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Buyers seek safety in mid-priced rugs

Retailers at this week's Atlanta International Area Rug Show will focus on enhancing their core assortments with new moderately priced fashions, suppliers said.

Global instability and an unpredictable economy were, in part, blamed for this conservative approach to the market. But rug suppliers appear to have adjusted, largely targeting middle-tier price points with design extensions of historically popular product lines, some new product offerings and even re-introductions from last market.

"For us, this means our best performers in each category," said Kea Capel, director of marketing and creative services, Troy, NC-based Capel Inc. More specifically, Capel said this includes a $350 wool tufted rug, a $149 machine-made rug and the company's signature cotton chenille and wool blends braided rugs.

"If I was doing the buying, I'd be careful, too," Capel added. "It makes perfect sense. Are we going to war? If so, will the economy suffer? We don't know, so I, too, would wait until the spring market when we will have a better gauge of what this year will bring before I made any buys."

That's not to say retail buyers won't be looking closely at new goods and programs. Clearly, new products and designs will continue to be a significant attraction drawing them to market. But once here, suppliers expected most buyers to home in on refining their ongoing programs and adding new product as needed. This is particularly important for buyers since retail inventories have been running very lean in recent months, in part due to guarded rug purchasing activity during last year's markets.

"Many buyers need to restock after last year and they are coming to Atlanta ready to do business and take on new product," Ed Vairo, director of creative marketing, Saddle Brook, NJ-based Nourison.

Vairo pointed out that any new product commitments will most likely center around offerings that represent "not necessarily cheap and promotional goods, but rather value to the consumer at a fair price level."

Nourison is meeting that need with new additions to its moderately priced Ashton and Hamilton collections of power-loomed rugs retailing for $400 or less.

Trade Am will center its newest offerings on calm, casual and comfortable styles of hand-tufted rugs from China and India and tagging them with very popular price points — $99 to $199.

"We're focusing a lot more on simple, subtle colors and more comfortable designs that are more value-oriented," said Louis Rajy, senior vp of marketing and sales, Norcross, GA-based Trade Am. "The consumer wants simplicity that reflects calm and escape from the agitations of life."

An upside to this return to basics, perhaps, is that suppliers will also have an opportunity to balance inventories, in the process clearing stock and cleaning lines to make room for introductions.

That strategy appears particularly appealing to Los Angeles-based The Rug Market.

"We are reintroducing some of the collections we originally launched last market, like some new shaped rugs that feature hand carving to help break the ice for new and more innovative offerings," said Michael Shabtai, president. "We will also be re-showing some geometric designs in neutral colors and some sophisticated ethnic-like styles.

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