Vendors mixed on whether juvenile rugs have matured

NEW YORK -For those that opt to be players in the juvenile rugs category-and there are many-innovative construction, inventive design and aggressive sales strategies are abounding this year more than ever before.

Generic shapes and designs are what New York-based Glenoit Corp. is banking on.

"We've noticed that now it's no longer a character-driven category," president and coo Kevin Kennedy said. "Now it's more about butterflies and caterpillars and things like that."

Shaw Rugs, based in Dalton, GA, is "now getting more into the kids category" with a new line of "sophisticated juvenile rugs," said Jeff Meadows, division vp. Shaw hasn't come up with an official name for the new line, but almost everything else for and about the rugs is practically on a blueprint: The rugs will be machine-made polypropylene, the designs will be more sophisticated and the target market is set to be kids to teens.

"These rugs will be the kind you buy when your kids are 12 but that you can leave in their rooms until they are 16-or even older," Meadows explained. "They are sophisticated enough in design to last them a while."

Carpet Art Deco, a Montreal-based manufacturer of rugs that is negotiating a licensing agreement to use the Burlington House Floor Accents name, is pushing its line of "roomaker" room-size rugs to department stores. Featuring bright colors and whimsical designs, they are made of of polypropylene and cost $49.99 for a 5' x 8'.

Don Scarlata, president of Pawtucket, RI-based CMI, described some of his company's newer lines, like Montage and Reflections, as "very well adaptable to the kids market" but more sophisticated and "not so cutesy-looking. It's how Ethan Allen and Pottery Barn seem to be approaching the category."

Fort Lee, NJ-based Couristan, former licensee of Warner Bros. for area rugs, is making its exit from the category "because a lot of companies were undercutting us in costs and we weren't making much money out of it," said director of advertising and sales promotion Larry Mahurter. And now several of its competitors are aggressively filling that character-driven void.

Sugar Valley, GA-based Mohawk, through its acquisition of Crown Crafts last November, adopted the license not only for Warner Bros. (including Looney Tunes, Scooby Doo, Power Puff Girls, Harry Potter and The Wizard of Oz) but also Pokemon and Nickelodeon.

"We already have the technology in house allowing us to do incredible designs and capture the essence of these characters," said Patrick Moyer, vp of marketing. "We saw that the kids category was continuing to grow but that we weren't participating, and yet we had this real potential. Area rugs are just an extension of the decorative pillows and throws we already produce under the same licenses."

Orian Rugs' line of whimsical kids rug in the shapes of clouds, counting sheep and one called Cloud 9 all stem from their licensing agreement with Nick & Nora, the sleepwear and home retailer. Orian, based in Anderson, SC, first developed its Nick & Nora rugs last year and introduced them for the first time in October. For April market it is adding new color schemes.

Natco/Central Oriental, based in West Warwick, RI, has its own share of the hot-license pie, with Fox Kids/Saban's Nascar, Scholastic's Magic School Bus, and the McDonald's restaurant licenses, for which it produces nylon area rugs. For the spring market, Natco/Central Oriental will introduce new packaging-kids rugs in a box-"because some of our customers asked for it because it makes the rugs easier to display," said Natco/Central Oriental president Michael Litner. "Some stores sell our kids rugs in the rug department, others in their toy departments. [These rugs] can really go in either place."

Brooklyn, NY-based Hellenic Rugs is expanding on its own packaging concepts while increasing its offerings for kids. In April, Hellenic will introduce its new "Room in a Bag Kids" line of pre-packaged coordinating products: one cotton flatweave reversible 5' x 8' area rug, one cotton 2' x 3' scatter rug and two cotton decorative pillows. The suggested retail is set at $89.

But for all those that take the kids category seriously, there is a handful for which the category hasn't proven to be a success story, which explains why this year some manufacturers and importers with existing lines are walking away from it.

"People say it's growing, but we wonder if consumers are really spending their money on it," said Louis Raji, senior vp, marketing and sales for Norcross, GA-based Trade Am. "We keep it only because it's a nice little niche. But the demand isn't there as much anymore. People think the rugs are cute, but they are more of an impulse purchase. It makes up 5 percent of our entire business."

Mitchell Brumlow, president of Brumlow Mills in Calhoun, GA, shares similar sentiments: "We still carry kids rugs, but we aren't expanding that category for now. It's a category we actually need to reassess on how to go after it because it's not high volume. It's more specialty niche."

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