Issue Date: , Posted On: 8/7/2017

08072017 Couristan in Growth Mode: Builds on Family Legacy, Plans to Double Sales
By Carol Tisch

At July's Atlanta International Area Rug Market, George and Ron Couri introduce customers to new execs, Jeff Forwood (center), Marlys Giordano, Mike Riley, and Mark Ferullo.

ATLANTA -- Couristan principals George and Ron Couri have restructured the company to ensure its 91-year-old legacy not only continues well into the future, but that the residential and hospitality floor covering giant doubles in sales in the next five years.

"We want to hit our 110th anniversary and continue the legacy for the next generation," George Couri, chairman and COO, told RugNews.com at the July 2017 Atlanta International Area Rug Market. "We're here to show our renewed commitment to the brand, and to expanding sales and distribution," added Ron Couri, CEO. 

At market to introduce their new management team to buyers, the brothers have tied that commitment to a number: "Double in five," George said. "We see growth opportunities in all three of our divisions and we're investing in all three."

"We want to continue the legacy for the next generation." -- George Couri, chairman and COO, Couristan 

Asked specifically about the company's growth plans for area rugs, Mike Riley, Couristan's new president, says most of it is expected to come from channel expansions. "Couristan had not been very heavy in the e-commerce business and the furniture store business, and really was more focused on specialty stores," he explained. "We're looking ahead with a new team focused on better product development and customer service in new and existing channels."
RugNews.com sat down with Ron Couri and Mike Riley at the Atlanta market to learn more about the company's redefined goals and structure. But we also wanted to delve into the Couris' sophistication in confronting succession planning. With most family businesses in the U.S. reluctant to even broach the subject, (according to numerous global surveys, including one released by Price Waterhouse Coopers in 2016), Couristan is rather unique -- not just in home furnishings but among industries across the board. 

The key differentiator for the Couri brothers is their determination to protect the legacy. "They want to bring the company to the next level so when the next generation is ready to take over, Couristan is fully on board with technology, systems, product development, customer service and everything else.  It's amazingly intelligent and bold. And it really says a lot about George and Ron," Riley explained.


"We're showing our renewed commitment to expanding sales and distribution." -- Ron Couri, CEO, Couristan

Ron Couri, whose title had been CEO and president before Riley's appointment earlier this year, explained, "Mike is our new president, and we've put in three vice presidents. 

To that, Riley quips, "Ron gave me part of his title." Couri replied: "I got demoted."
Indeed, in the company's 91-year history, the family hasn't hired a president since industry icon Walter West retired in 1996 after a 45-year tenure with the company. 

"We're shaking it up, bringing in new people and thought processes." -- Mike Riley, president, Couristan
Reporting to Riley, the three vice presidents head divisions aligned with the company's target markets. "It allows us to really focus on our segments," said Riley. "Mark Ferullo, as vice president of the area rug division, is focused solely on rugs. Jeff Forwood, as the VP of residential, is focused more on broadloom, but with the specialty store rug business. And Niall Coree is our new vice president of hospitality." 

Not new to the company, Coree has been with Couristan since 1981, working out of the company's operations in England and Ireland. "He moved here in 2016 and runs the hospitality division under Mike and George," Couri noted, adding that a new vice president of operations, Stan McWaters, has also been hired. "Stan was responsible for about three million feet in his previous job, and has done rebuilding and modernization at this level before. He's taken over all the operations in Dalton to bring us to the next level in operations and supply chain, and he's developing IT to go along with it." 

Another new hire, Marlis Giordano, joined the company this summer as creative director for the area rug division. Riley liked the idea that she comes to the job with heavy retail experience. "I think one of the most important things in a product development person is to understand retail: the assortment, the mixed price points, the product matrix."

In hospitality, the company has 22 designers reporting to that division's own creative head. Couri explained that hospitality has different salespeople from rugs and broadloom, as well as a different design staff. "It's a whole different thought process; it's a different world, and this new structure allows more support for each group individually. They're really almost three independent business units," he said. 

A concierge level space at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota features a custom beach-themed hand-tufted rug from Couristan Hospitality to complement hardwood floors and create a residential look.


"In a company that's 91 years old," Riley said, "It's pretty amazing that Ron and George would step back and say, 'We want to continue the legacy of Couristan, and to do that we need to look hard and long at what we're doing, reinvest in the company and make a new charge.' That takes a lot of chutzpah."

"We wanted to shake it up, bring in new people and new thought processes. We don't want to hear people to say, 'This is the way we've always done it,'" Riley added.
"Part of Mike's job is to disrupt the way the we've always done business at Couristan," Couri said. "He's asking, 'Why is this the way we've been doing it? Is there a way we can do it better? How can we become more efficient?'"

Riley elaborated: "It's about revising our systems and procedures to create more efficiencies in everything from the sales cycles to our computer system, to our warehousing, to logistics, and supply chain. It really is looking at every aspect of the business and saying, 'We've always done it this way; now how can we do it differently?'"
The family is committed to expansion, and to doing whatever is necessary to grow the business, Riley explained. "We've added people in every department. We've added people in customer service in Dalton. We've added additional support in Fort Lee, New Jersey, which is the nerve center of the company. It's about evaluating everything we're doing, and doing it better." 

The Vintage area rug collection from Couristan features reworked Persian motifs like this antique Tabriz design power loomed with up to 17 colors. 


"The neatest thing is the customers were at a point where they wanted to see a change," Riley pointed out. "My first market [with Couristan] was the New York Market in the spring, and I was shocked at how open people were about telling us, 'It's about time!'
"Dealers were ready for new people and a new product direction," he said. "There have not been a lot of changes here over the years. The timing was really good for it."  

"It's a breath of fresh air," Couri explained. "Mike has been in the industry for a long time and he's going to put all the parts of the puzzle together. Now I can retire in peace."
Riley added, "They could have sold; there are so many equity companies that will buy what we've got today. But Ron and George decided they were going to recommit heavily to this business and carry on the legacy. That's huge today.
"Most people just sell out and build a yacht -- I would," laughed Riley, who considers himself a 'custodian of the legacy' until the next generation takes the baton. "I'm a trustee for the interim period, and that goes to the length of time I've known George and Ron. The hope is that someday they can take their foot off the pedal, and they wanted someone in place they could rely on."
"We want this this to go on for a long, long time," Couri concluded, "We're having a lot of fun, and the entire company is invigorated."

A pioneer in indoor-outdoor broadloom, Couristan's weaves much of its broadloom, including the Bay Head collection shown above, from its 100 percent Courtron polypropylene.  

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