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Retailers weigh in on licensed rug collections

Thomas LesterThomas Lester
Last month, this column explored the importance of licensing in the rug business from the vendor perspective, but just how much do licensed rugs matter to the retail and consumer audience?
     Retailers see the merits of having licensed collections in their stores, but they insist other factors carry more weight when consumers make the decision to buy.
     "From what I have observed over the past 10 years, most consumers are not buying a rug based on the license - they are buying what style fits their home," said Mary John Minter, assistant manager of Jamestown, N.C.-based Furnitureland South's rug department. "I think having a recognizable name attached to a product promotes brand awareness in general and gives the consumer confidence that the vendor is reputable - but the final decision will be based on whether a particular rug fits into the décor of the space."
     Minter said the Top 100 retailer incorporates rugs in furniture vignettes and pairs licensed rugs with the licensee's furnishings whenever possible to help tell the product story. Other techniques are used when that option isn't on the table.
     "At Furnitureland South, much of our floor space is designed to display a room setting complete with accessories. If a particular licensee has a furniture line as well as a rug line, we are able to show the product together and open the consumer's mind to all the possibilities," she said. "Signage is also helpful, to make consumers aware that a licensee may also have other product categories for consideration on display in another area if they aren't able to be shown together. For example, if a licensee has a lamp line and a rug line, those would not necessarily be displayed together but we are able to guide the client to both."
     Minter noted that while a consumer isn't necessarily buying rugs based on the name attached to them, they sometimes help get that person into the store.
     "Highly recognizable names stick with a consumer - if they have seen or heard of a particular licensed line and come into the store to see it in person, they may not remember the vendor but they remember the licensee name," Minter said.
     The name can also add a human element to the rug purchasing process, according to Jamal Bara, owner of Winnipeg, Manitoba based online retailer Rugs HD.
     "Licensed rugs are great because they come attached with a story and allow people to relate to them on a much deeper level. People relate to people and to have someone's name directly attached to a product allows the consumer to relate on a much more personal level," Bara said. "That connection and background gives the rug that much more credibility, thus making it an easier buy for the consumer and, of course, an easier sell for the retailer."
     For some retailers, the brand is chief among a host of factors. David Mink of Kenneth L. Mink & Sons, which operates the rug departments of Macy's stores nationwide, said the New York-based retailer relies heavily upon names and celebrities in selling its products, so licensed rug collections fit right in with the way the company sells its products.

Kathy Ireland

Kathy Ireland chats with representatives of Kenneth L. Mink & Sons, the company that operates the rug departments nationwide for Macy's.

Brett Hemphill, president of Hemphill's Rugs & Carpets in Costa Mesa, Calif., says while licensing can impact rug sales, other factors - including style, color and price - are more important.

Brett Hemphill

     "It is important. The consumer recognizes these names," Mink said while attending an event for Kathy Ireland in Nourison's Americasmart showroom in Atlanta. "At Macy's, we carry Calvin Klein and we will be carrying Kathy Ireland. We (also) have some of the other not-so-famous designers."
     In other retail operations, the licensed name associated with the rug doesn't carry nearly as much clout. Beth Fisher, who owns Strobler Home Furnishings in Columbia, S.C., shared her point of view on the topic while visiting Americasmart for the January market. Fisher said her store carries a lot of rugs from Surya, which has a number of licensed collections. However, she noted that while part of the fun of the market experience is checking out the new licensed collections from vendors, she knows that those collections might not matter as much to her consumer base, which affects her buying plans.
     "At our price point, it doesn't mean a lot to our customers because a lot of times, they don't know who the person is," Fisher said. "When we're shopping at market and we visit those vendors, it's fun to see and we can see how it's differentiated, but it doesn't affect how we buy it."
     Fisher speculated that the names associated with rugs might resonate more among the design community than they do in retail.
     Brett Hemphill, president of Orange County, Calif.-based Hemphill's Rugs & Carpets, said having a name attached to a rug is great - particularly if it helps convey the design message - but there are other considerations that generally come to mind first.
    "Style, color and price are the most important things. I do not think that a designer's name on the rug has an impact. However, if the designer actually designed the rug and it sells, then job accomplished," Hemphill said. "I don't know which of these licensed designers actually contribute to the design and coloring of the rug. If I had to guess at a designer who is intimately involved, I would guess Barclay Butera and his line of Nourison rugs. He has done a nice job. Knowing Barclay's style, it is evident that these designs have his ‘look.'"

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