15817 Tue, 12/23/2008 - 12:44pm
By Jennifer Alexis
ATLANTA–Rug vendors are fine-tuning their market strategies as they look to make the most of the upcoming Atlanta International Area Rug Market.
The consensus among the industry is that the Atlanta market remains an essential commitment. However, expectations this year are tempered, of course, and many vendors are taking a slightly modified approach to the event.
Kas Rugs has had a presence at the market for over 20 years and Wendy Reiss, key account manager, said the company has been consistently strong there. She doesn’t expect that to change this year, but she has noticed changes in the way her customers are conducting business.
“What we are seeing is that buyers are not necessarily placing orders at market,” she said. “They are figuring out their game plan first, so we have to make sure to follow up with buyers right after market.”
Kimberly Barta, brand manager for the rug division of Shaw, concurs that people sometimes need to mull over all they’ve seen during market and don’t make a purchase until they are back on home turf. Barta also stresses the importance of keeping in touch with customers.
“In the downturn economy, we are encouraging sales reps to contact their customers more than ever,” she said. “We want to make sure they are asking retailers what they need and if there is anything we can do to help them. You want to do that no matter, but it is especially important now.”
Asha Chaudhary, chief executive officer of Jaipur Rugs, is similarly taking a “no-call-is-lost” approach and encourages all reps to make sure they know and understand the needs of the company’s customers.
“There is so much competition,” Chaudhary said. “You really have to be in touch with the client and let them know you care about them, because there are so many choices for your clients to choose from.”
For many vendors, a big part of making the most of their time in Atlanta will come down to who they can get into their showrooms. Many say that strong sales at market are dependent upon their ability to nail down appointments with potential and existing customers.
“We drive business through appointments made in advance,” said Alex Peykar, president of Nourison. “While we’d like to see a busy market with people walking in from the aisles, we depend on our appointments.”
Austin Craley, Momeni’s vice president of sales, said he shares the modest expectations of his peers despite Momeni’s history of success in Atlanta.
“It has been the best market for us historically,” he said. “Even in 2008, it was the best for us.”
Momeni has had a showroom in Atlanta for more than 20 years and has even expanded into adjacent showrooms as previous tenants moved out. Thanks to recent renovations, it will soon have the largest rug showroom in the building.
“By committing to new showrooms,” Craley said, “we demonstrate that we believe in the Atlanta market and that it is the No. 1 destination for area rug customers.”
Craley stressed, however, that despite the strength of the market, companies will have to ratchet up their efforts to see any gains.
“Most of the major retailers feel that the retail environment may not improve until 2010,” he said based on feedback he received during the recent High Point Furniture Market. “Not that business isn’t being conducted, but you really have to work hard, control your inventory and be smart with your advertising.”
Meanwhile, this year’s International Area Rug Show holds the distinction of being the first to be combined with the Atlanta International Gift and Home Furnishings Market. Rug vendors are hoping that this will generate extra traffic for everyone, and that they’ll have the opportunity to attract people who wouldn’t normally shop rug showrooms. “Hopefully it will bring more excitement,” said Peykar. “It should help psychologically, if in no other way.”
Most vendors agree, however, that they have to come prepared to showcase fresh, new products and to boost the excitement level as high as possible, no matter how many people show up. They anticipate that attendees will be there with the intent to buy—particularly since, these days, people seem choosier about when and where they travel and which markets they attend. For most retailers and buyers, mere window shopping isn’t worth the expense, and they expect to see new products.
“It’s definitely looked at as the market for new introductions,” Reiss said. “January is when people are looking at the trends.”