For generations before him, Jafri’s family manufactured and exported hand knotted area rugs from India and Pakistan. By the mid-1980s, he saw the potential in the New England market to bring his family’s rugs directly to the consumer and opened the then almost 100-year-old company’s first retail showroom in Dover, Mass.
“The business model had started to change by then,” he explains. “Historically, manufacturers, importers and retailers never mixed as the wholesalers didn’t want to compete with their own customers. But when retailers started to go directly to manufacturers to develop their own product offerings, lines started to get a little blurred.
“To create a level playing field,” Jafri notes, “manufacturers and importers began to open their own retail stores.”
Although he branched his family business out to reach consumers directly, he was careful not to burn the bridges of the past by ensuring Dover Rug & Home carried different products than its traditional retail customers.
“We live in a very transitional society,” Jafri explains. “People have choices and mobility, and because of that we tend to make changes very quickly.”
Those changes have taken many forms. Early on in the retail business, Jafri took a cue from his customers and expanded into window treatments, broadloom, hardwood and interior design. Now a full service flooring retailer, the company also stocks rolls so it can turn around and install product within a few days and exceed customer expectations.
“We grew into these things based on the demands and requests of our customers,” he says. “The best thing we ever did was to diversify to be able to sell rugs, carpet, wood and window treatments. [Our customers] actually put us in that business.”
Customers also sent his business into online sales, a venue which has given the company a global client base.
“We have clients in Europe, Southeast Asia, all over [the U.S.] and even in Canada,” Jafri says. “The beauty of our product is we can roll and send it virtually anywhere.”
Despite the strength of the venue, though, the Internet business has had only minimal effect on Dover Rug’s brick-and-mortar business.
“The Internet is really for lower end products,” he explains. “If you’re looking for high-end, unique rugs which have to be reviewed for quality you need to be able to feel and touch and see them. The computer screen is not going to show you real colors or how it will look in your space.”
That reasoning is also why the company has in-house designers ready to help customers with their purchases, and why Jafri espouses a trial period with rugs in shoppers’ homes so they are not making decisions in a vacuum.
With today’s shorter shelf life for many designs, Jafri points out many layers to the supply chain can slow a company’s ability to compete. Since the company is vertically integrated from manufacturing to the sales floor, he says Dover has the ability to completely control the quality, colors and designs of all the rugs it sells.
“Companies that have manufacturing capabilities are able to turn on a dime and bring product to market much more quickly,” he explains.
Another key differentiator for the specialty retail part of the business has been its marketing program. Jafri advertises regularly on as many as six different radio stations. He also consistently promotes his company in lifestyle and shelter magazines, maintains a strong Internet presence and underwrites public programs in a multilevel approach that has earned his company annual sales in the high seven figures.
The approach has also allowed Jafri to grow the business to two locations, the 36,000-sq.-ft. flagship is located in Natick, Mass., which replaced the original 350-sq.-ft. store in Dover, and a newer 2,500-sq.-ft. store in the Back Bay part of downtown Boston.
Helping the company to extend its personal touch into the future, the next generation to work the business, Jafri’s son Hasan, joined the company full time after graduating from college last year.
“It’s very important to our growth to stay within the family,” says the younger Jafri.
Having essentially grown up in the store, he gained some of the essential lessons early on in his career.
“When I go shopping I expect a certain level of service,” he explains. “In every industry across the board, what separates [the best companies] is customer service. The key is to frankly not let emotions get the best of you.”
As he considers the possibilities for his family’s business, he expects to continue working with his father by focusing growth on customers’ desires while still emphasizing the company’s key strengths.
“We will continue to do the good work we’ve been doing by innovating, and bringing technology and social media to the forefront,” Hasan says. “It makes the process easier and less intimidating for the consumer.
“We will always bring in fresh inventory and be the trendsetter in our market, bringing out the best products in the best colors at different price points and qualities while keeping to our core.”
As they move forward and evaluate the company’s history, Mahmud says Dover’s diverse offerings, expertise and family commitment have helped the business survive for over a century.
Especially with fine rugs, he notes, “customers would rather do business with a company that has been around a long time as our products can be around for a generations.”