In March 2020 the word ‘pandemic’ became a by-word for ‘panic’ for many businesses. Rug companies who searched for opportunities amid the pandemic ruins were rewarded by unprecedented demand from people in domestic lockdowns who were suddenly inspired to improve their homes. More time to scroll social media and websites merged with increased willingness to buy online without first experiencing the product in person. Three rug retailers—Floor_Story, RugVista and Cyrus Artisan Rugs—provide insight into how the pandemic changed or enhanced their digital sales and what the future may hold.
Simon Goff, founder of London-based Floor_Story, remembers March 2020. ‘Panic mode! I had a shop to finance and staff to pay. The UK government’s Covid-19 furlough scheme provided 80% of staff wages, but I couldn’t put myself on furlough and I needed to make up the 20% pay gap.’ Just six weeks later, sales surged on the company’s website and continued to grow. With no opportunities for travel or leisure, people were full-tilt shopping. Floor_Story’s international sales and volume of trade customers climbed too. ‘2020 to 2021 was the best [sales] year we’d ever had,’ Goff confirms. Sales ‘shot up 50%’. The company’s website and social media presence have always been priorities for Goff and his established digital channels bolstered sales. From two staff members pre-pandemic, sales growth allowed Goff to triple his staff and start the hunt for a larger showroom.
If the 2020 challenge for many rug companies lay in fulfilling rising demand while coping with reduced workforces, materials shortages and supply-chain disruptions, some companies, such as Cyrus Artisan Rugs in Bloomington, Minnesota, avoided the negative consequences until 2021. Allison Rapp, Cyrus Artisan Rugs’ showroom manager, confirms sales for 2020 were 8% greater than 2019 despite the showroom being by appointment only from March to May 2020. By 2021 ‘our sales were up 25% over 2020’. Rug production times for the company returned to pre-pandemic levels by January 2022; yet, despite delays from April to December 2021, especially for rugs from Nepal and India, ‘customers were much more understanding… than any other time in my thirteen years at Cyrus Artisan Rugs. I heard customers say, “My furniture won’t be here for seven months, so it’s fine to wait for the rug.”’ Rapp confirms the company’s website keeps it ‘in the forefront of people’s minds’ during the pre-shopping/inspiration phase, but visiting ‘in person or having us ship rugs on approval is still 95% of our sales’.
RugVista—a major European online rug retailer based in Sweden—enjoyed a robust pre-pandemic online sales platform supported by its ongoing directive to ‘improve the digital customer experience’. Michael Lindskog, President and CEO, says the ‘online retail across product categories gained market share’ after March 2020. ‘We picked up demand,’ he explains, ‘when people who might have preferred to go to a store came to us instead. The online clock came forward by a few years because late adopters were now onboard with buying digitally.’ The company’s Google analytics research revealed the ‘fifty-five years-plus demographic is really starting to buy online’. To capitalise on customer growth, the company’s ‘journey’ includes shifting from generic to tailored digital approaches in each of its target countries. Country-specific RugVista domain names will be enhanced with knowledge of ‘local commercial calendars to identify key selling periods’, identification of how ‘tastes differ across markets’, and ‘localised payment and delivery options’. Asked whether RugVista experienced any negatives from Covid-19 lockdowns, Lindskog mentions just one. ‘It was a challenge to keep our organisation cohesive with everyone working from home. But we succeeded and today—Valentine’s Day, by serendipity—is the day we welcome staff back into the office.’
Stephane Silverman, founder of fabric brand Castel, recently spoke with Dennis Scully on the Business of Home podcast where he predicted ‘the Covid boom for the home industry won’t last’. As lockdowns ease, people will again diversify their spending. ‘Be smart,’ Silverman advises businesses. ‘Invest [in the areas] where you see the future of your business.’ For Silverman that meant hiring talent to improve Castel’s digital presence. ‘There’s no better time to re-evaluate your business,’ he urged listeners. His advice is endorsed by Floor_Story’s Goff. ‘I’m not keen to get back to business as usual,’ he says. He’s already re-evaluated Floor_Story’s plans to include becoming fully sustainable, starting with a cradle-to-cradle audit and progressing to a yet-to-be-revealed industry-wide initiative focused on rug production waste wool.
Early in the pandemic, fashion technology company Heuritech released its ‘Trends during and post Covid-19’ report. It predicted that ‘One day, we will remember 2020 as the year of tremendous emergence of talent and inventiveness.’ Two years on, Heuritech’s and Stephane Silverman’s predictions align with the goals of Floor_Story, Cyrus Artisan Rugs and RugVista. The rug and home industries are emerging from an unprecedented period of challenge and change. The future presents an opportunity for growth, so brands can emerge stronger, more resilient and with greater meaning and potential.