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Jenny Heinzen York

Rug trends, materials, constructions shift with evolving consumer tastes

Surya’s BoardwalkSurya’s Boardwalk coastal-themed rugs are an example of the flat-weave trend that is sweeping the rug marketplace.
Long gone are the days of staid traditional Oriental rug designs as the go-to look in floor covering. Today's rugs are moving much more transitional and contemporary, the colors are more vibrant, natural materials are increasingly important, and new constructions, materials and styles are bringing an entirely new consumer base into the rug buying business.
     And the timing for this move couldn't be any more appropriate, as rug vendors say the industry is leaving dollars on the table by not meeting the needs of new, younger customers.
     "We feel the area rug market has been minimized because we haven't done enough to inspire people to buy," said Surya's President Satya Tiwari. "So people are buying when they absolutely need to buy, they're not just saying ‘Hey, let's go out and buy a rug.' One key thing is attracting a younger customer who doesn't really think about buying a rug. But if we bring style and fashion and color, then she's invested in buying it. Each apparel company, they bring such product. Even if you don't plan on buying something, you do because you like the style, cut, fit. How do we bring the same logic into our space? ... We can enhance our sale by bringing freshness to all of our products."
     This freshness can come in the form of overall style, material or construction, which allows the rug producers tremendous leeway in what they can offer at a variety of price points.

"In terms of style broadly, chevron, ikat, lattice Moroccan- inspired patterns are hot for us; tribal, new takes on traditional patterns that are neither too traditional nor too contemporary, they are really hot for us, too," Tiwari said. "Our goal is to put these styles in good, better and best categories, so we do some in machine, hand-tufted and hand-knotted as well as flat weave. We're trying to approach things as being construction agnostic. When we have a style, our goal becomes how do we put it in all different price points since our client base is from all spectrums."
     At Rizzy, casual, transitional looks are most important, saidMark Ferullo, VP of sales and marketing.
     "We're seeing a little ethnic or tribal design being big, as well as lodge motifs. We're seeing the casual ikat design trend still coming forward, and we're still seeing the geometric - tribal in a sense - trend come in," he said. "It's wide ranging now. There are all different kinds of designs and colors. We're in a pretty cool time for our business, because there's no limit. We're getting inspiration from artwork, flatware, nature and all these different areas ... Pulling inspiration from a lot of old world tiles ... it's just a cool time to be expanding and developing new product."
     And the key colors now?
     "We still have some brights, some easy-living colors, some purples and some toned-down gold, kind of a brick red, some light blue, teal blue, slate blue kinds of accents," he said. "Some of the new things we're doing have some brights - some of the new ikats, they have pops of color. Stronger plums and lavenders, those types of colors. In the flat-weaves we also see some brighter colors - yellows, orange. It depends on the application."


While there seems to be a resurgence of handmade rugs in the marketplace, vendors say most consumers are unconcerned by the method of construction if they like the design. Recent advances in machine-making technologies are making it harder than ever for most consumers to even tell the difference, and the lower price points certainly make those rugs more attractive.
     "Consumers are responding to the style, texture and color first, before they investigate whether it is handmade or machine-made," said Arash Yaraghi, principal of Safavieh. "Run-of-the-mill machine-made rugs have lost ground, but we've been able to innovate new qualities, colors and textures that are fashion-forward."
     "People are more price-conscious today," Tiwari said. "I don't think that means they want a lower price point, but that they want more value at their price point. So hand-tufted product is still doing really well for us, and that's one area we've been focusing on bringing innovation. Another area of growth for us has been machine-woven. Machine-woven in the past was limited to color and creel and texture, but I think the last few years there has been major innovation there that we have been taking advantage of."
     Loloi Rugs' Cyrus Loloi agrees there's still an important place in the market for affordably priced, machine made rugs.
     "People are more value-oriented than ever now," he said. "Especially with the emergence of flash sales and e-commerce, people want to make quick impulse buys, and that lower price point satisfies that audience. And that audience is still in stores as well. I think that's where Loloi has made its name, offering products at a good reasonable price point but still making them high fashion."
     He said two of Loloi's collections - Jaxx and Stamos - exemplify this trend. "They're machine-made products, but they still have a variety of textures. The designs are still on trend - there are elements of the design that purposely limit handmade product," Loloi said. "And another thing, I think the technology has gotten very sophisticated for machine-made products as well. For the money, what you're able to produce now has improved so much. That's one thing this recession has done is force the best companies to innovate and create constructions that still look great at a great value. For better or worse, we've been able to do that, and now that the market is accustomed to it, that's kind of where the price is set now. I don't know if you'd call that lower-end now; I think that's where the bulk of business is done."


There is a definite sweet spot in rug pricing at the retail level, vendors said.
     "Anywhere from a $199 5x8 to a $399 5x8 is very affordable for many many people," Ferullo said. "That's probably our sweet spot, $149 to $399 retail and everything in between. It's a wide range, but in reality for us that's where a lot of the business is. The big thing they want is color, design and value. If you can offer those three things, you're doing well."
     At Surya, Tiwari said the bulk of his business is being done at the $399 to $799 level, but he is eyeing $299 and under pricing as an emerging opportunity.
     "That's a price point we didn't play in in the past, but have been branching into. If you think of the area rug market, the wholesale business is about $2 billion, based on what I hear," he said. "There's a customer for every price point out there. In a time of flourish, people will push up. In a recession, people will push down, not just in rugs but in all categories."
     And what else is selling on the furniture floor is also an important driver of price, he said.
     "One thing we closely follow: The rug ought to be one-third of the price of the sofa. We look at what price point sofas are being sold in the market place and we make sure we have a rug to match every sofa that's being sold from color, style and a value orientation."
     Safavieh's Yaraghi said, "The sweet spot is $350 to $500 for a 5x8 indoor rug. For outdoor, it's $60 to $100 for a 5x8."

Perhaps the single biggest trend of the rug industry this year was the strong resurgence of flat-weaves. Tiwari said he believes this is a generational trend and a reflection of how consumers shop now.
     "Flat-weaves were always popular, but it was not to the level it is today," he said citing the trend toward e-commerce as one key factor in this.
     "If you think about millenials, they live in metro cities. There are not a lot of brick-and-mortar stores in these bigger cities," he said. "With the emergence of e-commerce, particularly private sale or curation sites, now people have access to these products. So flat weave rugs' popularity got amplified by the medium of e-commerce sales.
     "Millennials buy very up-to-date fashion," Tiwari said. "They're buying fashionable clothes. So we want the same fashion to be applied into the flat-weave. Also, there are certain colors that in flat-weave just look awesome. While if you tried to do it in hand-tufted, it would look too stark or gaudy. Flat-weave takes the color better since it has a flat surface. Together this allows our flat-weaves to hit an audience that is more fashion-forward, and she is willing to take that fashion risk. She does not want something that's safe. This customer allows us to be more playful."
     Yaraghi said fashion does drive this business.
     "As long as there is fashion, color and design, flat weaves have a life," he said. "We have seen them come and go in consumer preference, but they are lasting favorites with designers. Right now the hot styles are dhurries, sari silks, kilims and of course indoor/outdoor flat-weaves."
     Ferullo agreed that the younger generations appreciate the flat-weave look, but older consumers like them for other reasons as well.
     "Flat-weaves are easy to care for - there's no shedding, lighter weight, not as heavy of a look with the pile, but still elegant enough," he said. "Also, they're price sensitive and have many applications. You can put them in hallways, living rooms, dining rooms, kitchen, bedrooms, pretty much anywhere. I think flat weaves are going to continue growing."
     Loloi said he expects the flat-weave fad to be more short-lived, based on the history of the construction.
     "I think it's more of a temporary fad because historically it's cycled in and out," he said. "However, you are seeing more contemporary twists on flat-weaves. Older flat-weaves had a traditional or Southwest look to them, as opposed to today where flat-weaves ride the trends a bit more."
     Flat-weaves are also popular because they are handmade, reversible, easy to maintain and can be quite eco-friendly, with natural fibers being used in their construction now, in addition to the old standard wool.

Loloi said he believes natural fibers - jute, hemp, sisal and seagrass - will be the next big thing.
     "I see natural fibers having significant lasting power," he said. "We saw it emerge more and more a couple years ago. And now when you go overseas, the availability for these fibers is becoming more widespread. More manufacturers are using it in their products, and I think from an end-consumer perspective, people really appreciate the raw elegance of a natural fiber rug. It's very easy to place because it's just kind of a natural, neutral color. It's very easy to place in whatever existing room you have and it's going to match. What gives natural fiber rugs their character, and what I think you'll see change, is the texture. You're even seeing subtle designs, whether it's a subtle herringbone or chevron design or zigzags or stripes and such, within these natural fiber rugs. They definitely have some significant lasting power. You see them in so many blogs and high-end shelter publications, you see them featuring natural fiber rugs not as an afterthought but as a central piece. I don't see that category slowing down."
     The eco-friendly component of using natural fibers is a powerful story at retail, Yaraghi said.
     "I do see hemp and jute having lasting power," he said. "These yarns are classic that have been steady in consumer popularity for decades. They are now in the news because of the focus on eco-friendly, sustainable yarns."
     Tiwari agreed that while there's nothing new about using these fibers in rugs, there is a new appeal to them because of the quality of design that can be put into them now.
     "It's always been there. Mass merchants had natural fiber but they had it at a very low price point," he said. "A lot of innovation has happened in the last few years. The millennial wants a green product, they want something that's more organic - natural fiber by definition has a higher natural appeal to it.

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