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ITM Launches Braided Rugs

Backed by an India-based flexible manufacturing facility that it owns in a joint venture, fledgling braided rug company International Textile Manufacturers (ITM) is muscling its way into the U.S. marketplace with a broad range of constructions and price points for this traditional rug category.

Heading the effort is Ed Pires, who spent the past 25 years with longtime braided rug company Homemaker Industries. When that supplier shut its doors permanently in October 2007, Pires was serving as vp, manufacturing and product development.

Upon Homemaker's demise, he took a position with Rhody Rugs, a supplier to about 3,000 smaller catalog and rug retailer accounts which was looking to tap into the braided rug category.

"We realized there was going to be a void in marketplace," explained Pires.

What grew from that brainchild is ITM.

Rhody Rug owners Ronnie Agrela and Joshua Miller laid the groundwork for their new company, ITM, with a state-of-the-art factory in the northern Indian city of Panipat, supported by a smaller distribution and manufacturing facility here at the U.S. headquarters.

"It went very quickly," said Pires, evp manufacturing and sales, and also a stockholder of the seven-month-old company. "Agrela spent about two months in India setting up the factory and training our workforce."

The factory came online in October and product started shipping to retail as early as December.

Veteran area and accent rug designer Kea Capel Meachum is working with ITM as a consultant to create the braided rugs. Cotton chenille bedspreads with a contemporary twist will come next.

"Specifically, there's a real vacuum in the braided rug category now, which we feel we are uniquely equipped to fill," Capel Meachum told HTT. "With sophisticated manufacturing now in India, we can access the finest wools, cottons, fabrics and synthetics with an eye toward fashionable, fresh braided and woven rugs, as well as niche soft home products like chenille bedspreads. We're looking at some exciting merchandising opportunities that coordinate whole-room products."

Meachum will work with ITM to develop goods for high-end catalogs, specialty stores and large-format retailers. "Critical is our ability to meet high volume demands from our large-format retailers in the States," she said. "We can answer their needs with proven efficiency. Our facility in India is state of the art."

Added Pires, "We're able to make the cotton chenille and wool braids at very competitive prices because of the access we have to those materials. We also have our own dyeing and finishing facility in India, which also helps our costs."

ITM's concentration is opening price synthetic through high-end woven heirloom-like braided rugs, with chenille bedspreads layered into the mix.

Braided rug constructions include cotton, cotton chenille, 100% wool, woven fabric, polypropylene and poly-chenille styles.

The rug assortment mainly caters to mid-level to upper tier retailers. The cotton chenille bedspreads average a $79 retail price point for a queen size, making them suitable for mass merchants.

In February, ITM participated in the New York market for the first time, showing its new wares in a suite at the Carlton Hotel, near the showroom hub in Manhattan. ITM is doing the same for the upcoming August market, but is looking to lease permanent showrooms by 2009 — both in New York and Las Vegas, Pires said.

Coming soon are some eco-friendly rug assortments. He said that in the next 60 days ITM will roll out a line of 100% recycled rubber polyester braids. Then in August will come organic assortments: bamboo, cotton, soy and charcoal yarns.

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