June 8/15, 2015; Volume 30/Number 1
By Jana Pollack
In the first half of 2015, the area rug market has experienced ups and downs. Most manufacturers reported gains in certain areas, whereas retailers seem to be having more difficulties with the category.
For suppliers, there was a tentatively successful start to the year. “The market does seem healthy and we’ve had some positive growth, but there’s still a bit of uncertainty here and there,” said Giovanni Mara, director of marketing and digital strategy at Nourison, a leading manufacturer of area rugs. “But I think so far the market has started off [well] for the first half of this year.”
At Couristan, another leader in area rugs, things have been mostly up in its markets. “We’ve seen tremendous growth,” noted Larry Mahurter, director of advertising and sales promotion. “We spent a good amount of money investing in product development and it’s starting to pay off now.” Adding to the success is a huge uptick in online sales, which Mahurter said have been particularly solid on the weekends.
There was a strong start to 2015 for Oriental Weavers as well. “We have enjoyed double-digit growth in Q1 of this year over the same time period from last year,” said Jonathan Witt, senior vice president. He believes that continued success in the outdoor category is partially responsible for the year-over- year increase. Additionally, Witt noted that Oriental Weavers’ Tommy Bahama collection has been particularly successful. “That collection started appearing at retail last fall and into the spring, and has done extremely well for us.”
Retailers report little action
Unfortunately, retailers have been singing a different tune. Sam Presnell, owner of The Rug Gallery in Cincinnati, said business has been declining.
“Out of the last five months we had one month, January, that met goal or a little bit above. We have not met goal for the last four months, so it’s been disappointing. I wish I had an answer for it; if I lived in Boston [where the winter was harsh], that would be a good excuse, but we did not experience anything like that.” Interestingly, Presnell noted that the store’s website traffic has increased, but that has not converted into foot traffic or sales.
This decrease in business comes after two and a half years of 15% to 20% growth coming out of 2012, he explained. “It has been a rapid increase … and we were expecting an increase in 2015, but we have not seen it. My opinion is the pent-up demand we had for the last two and a half years has been filled, or at least has come close to filling. I think this is the new normal, and what we should expect for the rest of 2015 and maybe 2016 as well.”
At The Rug Rag in Chattanooga, Tenn., there was a relatively solid start to the year. “There has not been significant growth in any transactions,” said Miriam Thompson, owner. “But as far as dollar amount between last year and this year, I have higher sales.” However, Thompson did note her confusion about the differences between this year and last. “There’s really no rhyme or reason as to why I have higher sales with fewer transactions and lower sales with more transactions. I can no longer look at history to guide me.”
Fiber activity, growing trends
When considering fibers that are popular this year, most manufacturers and retailers cited wool and polypropylene. “I think you have to look at it two ways: machine-made vs. handmade,” Witt said. “In the machine-made category, polypropylene continues to be a leader from a manufacturing and durability standpoint. There has been a shift to softer polypropylene and softer fibers in general, which should be noted. In the handmade category, wool and other natural fibers continue to lead the pack.”
This sentiment was echoed by Mahurter, who explained he is seeing the luxury items do well in wool, while promotional goods are selling in synthetic fibers. “Products that are unique blends like cottons, wools, linens, etc., is where we’re seeing a lot of bounce in that growth area.”
Mara noted a similar pattern. “Usually our best selling collections are wool or mostly wool blends … and at the lower end of the line, we’re seeing growth on some of the synthetics and polypropylenes.”
These trends exist in retail as well. “There are a lot of really soft synthetic fibers that are out there right now,” Presnell said. “We’re also selling a lot of wool. It’s either the low end or the upper end, so we’ve been fortunate that we have an upper-end business, too.”
At The Rug Rack, Thompson also sees wool fly off the shelves. “We try to give a little bit of an education as to the benefits of certain fibers, and our customers are looking to buy quality. They fully understand the benefits of wool and they want something that’s going to last.”
When it comes to style and design trends, Mahurter spoke extensively about growth in smaller rugs. “We’re seeing a lot of people getting into the 2 x 4s, smaller rugs for smaller spaces.” He also noted that there has been an increase in Couristan’s program for custom rugs. “Customers can take pieces and turn them into custom rugs of any size they want and have the ability to combine them with one of our binding tapes.”
As far as colors that are currently on trend, blue is an obvious frontrunner. “I could probably never have enough blue rugs in my store,” Thompson said.
“Blue is definitely becoming an extremely popular color for the interiors market,” Mara added. “And we’re seeing some small hints of a little bit of purple, little bit of orange, little bit of green.”
While pops of color are gaining popularity, neutrals are also in style. “Indigo blue and various shades of gray have taken the market by storm with gray becoming the ‘new neutral’ over more traditional earth tone staples of years past,” Witt explained. Mara noted a similar trend, with a “huge amount” of neutrals in taupe and gray.
In overall design, however, tradition is returning. “We are seeing simple, repeating patterns like geometrics and scrolls as well as a return to traditional motifs,” Witt said. In store, Thompson said she is selling more hand knotted rugs. “I think that speaks to people wanting to buy quality and have their rugs last longer.”
Thompson also spoke about the changing nature of today’s consumer. “I do 100% believe that we are now dealing more than ever with better educated consumers. They have done their homework.”