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Susan Dickenson

Portrait: Arash Yaraghi, Safavieh

Arash Yaraghi is one of the five brothers at the helm of 96-year-old Safavieh, retailer, wholesaler and manufacturer of fine rugs and home furnishings. Yaraghi oversees the wholesale rug division of the New York-based company that, Portrait: Arash Yaraghi, Safaviehover the years, has evolved from an artisan family business into a global high-tech operation.
"We've gone from one showroom on Madison Avenue, to an international player with half a million square feet of warehouse space and our own manufacturing facilities on three continents," Yaraghi said. "We now drop-ship thousands of packages daily to end-use customers on behalf of our retailers in all 50 states plus Canada, South America, Europe and Asia."

Today, the company, headquartered in Port Washington, N.Y., employs 250 people with distribution centers, showrooms and sales reps across the country. Safavieh's award-winning collections range from historical reproductions to fashion-forward contemporary and designer rugs.

In 2006, Yaraghi signed a multi-year contract with Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, giving Safavieh the exclusive license for Martha Stewart-branded area rugs. The first collection was introduced at the Atlanta International Area Rug Market in January, 2007.

Yaraghi's grandfather started Safavieh in 1914 in Isfahan, Persia, an area long renowned for its artistic, cultural and rug-weaving traditions. The original store in Isfahan was named for the Safavid Empire of the 16th and 17th centuries.

"He handed the business over to my father, who built it steadily until 1979, when the revolution in Iran forced us to shut down overnight," said Yaraghi, who was attending Case Western University in Ohio at the time. "My father called to tell me there was no future for our export business in Iran, and asked me to help my brother Cyrus establish a rug store in New York." Arash and Cyrus, then 19 and 24 years old, leased a space at 153 Madison Avenue and 32nd Street in Manhattan.

"We had been exporting rugs to the U.S. and my father gave us the names of two past customers to look up," Yaraghi recalled. "They were our first sales at the Madison Avenue store, which is still our principal rug showroom."

As the business grew, Yaraghi completed his college education, followed with law school, and is currently licensed to practice in New York and New Jersey.

What is your role in the company?

I am a principal of the company, as are my four brothers. We are all involved on a 24/7 basis, each responsible for specific areas of the business -- rugs, furniture and accessories. I focus on wholesale rugs, developing programs tailored to customers in all retail market segments and working with weavers in our manufacturing facilities overseas. In our Port Washington headquarters, my brothers and I supervise a great staff of specialists in product development, design, marketing, operations and customer service.

What differentiates Safavieh from others in the industry?

Safavieh is probably the oldest rug company in continuous operation and among the most recognized brands in the home furnishings industry. Safavieh successfully combines the best of high-tech and high-touch. We've always been considered the authority on fine quality, craftsmanship and style. We kept that focus as we grew our logistics and warehousing capabilities, leading to strong partnerships with the largest retailers in the country. We serve every channel of distribution, from big box stores to multi-unit chains.

How have you seen the rug industry change over the years?

When I entered the business, people were concerned with a rug's knot count and pedigree. Persian rugs were coveted for their traditional patterns and colors -- the finer the weave the better.

As consumers' decorating tastes changed and light neutrals became more popular, Safavieh was instrumental in creating hand-knotted rugs in more contemporary patterns and colors. Design magazines, the Internet and HGTV have all contributed to a more sophisticated, knowledgeable consumer who wants the look of designer rugs at more affordable prices. One of the biggest surprises is how easily rugs transitioned to Internet sales.

When did Safavieh begin its licensing program and who was its first licensing partner?

Safavieh began its licensing program in 2006 with Thomas O'Brien. The next year we followed with Martha Stewart. Our goal with licensing is to give the consumer completely unique designs that reflect the style of the designers they trust and admire. Every Safavieh licensing partner has a special look and a strong consumer following.

Have you made any major changes as a result of the recession?

This economy has forced us to become leaner, more creative, and more efficient, which has benefited our business as well as our customers' businesses. The biggest change we've made is to develop great style in many different constructions, in order to make rugs more affordable to a broad base of consumers. That strategy will continue.
What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

The highlight of my career is working with the great designers in Safavieh Couture. I also enjoy working with our people in the technology field to develop logistics and distribution programs.

The ultimate satisfaction that I receive is to see our licensing partners' designs come to life. Not just seeing the finished product, but the chain of people working -- from designers in New York, to weavers in Nepal, to the department store. Seeing the process go full circle, with everyone working together, is the perfect example of globalization.

At a Glance:

Where did you grow up? Isfahan, in Persia -- it's the rug-weaving capital of the world.

Where do you live now? Mill Neck, Long Island, N.Y.

What did you want to be when you were growing up? A lawyer

How do you relax/unwind? I live near the water, so I get on a kayak and paddle in Oyster Bay.

How did you earn your very first paycheck? Aside from the family business, as a student I did everything from landscaping to waiting tables and carpentry.

What are you reading right now? The newest business books are always on my nightstand. My friend Gil Kemp, the former president of Home Decorators, introduced me to Jim Collins. I still refer to his books Good to Great and Built to Last.

Your secret indulgence: Soccer

Complete the sentence, "I wish I knew how to:" ...keep the infamous Long Island geese off my lawn.

 

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