The AMS Ayacucho collection from Peru features hand-woven reversible rugs of sheep's wool or llama wool. Suggested retail is $850 for a 5' x 7' rug.

The Benedictine Collection from Oriental Weavers of America is based on ancient designs from Benedictine monasteries. Made of two-ply, heat-set olefin, it retails at $299 in 6' x 9' format.
Subtle innovation, rather than in-your-face change, was the distinguishing characteristic at January's Atlanta International Area Rug Market. From a styling perspective, the event was a far cry from the rug markets of the past two years when vendors bombarded buyers with flashy developments in fiber, yarn, dyeing, and weaving technology.

As a result, designs this year have more nuance and less flash. This trend is exemplified in highly refined wool and silk looks. Vendors as diverse as Nourison, Feizy, Costikyan, Harounian Rugs International, Karastan, Trans Ocean, Shaw, Oriental Weavers USA, and Oriental Weavers Sphinx had introductions in this style category. Price points ranged from as low as $199 to well in excess of $1,000. The rugs are sometimes made in true wool and true silk, but manufacturers are also stretching their fiber technology with combinations of wool and viscose, wool and mercerized cotton, wool and linen, polypropylene and nylon, and even polypropylene and polypropylene.

Contemporary styling is another significant trend that was manifested most consistently in relaxed "lifestyle" looks such as geometrics, basketweaves and easy-going swirl motifs. "It's a friendly kind of contemporary, not something that consumers are afraid of," said Ray Ehsani, Feizy Rugs' vice president of sales.

A major trend in product construction has been the melding of handmade and machine-made sensibilities. In the major middle-market price points of $600 to $1,500 for 6' x 9' rugs, the method of production is now less important than the way the product is styled and colored. Handmade producers such as Nourison and Feizy now make power-loomed rugs. Machine-made vendors such as Karastan and 828 International Trading have introduced handmade products. Price points for handknotted, hand-tufted and power-loomed products regularly intersect. In a related move, domestic manufacturers such as Shaw and Mohawk are branching into the importing business.

New strategic alliances are symbolic of the gradual integration of the handmade and machine-made cultures. Noonoo and Radici, and Trans Ocean and Stanton, are the latest major companies to establish marketing partnerships with each other. The ties between Shaw Rugs and Nourison, which began the current partnering trend two years ago, also are being strengthened.

"Companies have to continually reevaluate their businesses and make adjustments according to the demands of the marketplace," said Gene Newman, president of Noonoo Rug, which celebrated its 70th anniversary during the Atlanta market. "It's all about change."

Opportunities are also expanding between divisions of large companies as well as between different companies. In 2000, Shaw introduced a rug program under the Kathy Ireland umbrella of home furnishings. During the Surfaces show, Shaw broadloom carpeting unveiled a color wall merchandising unit that carries the Kathy Ireland imprimatur, according to Jeff Meadows, vice president of Shaw Rugs.

Karastan's Mahira collection features a golden "sun-washed" finish. In Antique Oushak pattern, a 6' x 9' rug retails at approximately $1,400.
Also in evidence during the market were vendors' stepped-up efforts to offer retailers marketing and merchandising tools. "Smart merchants won't let rumors of a bad economy hurt them," noted Paul D'huyvetter, senior vice president of Oriental Weavers - USA. "They are looking for ways to make business better, and they are looking for vendors that can help them both with new products and new marketing skills."

Nourison continues to be a leader in e-commerce. During the January market, the company introduced several programs that were developed to help retailers use Internet technology without fear. In fewer than 30 minutes, retailers can now establish customized websites that tie in with Nourison's website, according to Andrew Peykar, vice president of information services for Nourison.

"Everyone wants to get involved with the web, but it's intimidating to most retailers," he said. "This program makes the entire experience painless and gets dealers actively involved with e-commerce. With the Nourison program, dealers can present their own website personality and simultaneously tie in with Nourison's national clout."

Retailers can look forward to seeing more developments of web technology in the future. "We are moving in the direction of B2B technology," remarked Couristan President Ron Couri, "which will help our dealers with real-time service and expedite order entry."

Mike Riley, vice president of marketing for Oriental Weavers-Sphinx, said his company is also developing new programs for sophisticated e-commerce connections.

Helping dealers make sense of high-tech tools and gadgetry is one avenue vendors are using to strengthen ties with retail partners. In addition, they are developing new programs that emphasize in-store merchandising programs.

Capel unveiled an ambitious marketing and merchandising plan that gives retailers complete in-store vignettes. They capture four lifestyle themes - "Tree House" (juvenile), "Weekend Away," "Garden," and "Family." Each has an 8-foot-square photo backdrop showing family scenes, as well as two large props and a hanging merchandising unit that reflects the specific theme. Each vignette requires approximately 80 square feet of floor space and displays an assortment of room-sized and accent rugs tied to a particular lifestyle. The retailer's cost is $1,500 per vignette, according to Kea Capel Meachem, director of marketing and creative services.

Nourison's Sutton Park collection is powerloomed of wool and silk in relaxed contemporary styling. Suggested retail is $850 for a 6' x 9' rug.
"Consumers are accustomed to very sophisticated sales messages from the big-box stores and catalogues. This program helps the furniture and floor covering retailer with tools that are equally sophisticated," she said. "The system communicates to consumers that the retailer understands how the product will be used in an active home life."

Without a doubt, the rug market is changing. As the retail channels continue to fragment, many rug vendors find it necessary to exhibit at multiple markets such as Surfaces, The New York Home Textiles Market and the High Point Furniture Market.

The Surfaces show is more important than the big Atlanta Rug Market for some vendors. "We show through our national sales rep organization at the Atlanta Gift Show, but the Surfaces show is the main event for us," said Richard Saccoman, vice president of General Industries. "We are geared largely to the mass-market channels, especially for our juvenile Fun Rug line. Surfaces is the perfect spot."

Some AmericasMart exhibitors observed that traffic seemed to be off at this January's show. But when all the orders were tallied, the market was characterized as a success nonetheless.

"We wrote more on the first day of this market than we ever wrote at any previous show for the entire market," said Jim Clardy, president of 828 International Trading.

"When we added up the orders, it was a successful market," said Paul Vesely, president of MER Rugs. "The traffic was evenly distributed. There were no peaks and valleys and we were able to spend time with all the customers."