ATLANTA—Ever since the AmericasMart became a major player for hosting floor covering-related markets in 1980, Chas Sydney has been its face. Beginning in January 2012 with the winter edition of the Atlanta International Area Rug Market, Kevin Malkiewicz will become that face as Sydney announced his retirement as senior vice president shortly after the show’s summer edition concluded last month.
The announcement was made by Jeffrey Portman, president and COO of AmericasMart Atlanta and its AMC Inc. parent entity.
Malkiewicz, who has spent the last 12 years at the Mart and is AMC’s newest vice president, assumes all Area Rug Center leasing and management responsibilities at Sydney’s departure, while Mike Turnbull, AMC senior vice president for strategic relations, continues in his role as area rug industry liaison with chief responsibility for sustaining the alliance between the Mart and the Oriental Rug Importers Association (ORIA).
Portman said Sydney’s retirement “marks the completion of a successful 31-year tenure. We were a very different company in 1980 when Chas first signed on. And we are a much better company today because of his incredible sales skills, his customer service commitment and his long, hard work over these last three decades.”
He added, “If it were not for Chas Sydney, we would not be in the rug business today, let alone be the nation’s No. 1 area rug marketplace.”
Sydney said, “When you truly love what you do, how hard you work or how long you work doesn’t matter. What matters is what you’ve accomplished, the differences you’ve made and what you leave.”
When he came to AMC in 1980, Sydney was a stranger to the flooring industry. Like many newcomers, his knowledge went as far as “fuzzy side up.” His background was in trade shows and the Mart was interested in putting together a flooring trade show—with the carpet capital of the world a short distance up the highway and Atlanta fast becoming an international gateway the concept made a great deal of sense, especially since the carpet industry was looking to expand beyond North America.
First flooring show
So in July of 1980, Sydney was responsible for the first International Carpet & Rug Market (ICRM) at AmericasMart. The reason for holding ICRM in July, he explained, was to help “reinvigorate” the summer.
The show itself was also “the first real effort to get international buyers to come to a flooring trade show,” he recalled. Aiding the effort was the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Georgia Ports Authority as each signed on as a sponsor of the show, along with the Carpet & Rug Institute.
“We also realized from the start,” Sydney said, “that it is a two-way street and we needed to attract foreign manufacturers/ exhibitors as well as buyers. So we opened the second floor up for temporary exhibits.” Today, the second floor of AmericasMart remains the space for companies who do not have permanent showrooms yet still wish to exhibit at the market.
With two floors of permanent showrooms, plus the temporary floor, ICRM was a hit from the start. In fact, “we got a great deal more international buyers than expected,” he said.
Helping make the market a bigger success was an idea Sydney got after visiting the Merchandise Mart in Chicago for its flooring trade show. “I convinced management to send me there to see what it was about as I didn’t know carpet or flooring and felt that since this was a much bigger, established show I could learn from it.”
While there, he noticed a number of accessory exhibitors in temporary spaces and they were not satisfied with the return they were getting. So, for the winter edition of ICRM, Sydney developed the National Accessory & Maintenance Exhibition (NAME) to run in conjunction with the main floor covering event.
Atlanta quickly became part of the industry’s national circuit of trade shows, which included Chicago, New York, Dallas and San Francisco. By the late 1980s, the other markets would either diminish in importance or fade away altogether and Atlanta became the industry’s No. 1 destination. “We had about a half-million square feet of exhibit space spread over five floors,” Sydney noted. Besides carpet, “all the resilient companies were there. We also had some wood exhibitors as well as a lot of distributors—including many of the national ones.”
Recession & Surfaces’ birth
All was good for Atlanta until the early 1990s when the country fell into a recession. “It certainly wasn’t as bad as the one we are currently in,” he explained, “but it was bad enough that many manufacturers felt the need to save money,” and one of the ways was to end their leases for permanent space at the Mart.
At the same time, the then Western Floor Covering Association started Surfaces out west—in Las Vegas, where the industry felt it could inject some excitement into the dealer base.
Interestingly, Sydney noted, “We went to Vegas and started our own show, Floor Décor, which was held in February at the Sands Expo Center. Surfaces was actually in March and at the Las Vegas Convention Center.”
After two years, “we decided to pull the plug,” he explained, “and Surfaces immediately moved into our slot at the Sands.” (Editor’s note: Surfaces stayed at the Sands until this year when it moved to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.)
Back in Atlanta, the Mart started losing flooring exhibitors because the industry came to the conclusion it needed just one national show and that Surfaces was best suited since it was run by an industry association.
It was during this time Sydney noticed that area rug companies were a viable avenue to go after because, as an industry, it “never really had an identity of its own. Rugs were always part of another show; they were never the focus.”
To that note, Sydney launched the National Oriental Rug Show (NORS). “We started with three floors of exhibitors, then added a fourth. In the mid 1990s, the show’s official name was changed to Atlanta International Area Rug Market with the winter edition having the additional tagline: featuring the National Oriental Rug Show. During this time, Sydney asked ORIA if it wanted to be the key sponsor of the winter market. For the summer show, the Mart asked the Oriental Rug Retailers Association (ORRA) to become a sponsor. Today, both ORIA and ORRA remain key partners in the winter and summer events.
Part of the industry
He noted one of the main reasons for wanting the two rug associations as sponsors was “I felt we needed to be more than just a trade show; we needed to be a part of the industry.”
Along those lines, Sydney started the America’s Magnificent Carpet awards, which honors the best new products at the winter market in various price points in both hand- and machine-made rugs. For the summer show, the Rug Retailer of the Year (ROY) awards were created to recognize dealers of all types— from mass merchants to specialty stores—who do the best in promoting and selling rugs.
In addition, about 10 years ago, AMC began AmericasMart University, which offers different types of education and training ranging from general types of classes for all business owners to product specific offerings for the various industries it serves. For instance, at the just completed summer show, there were a number of seminars and discussions focused solely on rugs (see related story).
In terms of transforming Atlanta from a carpet and flooring market to one focused on rugs, Sydney noted, “we never missed a beat—market; it just evolved.”
Today, he said the Rug Mart comprises four floors of permanent showrooms plus one for temporary exhibits and is about as big as Surfaces in total square feet.
“It’s been a great run,” Sydney noted, “and I’m grateful to the Portman family for giving me the opportunity to do my best for many years.” Going forward, he said he will continue to work with AMC on a consultancy basis on a variety of initiatives. “I’m not just going to disappear.”
As for his successor, Sydney said Malkiewicz has “helped lead our area rug and home furnishings business for more than 12 years and is well prepared for this role. He will undoubtedly reinforce AmericasMart’s commitment to ORIA, the rug business at AMC and the continued unparalleled customer service to the area rug industry.”