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  • Cecile Corral

Expectations Rise for Rugs

Atlanta —After what for most turned out to be a soft fall and winter selling season in the floor covering category, area and accent rug retailers and suppliers are looking forward to what they expect to be a strong Atlanta International Area Rug market to set a better tone for the New Year's business, starting this spring.

A range of retailers from various distribution channels told HTT they would be walking the AmericasMart corridors ready to shop avidly.

Market represents an opportunity for Home Shopping Network (HSN), based in Tampa, to grow its relatively new accent and area rug category. Kristi Ellis, HSN rug buyer, said she is trying to “expand our assortment on TV and on our website, where business has been very good for us. I'll be looking for a broad range of styles and price points, from hand-tufted to machine-made and from lower to high price points. And I'm looking for new vendor partners.”

One specific focus this market for HSN is the machine-made category, which is still a small component of the retailer's total roster but potentially one with greater promise.

“We have not had as much success with machine made; it's still not as big a category as we can make it,” Ellis said. HSN's bestselling rugs right now are aubussons and anything with intricate design and color, she added.

Omaha, Neb.-based Nebraska Furniture Mart is similarly looking to “bolster our machine-made assortment” while de-emphasizing its hand-knotted offerings, based on shoppers' responses, explained Gary Cissel, director of flooring.

“We're also looking to see new available colors and designs for tufted rugs because our business there is growing at a phenomenal rate,” he continued. “It was one of our fastest growing categories last year. We're looking for all sizes in tufted rugs.” The three-unit Midwestern chain is also looking for new display ideas from vendors as it considers remodeling its Omaha store this year.

Atlanta-based Expo Design Center, a division of The Home Depot, this year will increase its merchandising transition frequency to as many as four times, from just once annually. It currently “switches out” its assortment by 20 percent.

Jeanne Love, soft flooring buyer, said the initiative is aimed at helping the retailer “stay ahead of design trends.”

With the next switch scheduled for March or April, Love said she is attending the market in search of fashion-forward looks that feature “brighter, more vivid colors” and more wool and wool-blend styles.

At mid-tier retailer Kohl's, Mohawk Home remains the core rug supplier, but soft flooring buyer Gary Nickolie said he will be window shopping to see “new design and color and any other opportunities out there for us. My objective in Atlanta is to look and see rather than build a new assortment. I'm not really looking for new vendors unless I see something really attractive, and in that case I'll certainly take a look.”

Nickolie said he hopes at market he will find the answer to a nagging question: “I'm curious to see how contemporary, modern rugs are performing for people who started showing them last year. I have a hunch it isn't everything that people expected. But if it has been successful, I'd like to find out what are the strong points. I'm looking to get feedback at market.”

Contemporary and modern rugs comprise about half of Kohl's current assortment, he said.

Here's a quick answer to that query. Keith Arlinghaus, senior rug buyer for Macy's Home, described his contemporary and transitional rugs as his “hottest, fastest-growing segment right now. Traditional styles, whether they are heriz or whatever else, are all the same to today's consumer. It's very difficult to make a sarouk look different from another one. Traditional is still one of our biggest sides of our business. But contemporary has been attracting a younger customer that doesn't care if the rug is machine-made, hand-knotted or tufted.”

His only concern with the contemporary looks is that they typically carry a more aggressive price point. “You don't want to have to sell two contemporary rugs for every traditional rug you sell,” he noted.

Macy's Home's ideal price point for a contemporary transitional rug is between $399 and $499 for a 5 by 8 or 6 by 9, depending on the construction.

“I don't want to go below that price,” Arlinghaus said. “It's not the lowest I can go, but that or higher, is where I want to grow our business.”

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