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Outdoor possibilities tempt rug makers

Rug manufacturers are getting their feet wet in the casual industry, creating floor coverings that can withstand whatever Mother Nature has in store. Some are diving in, hoping to increase their presence in the outdoor market, while others are merely wading to see if their customers will catch on. All say it was just a matter of time until rugs joined sofas, occasional tables, lamps and kitchens in order to complete an outdoor living area.

Outdoor area rugs have been the most successful product category for designer Kea Capel Meacham since she started her own company, KEA, 18 months ago.

"As manufacturers, the outdoor rooms we're furnishing now represent our first real opportunity for product expansion, and the subsequent margin dollars, in years," Meacham said. "Outdoor gives us an opportunity to use existing machinery and skills with new raw materials in creating new product with accompanying new pricing, new margins. The consumer has not yet established retail thresholds for most outdoor product, so the opportunity is ripe for smart, stylish manufacturers to gain some ground."

In the past two months, Meacham's expansion into the casual market hasn't gone unnoticed. Both Homemaker Industries and Tyndall Creek introduced outdoor rugs by the designer.

"We've certainly raised the pulse rate around here," said Mike Kelly, president and COO of Homemaker Industries, "Our customers have enjoyed the retail response to this new line, and know Kea has a knack for understanding what the consumer wants in home fashions."

The rugs for Tyndall Creek are designed to coordinate with fabrics the Wilmington, N.C.-based manufacturer offers for its seat cushions and umbrellas. The rugs will debut at the Inter-national Casual Furniture and Accessories Market next month.

"The Tyndall Creek relationship is exciting for both of us," Meacham said. "First, I can contribute a look for the floor that truly elevates their furniture ensembles. Second, it helps extend their brand influence by giving their customer a fully coordinated lifestyle for outdoor, one that is casual, active, young and fresh. I think it's a good fit for the KEA brand."

As a nod to its own expansion in the outdoor category, Colonial Mills will exhibit for the first time at the Casual Show as well.

The Pawtucket, R.I.-based rug company has made 100% polypropylene rugs for more than 20 years, touting the product as indoor/outdoor, but it's only recently the category has caught attention.

"Consumers are now beginning to recognize their living space can extend outdoors," said Colonial Mills President Don Scarlata. "I think a lot of it has to do with the upgrade of outdoor furniture."

Colonial Mills continued to expand in the outdoor arena with the introduction of the Simply Home Collection last year, a rectangular textured line from licensed artist Janelle Lamb, featuring geometric styling.

"We're just starting," Scarlata said. "We'll be expanding in (the outdoor market) with additional designs and adding colors. As far as challenges, the retailers themselves will pose a challenge. We have point-of-purchase ideas and sampling systems we think will help. Anything new is always a challenge."

More recently, Stanton Carpet Corporation, Syosset, N.Y., introduced The Anywhere Collection in April, an eight broadloom rug line that features its premier branded Royaltron polypropylene fiber. The collection also is treated with a UV stabilizer to protect the rugs from fading in the sun.

"We're on the decorative end of the business," said Jonathan Cohen, executive vice president of Stanton Carpet. "We're covering the inside, so we might as well cover the outside."

With a core customer base of mid- to high-end carpet retailers, Cohen said the company hopes to address a distribution channel of specialty retailers in the outdoor segment. "(The collection has) gotten a lot of promotion of marketing," he said. "Our dealers have been very receptive to it."

828 International Trading introduced the Alfresco Collection, a PVC-manufactured rug line in both flat and ribbed constructions. Due to the success of the collection, a second outdoor line, the Knoxville Collection, quickly followed.

"It's a natural," said 828 International President Jim Clardy. "Because of the basic explosion of the open environment, we felt there was a need for a floor covering."

Capel Incorporated introduced outdoor-friendly rugs six years ago at the suggestion of a customer. Because of the success of the initial Woodrun line, five additional collections followed — three braided lines, including Bob Timberlake's Outdoor Retreat, and Weatherwise, constructed of 100% olefin.

Allen Robertson, national sales manager for Capel, echoed Clardy, and said, "People like to personalize everything. When you look at what people are paying for grills and outdoor furniture these days, it is just a natural. You want to make your house unique."

Colonial Mills, or cmi, collaborated with home decorating designer Janelle Lamp to create Boardwalk, featuring bands of bright colors and 100% polypropylene construction.

Made of an acrylic and polypropylene blend, the Jellybean Punch Porch and Patio Rug from designer Jill Rosenwald and Home Comfort features a whimsical pattern in a SnoCone color scheme of blues, red, green and cream.

The Alfresco PVC series of outdoor rugs from 828 International Trading Co. is made to withstand all Mother Nature can dish out, from snow and rain to sleet and ice, and exhibits a clean design in six solid shades, including black and fire-engine red.

Part of Capel's indoor/outdoor collections, Finesse is embellished with a petite neutral floral motif frame against a blue background, with a larger scale floral design as the centerpiece.

Stanton's Anywhere Collection includes the Logan rug with UV-stabilized binding.

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