By Deena Bouknight
HIGH POINT, N.C.—We are currently embroiled in both a war–with Iraq–and a battle, with the economy. That was evident at the Spring International Home Furnishings Market in High Point, N.C., April 7 to 11, as rug exhibitors reported less than stellar traffic numbers.
“The economy is definitely on everyone’s mind,” said Brian Casey, president, High Point Market Authority. That same sentiment was conveyed by Jerry Epperson of Mann, Armistead & Epperson Ltd. “Everybody has a battle mentality right now. We’re just looking forward to the end of this.”
Some rug exhibitors came to market battle ready. Greg Jordt, vice president at Miresco Decorative Rugs, said the company made the decision to not increase prices this market despite the dollar’s standing overseas, elevating weavers’ wages, high gas prices and overall economic challenges. “For the next six months we really don’t foresee increasing prices,” he said.
By the last day of market, Jordt said traffic was as anticipated. He pointed out that the dealers in attendance were the ones who know that when times are tough they need to find new products to entice buyers into their stores. However, there were plenty of no-shows who are “pulling back” because of the economy.
“We’ve lost a lot of retailers already,” Epperson said. “We’ll probably lose more. In the near-term, people are looking at that with distress, but these are the weakest retailers. The ones who survive will be the strongest ones and the ones who are in the best shape to be there when the business comes back.”
Many exhibitors felt that one positive strategy is to spotlight exceptional looks and price points. Kim Reynolds, marketing vice president at Oriental Weavers, said they are continuing to “bring fresh merchandise to customers within its broad selection.”
Two lines the company concentrated on were Nadira and Andy Warhol. Nadira is a wool line that retails for $699 for a 5 x 8. The product is machine cross woven with 55 colors in each rug. “We concentrated on colors that are popular in the marketplace—colors that convey a classic modern look,” Reynolds said. “With crosswoven technology, you can create a huge color palette and develop a look that is a statement piece.”
With Andy Warhol, Oriental Weavers added the machine-made Pure collection focusing on black, white and red hues and retailing for $399, as well as the hand-tufted Revolution featuring more subtle colors and a $499 price point. “No matter how challenging the economy,” Reynolds said, “retailers still need to stay competitive with looks that get customers’ attention.”
She also believes Oriental Weavers’ commitment to maintaining a strong, updated presence will only serve retailers well during these tough times. “We updated our Web site, adding enhancements to our online catalog for user-friendly search capabilities and providing assistance to consumers in selecting the perfect rug every time. To support our retailers, we also provide numerous merchandising tools, including a stain and soil warranty POP kit.”
Kami Navid of Jaunty Co. believes by concentrating on good customer service, quality products and exceptional designs, companies can overcome any economic drawbacks. He said Jaunty does not concentrate on the branding concept and does not sell via its Web site but instead allows the product to speak for itself and does whatever it can to protect its customers.
Steve Sorrow, vice president of product development for Feizy Rugs, noted that traffic had been a little slow, “but as a market special, we’ve taken some of our more expensive looks and made them more affordable since people are obviously not wanting to spend as much money right now.”
A new line, Bling Dynasty, was created “to help get customers in the stores,” he said. These collections include:
• Bodhi–hand-knotted in pure New Zealand wool with an elegant luster priced at $230 for a 5.3 x 7.6;
• Ting Tang–a wool loop and viscose pile construction sporting a delicate design of leaves and florals hand tufted in a monochromatic color palette priced at $430 for a 5 x 8;
• Dim Sum–hand-knotted in New Zealand of wool and silk with bold colorways and contemporary designs priced at $1,490 for a 5.6 x 8.6, and
• Qing–patchwork designs, florals, and screen patterns handknotted in a pile of wool with viscose accents priced at $1,398 for a 5.6 x 8.6.
Miresco’s Trump collection was highlighted not only in the Miresco showroom but also on the floors in the Lexington Furniture showroom. “This collection is doing very well for us,” Jordt said. “Because of the licensing program and partnership with Lexington, there is cross-over distribution. These products are unique and drawing attention. We added one SKU for this market and will flesh out the collection at upcoming markets.”
Miresco also provided retailers with a special assortment pulled together from six collections of their Turkish machine-made rugs. “By doing this, we are enabling retailers to go from a promotional price point up to a strong midway price point with products ranging from $99 to $259 for a 5 x 8.”
He added that despite the economic conditions, consumers are most interested in contemporary, transitional and lifestyle looks. “Lifestyle, especially,” he said, “which is not a hard contemporary but a cross between contemporary and transitional.”
Jaunty’s Navid agreed rug fashions continue more toward those looks—even though traditional is a consistent seller. “But with transitional and contemporary, everything sells,” he said.
Finally, he said Jaunty’s steady marketing program, Short Time, helps retailers who want to sell rugs in a minimum amount of square footage.
Epperson maintained the underlying success of the High Point market was in the attitude of the people in attendance. “That’s what really underlies the success of the economy as a whole, too. The better the attitude of the people, the better chance we have of getting out of this rut we’re in sooner rather than later.”