Issue Date: 2018 MARCH, Posted On: 3/5/2018

030552018 Rug Gallery by Gerami's Celebrates 20 Years, Shares Strategies for Successful Independent Retailing
By Jessica Harlan
 The management team at Rug Gallery by Gerami's, owners Carla Gerami and Gerald Gerami, pose with store manager Monica Cagle, in front of a textured abstract rug.

LAFAYETTE, La. -- This May, Rug Gallery by Gerami's will celebrate its 20th year in business. But the company's history as an important player in the Lafayette, Louisiana area extends far beyond two decades, and its strategies for growth make for a bright future. 

Gerami's Flooring was founded in 1920, making it the oldest floor covering business in the city. Today, it's owned and run by third-generation members of the Gerami family, Gary and Greg Gerami.

Meanwhile, Gerald Gerami heads up Rug Gallery by Gerami's, a business that he and his family started in May 1998. Beforehand, "We weren't really in the rug business, other than a couple of small 6x9 rug racks," recalls Gerald Gerami. "We just saw a need from the flooring side of the business, as things were evolving more to hard surface flooring like wood, tile, and laminate."

The new Rug Gallery by Gerami's in Lafayette, Louisiana boasts 5,500 square feet, and features handmade and machine made rugs, furniture and accessories.

The gallery made its start with mainly machine-made rugs in a 3,000-square-foot storefront. But as it became successful, Gerami expanded its offerings to include handmade, tufted, wool --¦"the whole spectrum."  Five years ago, the company built and relocated to a new location that expanded the floor to 5,500 square feet. 

The new location was also on the other side of town, which helped expose the Gerami's name to a new audience. The synergy with Gerami's Floors had originally helped the rug gallery gain a reputation, and now, its location helps cement the Gerami's name as a leader in all aspects of flooring.

"Even though I don't sell flooring here [at Rug Gallery by Gerami's], and they don't sell rugs there, our two businesses complement each other and we refer customers back and forth."

The rug lineup at Rug Gallery by Gerami's is still strong in traditional but shifting toward transitional and modern to appeal to younger buyers.

Rug Gallery by Gerami's focuses on the mid- to upper-price point to avoid going head to head with the local big box stores. The sweet spot seems to be in the $700 to $800 range for a machine-made 8x10 rug. 

When it comes to style, traditional designs have reigned over the years, reflecting the market of home styles. But Gerami is starting to see younger buyers moving into the area, and with them, an interest in slightly more transitional and modern looks. "Our mix of products is about 50-50 now, between traditional and transitional offerings," Gerami said. Among the top brands carried are Loloi, Jaipur Living, Nourison, Oriental Weavers, HRI, Rizzy, Surya and Karastan. Custom offerings - in particular Nourison's 50 to Infinity program - are a niche part of the company's business.

Rugs are displayed mostly on a handful of 35-arm racks that can accommodate rugs of up to a 9x12 size, while additional racks hold the 6x9 foot offerings. Hand-knotted rugs are stacked, while other hand-knots are displayed partially unrolled.
From rack displays to stacks and rolls of runners, Rug Gallery by Gerami's offers customers a choice of instant gratification with in stock rugs, to corner samples for special orders.

Growth in Furniture and Accessories

About three years ago, Gerami's added other categories to its assortment, including lighting, furniture, accessories, and artwork. This is a growing category as customers are eager to accessorize their homes to coordinate with their rug purchases, and probably accounts for 15 to 20 percent of Gerami's business. Some of Gerami's vendors for furniture and accessories are Uttermost, Coast to Coast, Aidan Grey, Dovetail Furniture, and Left Bank Art.

"We saw an opportunity there because about a quarter of our business every month is dealing with designers and decorators that come in with their clients," says Gerami. "They suggested that we bring in those types of items." 

In three years, furniture, lighting and home accessories, added at the request of designer customers, have grown to represent 15 to 20 percent of Gerami's business.

Shopping Atlanta and Las Vegas Markets

This January was Gerald Gerami's 20th year of attending the Atlanta International Area Rug Market, which he still views as one of his most important resources. He can't recall ever missing a winter market. 

"Going to market is a very important and integral part of our business for a number of reasons," he says. "Obviously, to see the new products that are coming out, since they do change continually, more so today than ever before. But also to network with other people who are in the industry, who have stores that are similar. I've built relationships with them over the years."

Gerami also adds a trip to the Las Vegas Market to his calendar whenever he can, usually once a year. "The Vegas Market has also developed into a nice rug market, especially now that I've also gotten into the accessory and furniture side of the business. While most of the same vendors are at both markets, you get the opportunity to be exposed to different things that aren't carried at both."

At markets, he looks at color and style trends, and tries to find niche products that might fill a price point, a look or a style, that isn't currently represented on the sales floor.

Focus on Personalized Service 

Hands-on service is a trademark with Rug Gallery by Gerami's. For customers who are not working with designers, the staff can help with product selection, and encourage customers to bring in fabric swatches and color chips. A 'try it before you buy it guarantee' allows customers to take a rug home on approval to try it out in a space to ensure it works with the lighting and furnishings. Delivery and setup is also available upon request.

It's these services that help Rug Gallery by Gerami's deal with its biggest competitor: the Internet. "We have a small website presence where people can gather information, but most people like to deal with a local business, they like to interact with someone in person. They like the idea that you can see it, touch it, feel it, and bring it home," says Gerami. "The biggest factor is that they want to make sure they're getting the best value for their money, and that they're getting good service in the process."

Says Gerami, "In today's world of the Internet and the big box stores, I feel that there's still a viable place for the small, independent business. In our local communities, we still provide a product and a service that most people enjoy. I'm very optimistic about our future and think we'll continue to grow in the years to come."

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