Atlanta—The summer edition of the Atlanta International Area Rug Market rolled out the red carpet in July, creating plenty of business, networking and educational opportunities for buyers and sellers as they prepare the category for the fall and winter seasons.
The Rug Collection opened as a new exhibitor on Floor 3 in Building 1 of the AmericasMart complex. It was one of many expanded and relocated area rug showrooms, all in Building 1, which also included Azra Imports, Banilivy Rug Corp., Liberty Oriental Rugs, Anadol and Jaipur Rugs, which held a cocktail party to celebrate the opening of its 6,500-square-foot space.
“The Atlanta Rug Market continues to remain a vital touch point for us to connect with many key customers,” said Asha Chaudhary, president and CEO of Jaipur, explaining that doubling the showroom space “allows us to better showcase our expanding rug line—as well as our pillow range and the other new categories we’re moving into for 2013 and beyond.”
Industry speakers, designers and rug historians dotted the four-day event with a variety of activities for those wishing to know a little more.
The market kicked off with an appearance by celebrated designer Barclay Butera for Nourison Industries. Noted for beautiful but livable design, Butera showed off his signature rug line during a cocktail party in Nourison’s showroom which was transformed into an elegant retreat with the designer signing copies of his book, “Living on The Coast.”
Interior designer and TV favorite Laurie Hickson-Smith provided the next market highlight. Her seminar, The Final Touch in Home Décor that focused on incorporating rugs into design, was one of the best attended of the week.
“[Her] presentation was packed,” noted Kevin Malkiewicz, vice president of leasing, area rugs for AmericasMart. “She enhanced people’s understanding of area rugs as a design element which helped draw new buyers to the rug floors during market.”
Six new or expanded area rug showrooms held buyers’ interest during the four-day event, buoyed by an abundance of new offerings. “We had a load of product introductions for summer,” Malkiewicz said. “And we look forward to more showroom expansions this fall moving into next January’s market.”
Ebisons Harounian Imports used its remodeled showroom in Building 1 to debut its first outdoor collection, Kismet, a 100% cotton dhurrie line, along with showing its one-of-a-kind products from around the world.
Another company expanding beyond its traditional rug base was Safavieh, which launched the Beach House, Four Seasons and Veranda collections, and added 20 designs to its flagship Courtyard collection of outdoor rugs. Later in the summer, the company is unveiling a line of patio sets and outdoor accent pillows.
Arash Yaraghi, Safavieh’s principal, said even during the economic downturn the company has found success with its outdoor rugs and it is projecting “even greater demand” in 2013. “Our goal [here] is to show there is no limit to the design potential we can offer consumers who are not about to sacrifice design integrity for an easy care lifestyle. They want both.”
Among the many training opportunities during the show, the Oriental Rug Retailers of America (ORRA) offered a series of seminars, including several on history and knotting.
Phil Menendian, ORRA education chairman, gave a guided tour of select showrooms and discussed rug innovations. He also led a seminar on the specifics of appraising rugs.
Vendors appeared to be content with what the summer market had to offer.
Jim Curtin, vice president of sales at Shaw, said the days of relying on a massive amount of walk-in traffic appear to be, at least for the moment, gone. “You have to have appointments. Walk-in traffic has been slow.”
When asked if the flow of business was linked to the economy or a change in how customers decided to shop, he said it is a little of both. “We used to see many of the smaller retailers, but a lot of them either did not come or are no longer in business. That’s why you really need to have appointments.”
Curtain said fluctuating gas prices always play a role in the industry, but sometimes its largely perceptual. “They see $4 a gallon and it plays a role in what they think.”
The first six months of the year were “OK” for the industry, Curtin added, although he said the first quarter was kinder than the second, which may have been due to a lack of a harsh winter on the East Coast.
Regarding product, Shaw unveiled new offerings in the Bob Timberlake collection, with most of them valued at $499 for a 5 x 8.
Capel’s Cameron Capel, vice president of national accounts, said her showroom saw steady traffic early. “We had the big people come in and we took a lot of orders.”
She said while business was up and down for the first half, the first six months overall have been positive. Regarding the rest of the year, Capel noted, “We’re projecting it to be a little bit better than we were last year,”
The price of gas is not only pushing up the price of polypropylene—a key face fiber in machine-made rugs—it is also affecting shoppers. “When they’re looking at the price of gas and jobs, I don’t think rugs are on the top of their minds,” she said.
Capel added most of the industry is watching politics. “They keep saying after the election things will get better. Didn’t they say that four years ago?”
The company released a few new products for the July market. The Bowden Scallop pattern is a hand tufted all wool offering inspired by a design in the home of John D. Rockefeller. It comes in four colors with a price point of $399 for a 5 x 8.
Capel also had new designs in its Eminence and Ethereal lines, both hand knotted, all wool rugs with three color offerings. Capel described them as contemporary transitional.
“We did pretty well,” said Rafi Amirian of Sholom Brothers, an importer of hand knotted rugs with a permanent showroom in Atlanta.
The company introduced products in its Noir collection with seven new designs. The rugs sell for $899 for a 6 x 9, Amirian said.
The first three months of the year were good. Like many others, he said the second quarter was not. “It was around tax time that everything flat lined.”
Amirian expressed cautious optimism about the second half of 2012 and said while he expects the election to play a role in what happens, “I don’t think anything will really turn around until 2013.”
Thomas Itty, marketing director for Nourison, described the market as busy. “We had both appointments and walk-in traffic. The last six months have not been too bad. We’ve seen a slight increase in sales.”
Despite the summer traditionally being slow, he said he was still looking forward to the second half of the year.
Among Nourison’s introductions, in addition to the new Butera line, was Vista, a 100% polyester with a stamped floral design and a price point of $299 for a 6 x 9; Graphil Illusions, a polypropylene and acrylic mix also $299 and, on the higher end Dune, 100% wool priced at $1,999 for a 6 x 9.
Nestled on the sixth floor is a fixture that looks out of place at the market—Bungalow Flooring. The Georgia-based company that specializes in floor mats has a permanent showroom at AmericasMart, and benefits from the semiannual rug shows. “We always do better during the shows,” said Ed Bobowski, regional key accounts sales manager.
The mats range in price from $29 all the way to $299, and include both indoor and outdoor varieties. The Water Guard line features a polypropylene face and comes in 19 different sizes. Customers can also include a custom photo on the mats.
Bungalow also offers microfiber mats for indoors and polypropylene ones that work both indoors and out under some cover, Bobowski said. “They tend to be fun.”