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Pamela Brill

U.S. rug vendors bank on quality, nimbleness

Made in America

A braider twists a braid at one of Capel Rugs’ three Troy, N.C., factories. Since 1917, braided rugs made in the U.S. have been one of Capel’s staple products.A braider twists a braid at one of Capel Rugs’ three Troy, N.C., factories. Since 1917, braided rugs made in the U.S. have been one of Capel’s staple products.
TROY, N.C. - Allen Robertson, vice president of sales for Capel Rugs, which is based here, has a story he loves to tell, which - though it's an extreme example - demonstrates the nimble production capabilities that come with making rugs in the USA.

A few years back, Robertson received a call on a Wednesday from a customer in Hilton Head, S.C., who forgot to order a braided rug as part of a $100,000 installation project he was working on. The customer asked Robertson if it would be possible to have a rug sent by that Friday.

"It was about 2:00 in the afternoon so I ran to the plant and asked if we could make an 8 by 11 rug and still get it to UPS today," Robertson recalled. "We shipped it and it went to Hilton Head. The guy called me at 2:00 the next afternoon and said, ‘Cancel the order, apparently we had ordered it.' He didn't realize we did it and shipped it. We do have some service advantages."

Jonathan Witt, Oriental Weavers vice president, said rug companies that make at least some of their product in the U.S. have the ability respond to changes in demand more quickly.

"If you're dealing with larger retail chains whose demand can fluctuate, if you're solely importing, you can get caught with backorders," he said.

Brandon Culpepper, vice president of specialty sales for Mohawk Inds. - which produces the Karastan and American Rug Craftsmen rug brands - said the ability to respond on that level gives companies that manufacture domestically an advantage when it comes to stocking stores in the U.S.

"Retailers have shifted more of the inventory burden on the manufacturer and wholesaler," Culpepper said. "If you can make it here and ship it here and not ever be out of stock, that improves the whole situation."

Or, in the case of Colonial Mills, stock is never an issue because every braided rug the manufacturer ships is made only when an order is received.

"We don't have minimums; we're an entirely made-to-order company. We don't have to stock inventories. The only thing we stock is the materials," said Meredith Thayer, creative director of the Pawtucket, R.I.-based manufacturer. "For a lot of companies, that's appealing to them because they can order just one and it can be drop shipped to the customer and they don't have to handle it."

While some point to nimbleness as an advantage of American-made product, others say consumers want goods made here.

"Made in the USA has become more and more important and a subject that has really been pushed to the forefront over the past several years - consumers want to support America and American-made products," said Kim Barta, Shaw Living brand manager.

"It's important to people. Based on the economy and how most people see our recovery and solving unemployment issues is Made in the USA," added Witt. "We're manufacturing more this year in the States than we have previously."

Thayer said that as end consumers continue to gain greater access to information, they want to know more about where the products they buy are made.

"There's a lot of focus in the craft end of things," Thayer said. "It spans across, not just in furniture and home but you see it in food and everything, people are interested in where their products are coming from and where they're sourced from.... I think it's a trend about people understanding where their products are coming from and having a connection with the products they're buying. I think that's going to continue as people have more access to things now."

While popular here for a number of reasons, American-made rugs continue to gain strength in the export market as well.

"One of the neat phenomena of Made in America is how, on a global basis, consumers in other countries appreciate it. Our friends in Canada - that's a big-selling feature for product," Robertson said. "People come in from Canada and want to buy the products we make in America."
Culpepper agreed, noting that "Made in the USA" carries a connotation of superiority worldwide.

"American-made equals quality manufacturing. Emerging markets like that concept, especially on the upper price points," Culpepper said. "There's a lot of interest in Karastan in China because of the perceived luxury aspect of it. The Chinese market likes high-end American brands."

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