By Jennifer Alexis
The hand-tufted segment of the handmade rug business has surged by leaps and bounds recently, as growing numbers of vendors expand their assortments or enter the arena for the first time.
Meanwhile, some manufacturers believe an updated marketing strategy that highlights the artistry, value and beauty of hand-knotted rugs would ultimately generate healthy profit for rug retailers and vendors.
An increasing number of companies known for their hand-knotted programs and one-of-a-kind pieces have abandoned the knotted-only approach to include tufted rugs in order to broaden their retail distribution and stay relevant in the market. Jaipur Rugs is a recent convert. Until last year, 100 percent of its line was Persian knotted or sumac. Today 40 percent is hand-tufted, and Jaipur’s entire line will have quadrupled in size by the beginning of 2009.
“We were very strong in knotted, but a lot of our customers really wanted us to take our strength and transfer it to hand-tufted, which has a broader appeal,” said Asha Chaudhary, Jaipur’s chief executive officer. “The market for it is huge. Companies that are doing the right thing will continue to expand in tufted.”
Jaunty Rugs is another company that used to only deal in hand-knotted rugs, yet today has come to boast an assortment of mostly hand-tufted product. It’s a move that Rami Navid, executive vice president of sales, said the company began making years ago.
Even a company such as Couristan, known in the industry for its strong power-loom business, has been compelled to expand into tufted. “They really give us a well-rounded assortment,” said Kelly Watson, director of sourcing and product development.
The shift in the market is directly correlated to changes in the way Americans are furnishing and decorating their homes, sources said. The boom in consumer demand for updated color palates and decor that complement more-casual lifestyles has driven the tufted business.
The ease with which manufacturers can quickly and effectively respond to fast-changing trends in design and color using this construction technique makes it perfect for today’s market demands. The fact that tufted rugs are relatively inexpensive to produce—particularly as compared to the production costs of hand-knotted rugs—is the piece de resistance.
And manufacturers agree that the lower price point does not necessarily equate to compromised quality. In fact, many concur that the quality of tufted rugs has improved greatly recently, with many of the better pieces actually competently mimicking characteristics of hand-knotted ones.
“These rugs are giving knotted a lot of competition,” Chaudhary said.
This improvement in quality, combined with the accessible price points and the fact that many designs and colors are only achievable through handmade techniques, means consumers have plenty of options in this category.
Consumers are looking for fashion-forward pieces that fit well in their homes and won’t obliterate their budgets, vendors said. The consumer base of people who care about things like knot density, authentic traditional design or a product that will eventually become a family heirloom has been shrinking.
“Handmade rugs don’t have the same connotation that they used to,” Watson said. “Rugs aren’t handed down from generation to generation anymore. People don’t keep them forever.”
Chaudhary agreed. “Five years ago hand-knotted was still seen as an investment, an heirloom item,” she said. “The whole perception today is very different.”
Rug shoppers are now gravitating toward colors and designs that match the more casual, transitional or modern furniture and decor currently on the market. Since trends change continually, many consumers don’t want to spend too much money on a product they may want to change a few years down the road.
Chaudhary also points out that about 25 percent of her business comes from online purchases, meaning these consumers are buying mostly on the basis of color and price points. The fine points of different types of construction and the resulting quality gets lost in translation as consumers rely on their eyes to make their buying decisions.
Vendors report that while very high-end knotted products are still in demand with customers who can afford it, there are signs that there could be production-cost increases coming down the pike. Factors such as more intense competition for laborers in China, for example, can put a crimp in the business.
“Because hand-knotted rugs are so labor intensive, it has become increasingly difficult to dedicate that kind of labor to rugs,” said Arash Yaraghi, principal of Savavieh.
Momeni’s vice president of sales, Austin Craley, echoed the sentiment, saying that for the first time in a long time the cost of producing knotted is on the rise. Craley is also among those who suggest that companies in the rug business should devote more time and resources—not less—to selling the centuries-old tradition of hand-knotted rugs.
He said sharing the story behind the making of hand-knotted pieces with consumers is an underrated selling point today and one that deserves more attention. “The story used to sell the rug,” he said. “Years ago, we used to talk about the exotic ways in which these rugs are made. It really is a romantic industry, and today there’s no more romance.”