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Atlanta Rug Market Beckons Buyers

Coming off what proved to be a healthy year for the rug category and looking ahead to a new year predicted to keep the industry in shape, retailers are marching to the Atlanta International Area Rug market open to buy. Modern looks, higher price points, and better quality levels are topping their shopping lists.

Textile buyer Kristi Ellis of St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Home Shopping Network is walking the market in search of new color trends. "I am mostly shopping for the most updated color and style trends," she said. "HSN wants to expand the offering to a more modern color palette."

Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based Kohl's will be looking for rugs that can retail for $399 and higher, said Gary Nickolie, buyer. Even though, as he added, "Area rugs sell for color and design first, and price second. If you show the right product, they'll buy it. A $50 or $100 difference won't make a difference."

He said rugs that can sell at higher prices include 1-million-point, space-dyed nylon woven varieties, which speaks to a trend in the availability of better quality machine-made and synthetic rugs.

"Machine-mades are very strong for us," agreed Jeanne Love, product merchant, soft flooring, for Atlanta-based Expo Design Center, a Home Depot division. "Machine-mades and synthetics are becoming more and more beautiful and competing with hand knots."

That is not to say the hand-knotted rug customer isn't still out there, she said. "She is, and she is looking for the construction and an updated palette and look," Love continued.

That said, Expo's Love is attending market to fill voids in all construction categories, particularly in hand-knotted, she said.

Expo is changing out 20% of its soft flooring mix, and placing more emphasis on roll runners and mansion size offerings, she explained.

The design direction for Expo is modern, or what Love described as the new generation of contemporary. "It's different from what we perceived as a more high-tech look before. Now it's about soft geometrics, organic shapes, softer colors, less edge," she said. "It's still geometric, just less angular."

Also on trend for Expo is an updated classic look, which Love said is the "transitional look of yesteryear. It's basically taking the traditional rug Mom had and pulling out the noise between every inch."

The result, Love said: "A cleaner and more defined look and larger prints. That's what the customer likes today in her traditional rugs."

At Macy's, the higher-priced traditional rugs segment "is definitely where [the trend] is at right now," said Jerry Noack, regional vp for Macy's floor coverings.

More specifically: "The high-end tufted rugs, the better tufted goods, are doing very well for us." That includes Nourison 2000, Calvin Klein and other collections, he noted.

The department store is shifting from hand-knotted to tufted goods, especially in wool and silk constructions.

"The way business is trending is there," he continued, "the price points are $1,000 to $2,000, and the design is traditional."

He said casual lifestyle rugs "still tend to do well for us," but at the more moderate price point bracket of $1,000 and below.

Omaha-based Nebraska Furniture Mart's customer shops the gamut of $129 to $999 — the latter representing a high-quality machine-made wool.

"We're excited to see what some of our key suppliers will have, particularly in the machine-made category," Gary Cissell, director of flooring, said. "We're looking for mainstream designs and colors in the 5-by-8 size and larger."

The three-store chain is considering ramping up its direct importing this year for the category to 25% of its line from 20%.

But it is going to market with the intention of building its programs "with some of our key suppliers like Oriental Weavers, Nourison, Capel, Milliken, Radici, Shaw, Karastan, and 828, among others," Cissell said. "We're going to try to do more business with our established supplier base."

He said the idea is to lead with popular promotional price points as entries to the rug category, and then push the medium price point goods. "We'll get them in with our promotions — a tufted that retails for $129, as an example," he said.

But the bulk of the inventory ranges from $199 to $999, and this year NFM will continue to go after the middle to upper price points targeted via direct marketing efforts.

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