HIGH POINT, N.C.—The news of the nation continues to look grim. In September, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the unemployment rate at 9.1%. Mortgage Bankers Association indicates that eight million Americans are behind on at least one mortgage payment. And The American Dream found during the first three months of 2011, there were less new homes sold than at any other time in our nation’s history. Yet, at last month’s Fall International Home Furnishings Market in High here, new collections were unveiled, new product catalogs were published, and— most surprisingly—several new rug showrooms celebrated grand openings.
In fact, Jerry Epperson, an industry analyst with Mann, Armistead & Epperson, Richmond, Va., said based on his observation of the traffic, orders, and commitments, Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 24 and 25, were the “best days” he had seen at a High Point market since 2004.
Despite the robustness, he said “Retailers, especially those selling home furnishings, have deferred much in the way of product change and introductions. They have not been willing to take much risk on anything new.”
Epperson, however, believes retailers are realizing they need to update their looks and presentations after four years of caution. He points out furniture stores, especially, are taking a cue from such chains as Ashley Home Stores, who successfully use rugs to dress up locations and generate more furniture sales.
Leah Feizy, assistant to the CEO at Feizy Rugs, said, “Our traffic and business were greatly increased compared to last fall’s High Point market,” but she added most retailers were still “cautiously optimistic. While they say there hasn’t been a great increase in the amount of traffic they are seeing in their stores, they do say those who come in are buying rather than just looking. A few of our clients noted that the higher-end home furnishings businesses were starting to see signs of life again.”
Rugs, Epperson added, are one of those products that are beneficial in a retail setting for a number of reasons: “They are an easy way to bring color and change into a showroom, and they absorb noise generated by video games and other audio sources.” Plus, they are an affordable, decorative accessory in an age when affordability is important.
Several rug companies felt strongly enough about their commitment to the industry and the International Home Furnishings Market that they opened brand new showrooms. Karastan, Nourison, Sphinx by Oriental Weavers and Zaki Oriental Rugs, in fact, were four who opened new showrooms this fall.
Sphinx, for instance, moved to a new 4,000 square foot showroom in the International Home Furnishings Center (IHFC). Aaron Gray, director of marketing, points out the new space is larger than the company’s former location, which was about 2,700 square feet. Moving and expanding the space was a wise move, he explained, because “most of our customers shop in [IHFC] and this makes it easier for them.”
Pat Muschamp, Sphinx’ vice president of sales added, “High Point is a premium market for our customers and our best opportunity to reach furniture retailers and design specialists.”
Sphinx showcased its new and in-stock “Made in the USA” space-dyed nylon collections: Milano, Palermo and Salerno. The company also spotlighted indoor/ outdoor collections, including Montego and Caspian.
Karastan also opened a permanent showroom in IHFC. The space featured not only Karastan but products from Mohawk Select. In addition, the company touted Made in the USA.
“We’re proud they’re made in America and are eager to talk about the advantages this brings to furniture and design accounts,” said Tammy Foubert, product manager for Karastan Rugs.
Some of the products spotlighted in the Karastan showroom included Woolrich by Mohawk Home. All three new looks— Ferndale, Classic Weave Chestnut, and Maple Grove—were constructed of 100% olefin for indoor or outdoor use.
Nourison returned to High Point with the grand opening of its showroom at the InterHall location in IHFC. “Our showroom is the most coveted location at InterHall, and InterHall is the most coveted location at High Point,” said Alex Peykar, principal.
He said the company opened the permanent space because, “The model of Nourison having the largest backup inventory of area rugs in the country and being able to ship orders quickly is probably the best fit for home furnishings retailers. These stores have only a limited allocation of space, and sales per square foot become very important.”
Nourison used the area to feature its full range of products including contemporary, mid-priced, area and scatter rugs, broadloom and home accessories such as pillows and poufs. Peykar noted the mill’s license agreements with recognizable brand names such as Calvin Klein Home generated interest.
Zaki opened its new showroom in the Suites at historic Market Square. “Our new 3,300 square foot space enables us to reach more retailers and designers,” stated Zaki Uddin Khalifa, owner. In the showroom were more than 700 “luxuriously fine, hand-knotted rugs,” including those made of 100% wool, wool/silk, and 100% silk in sizes ranging from small to upwards of 17 x 28.
Khalifa says that Zaki has had a 10,000 square foot showroom on South Main Street in High Point since 1997 that serves the public year-round. However, “we are seeing an increase” in business and he believes consumer confidence is returning somewhat. The time was right to open a showroom that specifically serves retailers and designers attending the market.
Safavieh drew attention to its showroom by spotlighting a well-known figure in the interior design and architecture world: David Easton. Considered one of the most sought after designers in the world, he debuted Indian Sojourn for the Safavieh Couture line. Safavieh, in fact, developed a special weave for Easton’s new collection in order to capture the handmade character of ikat textiles, which Eaton has collected during his travels. Ikat employs a resistant dying process similar to tie dye.
Hand-knotted in India of 100% wool, Indian Sojourn includes eight designs. Easton said, “I wanted my Safavieh collection to reflect the exotic, colorful, and textured inspirations of many cultures.”
Feizy confidently debuted two completely new collections as well as added to current lines. Saphir Callo and Saphir Obzeet are the latest additions to the Feizy Home Collection. The first offers a palette of grays and blacks, accented by shades of blue and ecru, that has a high-low design for textural interest. The second focuses on spice hues and geometric designs that are power-loomed in a high-low construction of plush viscose with a poly chenille background.
The company also highlighted “one-of-a-kind, high-end, hand- knotted ikat pieces,” according to Feizy, “that did very well. In fact, we sold out of them very quickly. Retailers love this trend and say that the sell-through at the retail level is amazing.”
Overall, she said retailers gravitated toward bright colors and bold designs.
Surya also brought attention to its showroom by adding new designs to its Zuna Collection, by Jill Rosenwald. Noteworthy for “groovy” handmade ceramics, she has licensing agreements for not only rugs, but dinnerware, pillows, and other home accents.
Lynde Pas, marketing manager for Surya, explained Rosenwald has an eye for “on-trend color combinations” and simple, sophisticated designs. Zuna are lattice-patterned rugs made of 100% New Zealand wool, hand-tufted, and made in India. A 5 x 8 retails for $530.
The Rug Market in America, showing in the Suites at Market Square, made certain that attendees recognized its product line for its uniquely contemporary style and a flair for color.
Responding to retailer and consumer requests, according to Mike Shabtai, owner, new The Rug Market Kids includes 100% cotton in hook or tufted designs. In the collection is ArtRose, an artistic rendering of loose florals in vibrant colors, as well as 1853, which whimsically maps out a destination to tropical islands.
In the Rug Market Resort are new outdoor durable rugs made of polypropylene and acrylic yarns in a hooked construction that sell for $299 for a 5 x 8. Though durable enough for outdoor use, Resort’s designs offer such richness in colors and designs they are also appealing for the indoors. Grasmere, for example, presents bold, artsy floral elements in hues of green, gray and peach.
Since 1913, there has been a bi-annual market in High Point, N.C. The 2012 Spring International Home Furnishings Market takes place April 21 to 26.
-Deena C. Bouknight