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ECarpetGallery Celebrates 20 Years, Looks Ahead to the Future

CEO Emmanuel Torabi reflects on the company's growth from online retailer of Persian carpets to one-stop shopping destination for hand-knotted and machine woven rugs.

By Carol Tisch

MONTREAL AND NEW YORK -- In the digital retailing continuum, Emmanuel Torabi is both innovator and early adopter. Inspired by America's magnificent obsession with eBay, he saw an opportunity to sell rugs online, and in July 1996, ECarpetGallery was born.

From the first day its portal opened to consumers, the company quickly found a niche selling hand-knotted Persian rugs online -- not just in North America, but to shoppers worldwide. Two decades later, ECarpetGallery is doing big business with machine wovens as well as hand-knotteds in every design style. And it is fast-gaining major traction with sales to the biggest names in national brick and mortar stores.

Celebrating ECarpetGallery's 20th anniversary this year, Torabi tells RugNews.com in an exclusive interview what's next for this dynamic, growing, international company.

A vignette of colorful Gabbeh rugs takes center stage in the expansive ECarpetGallery showroom.

How did you get started in the rug business?

I grew up in Iran, and my family was in the rug business. I developed a keen understanding of all aspects of hand-knotted rugs from production to costs and marketing.

I noticed that the brick and mortar rug dealers had a limited market and were struggling to survive. I had a strong interest in ecommerce, and I thought I could use my knowledge of the rug business and my Internet vision to reach a much larger market than just the local area. 

I immediately realized that there were certain obstacles that we would have to overcome. 

The shopping experience had to be simple and easy. The product consumers purchased had to match their expectations. We had to have a good return policy, and we needed to build trust and provide a personal service.

What prompted you to start ECarpetGallery?

I was intrigued by eBay, and followed what it did very closely. I was amazed at the types of things people could buy and sell online, and I thought the model could be applied to rugs.

Did you believe 20 years ago that rugs would become so important on the Internet?

Statistically, I was aware that consumers were becoming more accustomed to purchasing on the Internet. I realized that this was a trend that was only going to increase. However, I have been surprised at how rapidly people have moved into this method of purchasing. 

For us, selling rugs online is still in its infancy stage. We are going to catapult into the next level with more and more outreach into the North American and international markets.


ECarpetGallery is known internationally for its access to Persian hand-knotted wool rugs such as this Heriz design in copper and dark navy.

What is the biggest change in the industry that you've experienced in the past 20 years?

The biggest change came in January and it will be huge for us: After 10 years, the United States ended its embargo on Iranian rugs, and the market is now experiencing a Renaissance. We are a very important source of Persian rugs, and we're very well known in North America for our access to Persian rugs. 

How will the lifting of the embargo impact your sales? 

It's hard to predict sales, but whatever the dollar number is this year, we can say that sales will have gone up 100 percent in the U.S. because we are starting from a sales base of zero. The Iranian rug producers have had an over-saturation of inventory for the past 10 years, and they are anxious to move product and develop new inventory.

What was the core mission when you started your company, and how has that evolved over the years?

We started online, but now we are developing our business with brick-and-mortar stores more and more. Not only have we diversified from online to brick and mortar, but also our product line has diversified. We used to be very strong in hand-knotted and now we also work with machine woven. The machine woven has come into play because the national brick and mortar stores sell to consumers that want affordable rugs -- but those consumers also expect great quality for the price.

What is the product mix at ECarpetGallery?

We pretty much cover it all. It's a very dynamic range, a very broad spectrum. We carry an abundance of hand knotted, hand tufted, hand woven, handmade and flatweave. You name it we've got it.  

We have over $20 million in inventory at any given time. We have a very in-depth product offering with a wide range of colors and sizes.

Persian rugs are displayed alongside a range of proprietary transitional and contemporary hand-knotted and machine woven designs curated by the ECarpetGallery design team.

When did you establish U.S. operations

We started in the United States a year after establishing the company in 1996. We ship in the U.S. out of New York. International sales ship from the main office in Montreal.  

What has been the biggest or most notable change in the company in the past 20 years?

The technological advancements have moved at such a rapid rate. With the constant development of software and applications, the younger generation turns first to the Internet for their purchases.  

Internally, we have taken full advantage of these technological changes which have allowed us to improve our product images, providing an accurate presentation, and a greater range of images of the rugs. It allows us to provide a flawless purchasing process -- and rapid shipment. 

What are you most proud of about the company?

I am most proud of my team. They have helped me grow the business. Most of the original employees are still here. 

We have shipped over three million rugs to date. I'm also proud to have provided so many people with exposure to Persian rugs. These rugs often become part of their family's home decor and are passed down from one generation to the next.  
In the last five years, ECarpetGallery's sales of machine-woven rugs like this traditional Ziegler design, have grown to 50 percent of the company's total business.

What does it take for a retailer to do well with rugs on the Internet?

Today, online shoppers are very savvy -- everything is at their fingertips. One of the reasons we are so successful is because we don't have many middlemen involved in our formula. Consumers are shopping for a great product, but they are also shopping for a great price. We have great relationships around the world to access marvelous products at a great price, and we pass that on to the consumer.

How does a retailer benefit by working with you as opposed to other rug vendors

They don't have to worry about customers cross shopping on the Internet because our products are proprietary. We are very good at sourcing great products at a great price.

Tell us about your sourcing -- are you and your staff constantly traveling -- searching for the next trend?

We have our own curating team, our own buying team. We travel the world and handpick all of our handmade products. And we design and work with the world's largest machine manufacturers to create proprietary collections for us in machine-woven products.

From the ECarpetGallery Alaskan collection, this machine-woven shag with thick plush pile exemplifies fashion's new take on the shag look popular in the '70s.

Do you have an all-time favorite rug design? 

My Persian culture has influenced my taste in rugs, so naturally I am drawn to the traditional Persian styles.  

Can you tell us anything about consumer buying patterns or trends?  

It depends on the product. Contemporary, modern designs are trending in machine woven. In hand knotted, consumers are definitely looking for the Persian rug look -- traditional, warm, cozy. Distressed looks are also trending in both machine woven as well as hand-knotted.

What can the industry expect from ECarpetGallery in the next 20 years?  

We will be equally as strong in our machine woven as we are in hand knotted rugs, always being able to provide affordable luxury. After five years selling national retailers, our brick and mortar and online sales are running neck and neck. We expect to grow both segments, and to continue to innovate in logistics. In this business, we have to be very dynamic and very nimble.

Machine-woven rugs on display in the ECarpetGallery showroom are designed for the consumers shopping national brick and mortar stores.


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