic is Joyce Lowe, Nourison's national sales director, rugs.
     "We expect our business to be steady. The summer markets are always slower we do not expect to write more than we did last summer," she said, adding that the company's appointment book for this market is "slightly lower" versus last summer.
     Lowe expects buyers to be focusing on "replacing their best selling styles as well as making a few collections to punch up their assortment."
     Less optimistic is John Shepherd, president of 828 International Rug Co.
     "To be very honest, my expectations are low," he warned. "Hopefully, the buyers that show up will buy. [Our] appointment book is about the same [as last summer's], but I hope we get more between now and market."
     Price continues to be "on everybody's mind," Shepherd continued. "The retailers are not getting traffic. And those [shoppers] who do come in are very price conscience."
     Safavieh is bent on turning "lemons into lemonade" in light of the dampened economy; company principal Arash Yaraghi said the company is "doing whatever we can to create new product that will drive consumers into stores."
     Based on the product previews it has given some retail customers, "we feel that we will see positive growth in all categories from hand-knotted to hand-tufted and machine-made rugs."

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