By Jennifer Quail
ATLANTA–It’s a family affair as CMI celebrates 30 years in business and moves ahead with plans for expanding its presence on the market circuit.
The business has been a family one from the onset. Don Scarlata, president and chief executive officer, started it with his brother, whom he later bought out, and now employs his three children. Since its early days, Scarlata said he has seen a lot of changes in the industry. In fact, he said when he was starting out, “there were basically two kinds of rugs: Oriental and braided. We heard a lot of people saying braided rugs were the poor man’s Oriental.”
CMI actually started out catering more to the gift buyer than the rug retailer. “We did chair pads and accessories like that, in addition to the rugs,” Scarlata said. “But when you look at the size of the gift business, it’s really a lot of small companies and we found once you hit a few million in sales, you needed a wider audience.”
An early resident of AmericasMart, Scarlata said CMI has even watched that business change, morphing from a haven for broadloom companies to embracing the birth of the area rug business beyond the Oriental rugs. In time, the company decided it, too, needed to move with the times and made the decision in recent years to officially change its name from Colonial Mills Inc. to CMI.
“When we went from calling ourselves Colonial Mills to CMI, it was an issue of image,” Scarlata said, adding having the term “Colonial” in the company’s name had the tendency to scare off certain potential customers who claimed to not want any product that was deemed “colonial.”
“Our demographics are changing now,” he added. “We’re getting a younger customer. They’re not saying ‘braided rugs are for my grandmother’ anymore.” In fact, in many of the company’s newer braided lines, the style and patterning is a far cry from the stereotype.
CMI’s mission has always been to be a U.S. manufacturer and in this particular product category, so Scarlata said he found he was asking himself, “What else can I make that is still a braid?” The answer was a slew of accessories, everything from table runners to utility baskets that made CMI one of the first rug companies to recognize the power and potential in expanding one’s product roster, a trend seen more often today.
“Certainly, it’s sometimes a challenge to remain domestic,” he said. “We’re challenged sometimes by the lower cost of imports.” But Scarlata said the important thing, and the tactic that keeps CMI thriving, is what the company can offer in terms of service. “When you turn around orders in five days with no stock requirements, that makes a difference,” he said.
Next up for CMI is the opening of its next showroom this July at the World Market Center in Las Vegas. Scarlata said the company will have new products “in line with the green theme” ready for the July opening.