May 12/19, 2014; Volume 27/Number 27
By Ken Ryan
Zenith Rugs principal Jan Baron Shames, left, and founder Helen Marcus.
Helen Marcus was 74 when she founded Zenith Rugs, an international supplier of hand-tufted, custom, quality rugs for the hospitality industry. Her vision was to create the finest quality rugs using fibers from 100% sustainable and renewable natural sources at the best possible prices. That concept remained and still exists today.
While working at that ambitious goal, new opportunities are what keep the 88-year-old Marcus engaged, 70 years after she joined the world of carpet and rugs. “I love this industry and I love this company,” she said. “We’ve done some beautiful things. We have worked with just about every major brand in the U.S.”
Marcus spent two-thirds of her life in the carpet business working alongside her late husband, Jim Marcus, a Carpet Hall of Fame honoree and industry icon. Jim, who worked until he was 95, passed away at the age of 102. He worked with Helen on Zenith for a short time before his health failed.
Spending the bulk of her career on the hospitality side, Marcus worked to establish chapters of the Network of Executive Women in Hospitality (NEWH) across the country.
Her passion today is Zenith Rugs. Jan Baron Shames, who joined the company as a sales agent eight years ago, is now a 50% partner in the enterprise. Shames, who for many years worked as a hospitality designer creating designs for handmade area rugs, now oversees design and new product development for Zenith.
Strong systems, commendable work
Through its network of 19 nationally located independent sales representatives, Zenith works closely with the design community, learning and then translating their unique visions into fine custom rugs. The company specializes in products for guest rooms in both hotels and timeshare units. It recently completed work for the Ritz Carlton Dorado Beach Hotel in Puerto Rico, providing the luxury resort with custom rugs in every villa. Zenith also supplies rugs for lobbies and suites.
Zenith’s manufacturing facility in southern China produces 100,000 square feet of hand-tufted carpet per month, employing 100 skilled workers. “Our products pass every fire code and toxicity code,” Shames said. “We are currently pursuing certification by NSF for sustainable carpet, and we are committed to making green, environmentally conscience products that will help our projects become LEED certified.”
Zenith sources from China, India and Nepal, and uses natural fibers that allow for the design of custom nylon rugs. Shames said Zenith is known for providing exceptional customer service—from conceptual design to completion—and delivery in just six weeks.
“We’re a very hands-on company,” she said. “Since we are a small firm, we make quick, on-the-spot decisions and have fast response times in our design and production departments.”
Marcus said her company’s biggest challenge is finding top-notch sales associates who embrace the category the way she does. They also must be able to articulate to discerning customers the attributes that distinguish Zenith rugs. “As a salesperson, you need to love the rug business and be excited about your product,” she said. “When you do that you can make lots of money.”
Zenith’s short-term goal is to sign up more high-end residential clients and to hire a design director, which will allow Shames to work full time with the company’s sales agents.