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Retail, Retailers

Miriam Thompson Founder of The Rug Rack Celebrates 20th Anniversary

Miriam Thompson shares her store's evolution and plans for future growth as the business marks its 20th birthday.

By Jessica Harlan
Portrait in front of rug display
Miriam Thompson of The Rug Rack talks with RugNews.com about the Chattanooga-based retail store's evolution and plans for future growth as the business marks its 20th birthday at the peak of a global pandemic.

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- The Rug Rack celebrates its 20th anniversary this month. And, while COVID-19 has put an 
end to the type  of celebration that proprietor Miriam Thompson had envisioned, there's still plenty to celebrate. 

Thompson, a member of the board of the Oriental Rug Retailers of America (ORRA) and the organization's designer liaison charged with helping interior designers become more involved in working with their local Oriental rug retail stores, chatted with RugNews.com about how her business has evolved over the past two decades, future plans -- and how she's pivoting to accommodate the new pandemic reality. 

The Rug Rack in Chattanooga, Tennessee, celebrates 20 years in business and has focused on building a strong relationship with the community.

How are you celebrating your 20-year anniversary?

MT: We are having an anniversary sale, but at the moment we feel like a wet blanket has been thrown over it. Everything in the store will have some sort of discount, and we are also doing deals of the week to keep people on their toes, so they look forward to seeing what the next deal of the week will be. We've been gearing up to this since January, and we have over 100 new items in the store. At the January market, we got some fabulous deals on some beautiful kilims. Some of our hand-knotted vendors are giving us special pricing, and we're passing that savings on to our customers.

The Rug Rack continues to add new area rugs and as part of its special anniversary sale is featuring the latest looks on social media.

How has business changed the most in the past 20 years?
MT: We're seeing more people looking to buy better-quality items, and rugs that have longevity to them. We're also seeing people becoming more interested in rugs that have more of a timeless appeal and are very versatile.

Katie Thompson, daughter of Miriam Thompson, has been a manager of the Rug Rack since she was about 19, she takes a break for a photo op in front of some made in Pakistan kilims.

Your daughter Katie was just in middle school when she started, and now she's the manager. Tell us more about her role at Rug Rack.
MT: Katie's first major role was pretty much baptism by fire! She started out managing our outlet store and going to college at the same time -- she was only 19 or 20. She just really became entrenched in the business pretty quickly and now she's one of the first ones I consult with and bounce ideas off.

With Katie's involvement, I not only get a different perspective on the business, but I get a younger, yet very educated perspective. The fact that she's in her early 30s now, she brings a different light to certain situations that I wouldn't typically have thought of. She has pretty much taken over our social media marketing. Over the years she's learned that particular jargon and verbiage and implemented that into our campaigns. And so many times, she brings things to my attention that she sees; she gets things through her newsfeed that I wouldn't get because I'm not 30. She's also been a very big help in building a relationships with the vendors. 

Among the Rug Rack's latest introductions are a range of reversible flat-weaves priced to appeal to a broad range of customers.

What have been some of the biggest evolutions in the home furnishings and area rug industries, and how have they impacted your business?
MT: I would say it's the escalation of rugs being sold online. So often we find ourselves having to educate the public because they cannot decipher what they are seeing online. When we have an opportunity to have this conversation with them, then they do realize that so much of what they are seeing online is such poor quality. Then they re-evaluate where they want to put their dollars, and in a lot of instances we wind up being the recipient of that because they've come to understand what the product actually is and is not.

I do want to give kudos to those wholesalers who are seriously trying to work with brick and mortar stores and are coming up with collections that are solely for us. In a sense, we are being given exclusive products that you will not find on the internet. That's very important, that those vendors see value in brick and mortar stores like us.

The Rug Rack's flat-weaves remain a popular seller.

Besides rugs, what other products have you started carrying in your store?

MT: On and off over the years, I've dabbled in small scale occasional furniture and I have found that's done well for me. I have now taken on a partnership with two different companies to offer more. We're getting a shipment soon of small accent furniture like chairs and tables, trying to build some small vignettes to help create ideas in the consumers' minds as to how this would look in their own homes. I have found that art has been a nice addition to the store, although there was a pretty big learning curve. We are carrying canvases, prints, and even some originals. It's been nice to have a variety. We are also selling lamps and have increased our price range. Just like with rugs, it's helpful to be able to show the differences in quality and what you get for your money, in the finishes, shade quality, and style. 

Where do you see the Rug Rack in the next five to 10 years?
MT: In five years I see us as still being a viable, growing business. We might be in a different building by then; I can see us possibly having a different location within the city that's more user-friendly. I definitely see our business continuing to grow and not scaling back.

The Rug Rack is focusing on quality pieces that consumers won't find online.

How have you changed your operations to address the current shelter-in-place restrictions due to Covid-19?


MT: We have been closed now for two weeks, but we're using this time to change some things in the store  -- we're hoping to have a fully re-merchandised store when we reopen.


Also, there are still people with projects moving forward -- life goes on. So we are still taking calls, and working with designers who can come pick up samples and orders from the curb. We recently took to social media with a video of some rugs that we're doing at 20 percent off as part of our 20th anniversary deal of the week. We are being as creative as we possibly can be, without being ignorant of how serious COVID-19 is. 

Updated global designs, flat-woven in Pakistan, offer a playful, trend forward take on tradition at the Rug Rack.

What has the Covid-19 pandemic taught you about how to run your business?

MT: What it has taught me is that every person who walks through the door is just as important as the next person. Over the first quarter of this year, we were incredibly blessed with a lot of traffic, which caused us to end the first two months of the quarter on a very, very high note. We probably are able to weather this storm better, and not be harmed too much by it. We tried very hard over the first two and a half months of 2020 to not let anybody fall through the cracks. Because we were so vigilant in trying to find those proper products for our customers, at the moment, we're in a good position.
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