Designing the Outdoor Floor
Sphinx by Oriental Weavers focuses on outdoor rug growth
Alexa Boschini -- Casual Living, 4/1/2013 2:00:00 AM
Since launching in Egypt more than 30 years ago, Oriental Weavers has expanded its operation to four continents and continually grows its product line with new constructions and designs. The rug and carpet manufacturer operates in the United States under the name Sphinx by Oriental Weavers, and over the past 15 years, the company has ventured outdoors in a big way.
According to Oriental Weavers USA Vice President Jonathan Witt, outdoor rugs are the company's fastest growing product category. Sphinx by Oriental Weavers offers six outdoor rug collections - Montego, Lanai, Karavia, Caspian, Bali and its latest introduction, Lagos - featuring a variety of looks from simple designs and classic neutrals to playful patterns and vibrant colors.
As outdoor rug offerings increase, the floor covering has become a key component of the outdoor room. Casual Living conferred with Wittto discuss Sphinx by Oriental Weavers' entry into the outdoor segment, the evolution of the outdoor rug and the company's plans for future growth.
HOW, WHEN AND WHERE DID ORIENTAL WEAVERS START?
Witt: Oriental Weavers is the world's largest woven, outdoor and printed rug manufacturer with more than 19,000 employees in our offices and factories throughout Africa, Asia, Europe and North America and ships rugs to nearly 150 countries. The company was formed in the late 1970s in Cairo, Egypt, and continually invests in expanding its production capacity and ability to service the growing global rug and carpet market.
In addition to manufacturing operations in the USA, Egypt and China, the company acquired a manufacturing facility in Turkey in early 2013 and is breaking ground on an aggressive expansion of that facility to be completed in early 2014.
In the USA, Oriental Weavers operates under the brand name Sphinx by Oriental Weavers. The domestic headquarters and manufacturing facility are based in Dalton, Ga. In addition, the company has permanent showrooms in Atlanta, High Point, Las Vegas and New York.
HOW WERE THE COMPANY AND ITS PRODUCTS DIFFERENT FROM COMPETITORS? WHAT SET ORIENTAL WEAVERS APART?
Witt: When Oriental Weavers entered the U.S. marketplace in the early 1990s, there were basically two categories of area rugs. There were heirloom type hand-knotted and Axminster rugs or the very cheap and poorly designed synthetic rugs that were sold through discount stores. There was no middle ground.
Oriental Weavers has been credited with creating product that represented an unbeatable apparent value that provided the same aesthetic as the heirloom rugs of the time, but at a fraction of the price. Our company created and marketed the idea that area rugs should be an accessory to the room and not the foundation of the room. Rugs can easily make the biggest visual change to a room setting and today quality rugs can be purchased for the price of two lamps.
WHEN DID ORIENTAL WEAVERS ENTER THE OUTDOOR MARKET? WHY DID THE COMPANY DECIDE TO MOVE IN THAT DIRECTION?
Witt: The company entered the outdoor market in 1998 when the first flat weave and loop machines were introduced. At first we marketed the flat weave and loop qualities as indoor, but soon realized that with some changes to backing materials we could market the rugs for outdoor use as well. In the beginning, retail buyers and consumers better understood the indoor product. But as the outdoor living industry exploded over the last 10 years, so has the outdoor rug business. Today, our company is by far the largest manufacturer of outdoor area rugs in the world.
WHAT WERE SOME OF THE COMPANY'S FIRST OUTDOOR DESIGNS? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MOST POPULAR OUTDOOR RUGS YOU OFFER NOW?
Witt: The first designs were very simple one and two color rugs that were primarily beige and brown with occasional black accents or borders. The idea was to create the look of natural fiber jute and sisal rugs. The machinery at the time did not allow for much of a design or texture story. As our engineers and design teams have made changes to the machines, we have been able to create limitless texture stories and can now offer up to eight colors in a single outdoor rug. Our five-color Caspian collection has been the hit of spring 2013.
HOW HAS THE OUTDOOR CATEGORY EVOLVED FOR YOU OVER THE YEARS?
Witt: Obviously, the segment has probably been the fastest growing for any furniture or accessory supplier that offers outdoor products. Oriental Weavers is lucky to have invested early in the future of outdoor rugs and offers the largest manufacturing capacity and the most varied qualities and colors.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE CUSTOMER RESPONSE TO YOUR OUTDOOR PRODUCTS?
Witt: Year after year, outdoor rugs are our fastest growing product segment. We introduce at least two new collections each year and also develop private label programs for retailers around the world.
HOW HAS THE COMPANY AS A WHOLE EVOLVED? WHAT CHALLENGES HAVE YOU ENCOUNTERED OVER THE YEARS AND HOW DID YOU RESPOND?
Witt: We all dealt with the effects of the economic downturn in 2008 and its slow recovery. However, the outdoor market posed an additional challenge. All outdoor rugs are made of 100% polypropylene yarns. Polypropylene is a derivative of crude oil and natural gas. Both of those commodities have seen drastic price increases over the past few years so we are constantly challenged to create beautiful product, but maintain relevant price points.
WHAT DISTRIBUTION CHANNELS DO YOU CURRENTLY SERVE? WHICH CHANNELS DO YOU THINK HAVE THE GREATEST POTENTIAL FOR GROWTH?
Witt: Furniture stores, catalog houses/Internet, outdoor/patio/pool supply and department stores. The catalog/Internet channel continues to be the fastest growing distribution channel for area rugs in general, especially in retail price points of $299 and under. The majority of outdoor rugs retail for less than $299, even in the larger 8'x10' room size, so outdoor rugs are a natural for this channel.
That being said, we see great potential for growth with specialty retailers that focus on the outdoor, patio and pool products. This is a channel that was untouched in traditional rug distribution strategies, so there are many new relationships to cultivate.
WHAT IS THE COMPANY'S OUTLOOK FOR THE YEAR AHEAD? WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR LONG-TERM GOALS?
Witt: Our company is coming off an impressive 2011 and 2012, so looking at 2013 we expect to see modest growth in our normal channels, but we do have an increased marketing and product focus on the outdoor category and expect to expand our current distribution dramatically.
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