By Jennifer Quail
NEW YORK–Licensed rugs are on the rise as everything from magazine titles, interior designers and celebrity chefs find a home in the floor covering industry.
“Licensing gives more attention to a particular rug line within a store because retailers can put it in the spotlight to help consumers narrow their choices,” said Arash Yaraghi, principal of Safavieh. “But if the licensed rug is going to sell, the name is not enough. The licensed collections have to bring something fresh and new in terms of texture, color and fashion. Retailers in this category are not going to order—and consumers aren’t going to buy—just because the product carries a name.”
Many agreed, calling the license an initial hook to make the consumer stop and take a look.
“Licensing is a manner in which to differentiate one competitor from another and is effective,” said Joe Barkley, executive vice president at Kaleen. “While it is true that color and design are what sell area rugs, celebrity endorsers may bring initial attention to a collection. Afterward, the product must sell on its own merit.”
Executives said the consumer consciousness regarding the topic of design is elevated in comparison to years gone by. Today’s shopper is educated and “can often identify brands and designers by color palettes alone,” said Julie Rosenblum, brand and design manager for Nourison, noting that style recognition is especially true if the licensee is an internationally known fashion or home fashions designer.
A big question is what type of licensed brand draws more attention. Does a TV celebrity, for instance, draw more attention than a popular magazine or interior designer?
Safavieh has two distinct licensed collections: Martha Stewart, a TV personality, and Thomas O’Brien, an interiors and product designer. Yaraghi said the two collections have proven to be best sellers for the company, a fact he credits to Stewart’s and O’Brien’s design and color expertise. He did add, however, that if the company were to choose a new licensee, it “would go for the interior design experience over a place or theme. We believe the interior designer with a fresh approach to design and color does not have to be well-known to succeed in licensed rugs.”
The combination of an interior design background and television exposure has proven a strong selling point for HGTV-darling Candice Olson and her line of rugs at Hellenic Rug Imports. President Steve Mazarakis said Olson’s ever-growing roster of designs for the company are based strictly on what Olson likes and would use in her own designing of a space.
“She understands the business,” Mazarakis said. He added that Olson has become a great marketing tool for dealers who have begun to incorporate “Candice galleries” into their floor plans. And a similar level of exposure, albeit not on a design-oriented show, helped the Paula Deen line launch at Kaleen earlier this year to what Barkley called a “tremendous start,” adding the company expects several of the Deen designs to be among its best sellers by year’s end.
“Retailers are attracted to brands that offer a story, lifestyle, design knowledge or inspiration,” said Kim Barta, brand manager for Shaw Living. “Anything for that additional hook to tie the consumer back to the brand.”
In fact, Barta said 30 percent of the company’s top-selling designs are licensed products.
“It’s great to give the consumer the trust that the decision being made is the right one and one that the brand stands behind as well,” Barta said.
Rosenblum, too, noted the trust behind the brand is important to the consumer. Advertising plays a big part in consumer impressions, she said. “Fashion and home furnishing design companies generally spend more national advertising dollars to create brand awareness,” she said. “Consumers therefore gravitate toward these licensees when they have a positive image of the companies.”
One consumer group to keep an eye on is the teen/tween demographic. As in fashion, today’s youth are fiercely dedicated to their favorite characters, pop stars and pop culture in general. And, more and more, that dedication is beginning at even younger ages.
“Kids and tweens are highly dedicated to their favorite brands,” said Seth King, vice president of business development for Surya. “They are very likely to want a product solely because it is licensed by their favorite brand.” King added that as kids’ decor products tend to be of lower cost than pieces for the remainder of the home, the brand can carry more weight in the final purchase decision.
Still relatively new to the licensing circuit—the company launched several new brands, including B. Smith and Cosmo Girl, at the most recent High Point Market—King said Surya has already noticed that “licensed collections are more likely to get purchased as a whole collection by retailers instead of one rug at a time.”
One thing is certain: There is widespread agreement in the category that the licensing trend here will continue to grow.
“We live in a very brand-conscious society,” Rosenblum said. “It will be a natural progression for licensing to grow within the floor covering industry.”
As rug suppliers continue to realize the power of marketing and branding, “they will develop more licensee relationships,” King said, adding the question to ask going forward is: “With today’s world of information overload, what is going to make a consumer stop and take a longer look at your product?”