With the assistance of its key supplier, Karastan, the retailer redesigned the downstairs showroom to incorporate lifestyle vignettes, customized displays a new hardwood floor and a more dramatic lighting scheme.

Persian Rug Galleries' downstairs showroom prior to a renovation that eliminated hard surface displays and carpet in favor of upscale area rugs.
Anyone squeezing their way through Persian Rug Galleries' lower level showroom last year would likely agree the place was badly in need of a makeover. Bidding for attention in a cramped 2,000 square foot basement were carpet, tile and hardwood displays, which left little room for shoppers to browse in comfort.

This scattershot approach seen on the lower level was in sharp contrast to the more refined and expansive showroom upstairs. There, the retailer proudly showcased its wide selection of upscale handmade selections in a comparatively cavernous 8,000 square feet of space.

Owner Sy Mahfuz made a decision: Persian Rug Galleries, in the heart of downtown Nashua, N.H., would jettison its carpet, hardwood and tile departments and stick with its core strengths. It would zero in on rugs (both hand- and machine-made) and offer cleaning services via an on-site plant. Rather than making customers hopscotch from one department to another, the showroom's downstairs level would focus solely on one major product: Karastan power-loomed rugs.

Mahfuz now says that he is glad he pared down the inventory. "The second I chose to do this, it was the happiest day of my life," he confides.

Working with Mahfuz, Karastan built specialized racks and displays and helped install lifestyle vignettes and graphic components. Notably, the showroom floor was stripped of its old carpet and replaced with distinctive hardwood flooring that would create a more compelling backdrop for the rugs on sale. The ceiling was painted black, and joists were kept exposed in order to create a more spacious environment.

"There's about 8 feet, 2 inches of height in the showroom," Mahfuz explains. "We didn't want to put a drywall ceiling up, because we didn't want people coming downstairs and feeling they were almost having to bend over. We were able to set the lights 16 inches from the ceiling, and it gives the appearance of being in a much higher room. It's very open and very bright. Everyone tells me they know they're walking down to a lower level, but it doesn't feel that way."

To open up the space further, the walls were repainted white. Light boxes were set up to increase the showroom's flow. The selling area was reformatted to better accommodate the 4-by-6 foot racks that display Karastan's most popular sellers. An open space was established for round rugs, and Karastan's 6-by-9- and 9-by-12-foot rugs were stacked on raised platforms. A corner of the showroom houses a wine-rack-like display where Karastan runners are kept. In total, about 180 rugs are merchandised downstairs, Mahfuz says.

Karastan's senior vp of sales and marketing Bill Storey says the Persian Rug Galleries' project was the first of what could be described as the retail version of "Extreme Makeover." He hopes that Mahfuz will be the first in a long line of satisfied Karastan dealers.

"It's a concept that we're developing, and Sy [Mahfuz] has been a working laboratory for us, helping us realize what works and what needs to be improved," Storey says.

Mahfuz notes that the reaction to the "new improved" Persian Rug Galleries' has been nothing short of phenomenal. "We opened this beautiful new showroom in October, and we're already within 20 percent of doing the numbers we did last year. We thought it would take two years to get there, but it's taken us less than a year."

Others dealers who want to spruce up their showroom or embark on a redesign should do two things, Mahfuz says. First look at their market area with an eye toward accessing the competition and the opportunities available. Then, approach a manufacturer like Karastan that is eager to forge a partnership with its dealers.

"Get some exclusivity and support." Mahfuz urges. "You need to find a manufacturer who will commit to you, and will be important to you. Karastan is taking care of me and watching out for me, and in turn, it's making us both successful."