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BRAIDED RUG CATEGORY: ALIVE AND WELL; UPDATED COLORS, NEW TEXTURES AND SHAPES DRIVE LIFESTYLE SALES.

NEW YORK-Rumors of the demise of the braided rug are, not only exaggerated, but totally wrong, according to major suppliers.

A. Leon Capel Jr., executive director of Capel, the oldest and first manufacturer of machine-made braided rugs, said, "Our braids are doing quite well. The cotton-chenille styles are especially strong, as are our nylon braids in updated colors."

Capel makes a full line of wool, wool-blend, nylon and cotton-braided rugs. Catalogs and Country furniture stores are particularly strong channels. The regions with highest demand are New England, the Midwest/Chicago region and the Northwest/Seattle area, according to Capel.

Capel makes Christmas-tree skirts and place mats for the holiday season and chair pads that coordinate with various braided styles, in addition to traditional braids in ovals. "Capel also makes stair runners, hall runners, rectangles and even octagons to order," Capel noted. Rounds over 12 feet and ovals over 12-by-15 are also custom-made.

"We haven't shied away from the term `braided' at all," stated Kea Capel, director of marketing and creative services. "In fact, the consumer has re-discovered the product in lifestyle catalogs like Pottery Barn, which is framing braided rugs with a new attitude.

"Those retailers are selling solid-color upholstery that needs color and texture on the floor -- perfect for braids. Braided rugs are the `Adirondack' of floor covering. They make a timeless statement for a casual, practical lifestyle," Kea Capel concluded.

Suzy Bangs, vice president of sales and marketing for Robin Industries, concurred, saying, "Despite the perception among some that braided rugs aren't selling, our braids had a double-digit sales increase in 1998."

Robin, which purchased machinery in late-December 1998, when Ohno closed its operation in Mexico, will introduce new products made with that technology this fall. According to Bangs, the new rugs will be a different type of tubular braid than what Robin has offered in the past. The company also makes flat braided-rug constructions.

Every 12 to 15 months, Robin adds and deletes colorations from its braided line and advises that retailers do the same. "Consumers shouldn't see the same exact products on display month after month," she stated, adding, "because Robin is completely vertical from fiber, with its own spinning and dye facilities, we can respond quickly to fashion trends."

Robin's rugs are sold through a range of retailers, including catalogs, department stores and chains. "Home Depot does a great job in its stores in the Northeast and the West Coast, and Sears and Ames both sell a lot of braided rugs, Sears from samples, while Ames sells from stock and right off the floor.

Homemaker has found that using its braided capability to make specialized products is a good way to keep braided rugs new. It offers two types of Christmas-tree skirt: a basic olefin in a 48 inch in a traditional holiday red, green and white that retails for about $40; and step-up product with a chenille olefin yarn with some fashion colorations and traditional shades. Made in a 52 inch, it retails for about $80.

Debbie Powell, Homemaker's director of marketing, said that the company will also make coordinating chair pads for any of its braid styles."They're machine washable and retail at $4 to $10 apiece," Powell noted.

Homemaker also takes the braided lengths and weaves them into outdoor mats by hand on a loom invented by a Homemaker employee. These are offered in 16-by-27 and 22-by-36 sizes and retail at $10 to $25.

Traditional braided rugs at Homemaker have undergone a simplification process to make the colorations easier to decorate with. The chenille braided business is particularly good, according to Powell.

She added that channels of distribution have gone full circle recently. "We started out big in mass, then it moved away, and it is now coming back as an important channel for our braids."

Don Scarlata, president of Colonial Mills, said, "Even though some retailers are asking if there's an audience for braided rugs, they are increasing in catalogs. The traditional braided customer is still the foundation of our business, but we're looking for things to do with the braided process to create new types of product."

The recently introduced Reflections is a good example of a rug made with braided materials that does not read as a "braided rug." Reflections is a rectangle that uses a horizontal CableLoc construction featuring a solid-color center and a multicolored border made up of bands of color created in an acrylic-blend fiber.

A bright, crisp casual style, Reflections is available in 18 colors and may also be ordered in squares and octagons. Suggested retail price for a 5-by-7 is $299.

"We don't promote or sell Reflections as a `braided' rug but rather as an `engineered construction'," said Scarlata, adding, "We're getting requests to vary the colors in the border. We'll be happy to create custom versions for individual retailers."

Rugs aren't the only part of the business using new terminology. "In order to bring Colonial Mills into a broader market, we are beginning to call the company CMI. We don't want to be typecast as a manufacturer that only makes `colonial' styles, so we are segueing into the new name," Scarlata said.
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Author:Herlihy, Janet
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 17, 1999
Words:859
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