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Oriental Rugs, Now and Then
Dr. Khosrow Sobhe

After the World War II was over, and due to the relative peace of mind, a population
explosion occurred and baby boomers were born. This generation which is called
"Generation X" entered the 80's as the buyers of homes and consumers of furniture,
bed, mattress and rugs. This was one of the reasons for huge increase in demand
for Oriental rugs of the 80's.

In this short article, we study three main variables which have played a significant
role in the rug market and compare three main factors in two time periods, in the
early 1980's and late 1990's up to now. The variables under study are:

1- Buyers (who were/are they and how they reacted/react in the rug market?)
2- Sellers and the distribution channels (who were/are they and how they
3- The rugs (material, color, design, and price)

It is with knowledge of the rug market and its components and studying the trends
and changes that we can become successful players in the field, no matter which
role we play (producer, exporter, importer, wholesaler, or end user). We use the
term "old" to identify the early years of the 1980's and "new" to identify the late
years of the 1990's and the beginning years of the 21st century. By seller, we mean
the dealer or the sales people who sold or sell rugs. By customer, or buyer, we
mean the end-user who buys the rug for his/her own use at home.

Old Buyers

1-        The buyers in the past were older than the new buyers and had more
knowledge of the rugs they looked for and bought. It maybe safe to claim, that many
of the old buyers were expert because of buying several Oriental rugs and maybe
traveling to Iran and other rug producing countries. They had affair sense of the
culture and art in the Orient. They knew what kind of rugs they wanted.
2-        Since these old time buyers were familiar with Persian and Oriental rugs,
they were ready to pay more and buy more expensive carpets.
3-        These old time buyers looked for special types of carpets, for example
Sarouk, Farahan, Kashan, Isfahan, and etc. They looked for quality and some other
specifications (such as radj, the number of knots in 7 linear centimeter or certain
knot/square inch) which was important to them. They looked at Oriental rug as an
investment which appreciates over time, while they can use and enjoy it.
4-        These old time buyers were looking for durable rugs they could keep for a
long time, and then can pass on to their children.
5-        In many cases, the husband bought a rug without even taking his wife to the
shop. It was interesting to see that his wife liked and maybe loved the rug.

New Buyers

1-        These new buyers are the second generation to the baby boomers of the
post-war era. They are called the "Generation Y". They are the kids of the fast food
chains who eat hamburger and pizza, and never without a cola.  They listen to rap
music and are always online! They do not have the knowledge of the rug market.
They haven't taken any trip to the Orient. They do not know what type of rug they
want, but they know what type of rugs, they do not want. Their tastes are completely
different from those of their parents.
2-        Although this new generation has more money or at least is willing to spend
more than his parents on audio/video and music devices, furniture, car, travel and
fun, but since he/she has so little knowledge of the Oriental rug, is not ready to pay
a high price.
3-        The new buyers do not care about the origin of the rugs. They do not look
for quality or number of knots per square inch or whatever. They care about color
and design. Rug is a consumer and non-durable commodity for them.
4-        The new buyer is looking for a rug which is not expensive, so he/she can
change it or even discard it in the future. Like many other disposable products, the
new buyer does not buy rug to keep it or make antique out of it. He/she does not
want to leave it for his children or grand children. The new buyer is looking for a
cheap but beautiful rug to match other items such as furniture, wall covering, and
curtains and so on.
5-        The new buyer not only takes his wife with him to the shop, but he will most
likely takes his designer with him. They also take their cushion and sofa fabrics with
them to match the color of the rug with. Not only they pay a lot of money to their
designer, but they let her/him decide (dictate?) what is good for them and what is

Old Dealers

1-        The old dealer was an expert himself and in so many cases, rug was his
family business and he/she was second or third (maybe more) generation in rug
2-        This dealer was most likely the owner of the shop. He bought and sold the
rugs. He traveled to the countries which produced rugs or went to the cities in which
big importers and warehouses of rug located. He new many of the customers.
3-        The old dealer new the rugs by experience and spending many years in
business. He new how to sell rugs by experience
4-        Many of the customers were from the locality and neighborhood and they
trusted the rug dealer nearby.
5-        The rug dealer was so knowledgeable that he could suggest and maybe
influence the buyers on what to buy. The buyer on the other hand trusted the dealer
and took his advice.

New Dealers

1-        Most of these dealers do not know rugs they sell. They sell rugs because
they need the job. Retail and expert shops are diminishing in numbers and are
going out of business. They are being replaced by the big boxes, chain and general
department stores.
2-        The new sales person is not the owner or shareholder of the shop and is not
responsible to buy the rugs. Buying is done by other staff members who are the
3-        Since these new sales people do not the rugs they sell and the variety is too
much, they have to read the tags or the catalogues to answer the questions asked
by the customers
4-        Sales personnel do not know the customer so there is no trust between
them. This is why return policy, satisfaction guarantee, formal invoice and other
types of measures should be provided by the shop. The sales person is not from
the neighborhood, or even from the same city. He might have been hired by
submitting his resume and passing the interviews.
5-        Rugs are now on sale everywhere, and not only in specialized local stores as
it used to be. All the big and chain stores, department stores, furniture stores sell
rugs. Since their sales people are not familiar with rug, the employers provide sales
workshops and seminars for them. Instead of teaching them how to know rugs which
is no longer an authentic object of art and craftsmanship, teach them how to sell
rugs. The sales personnel  is learning the psychology  of sales and how to change
the consumers' mind and convince him/her to buy which is being offered.

Among the many new channels of rug distribution and sales, one cannot ignore the
role of internet stores and virtual warehouses. E-bay is one of the pioneers in this
field. In the author's last search, e-bay had more 16,000 rugs for sale. Rugman is
another e-commerce virtual rug warehouse based in Canada, aiming at the US
market. RugsAmerica, RugsDirect, and RugsUSA are other active Internet rug
stores. Catalogue sales, satellite and TV stations which sell rug are another new
and modern rug sellers which did not exist two or three decades ago. Contrary to
the old style rug sales, these new customers and sales people do not see each
other and do not communicate face to face. Their communication is through
technology. Who could imagine this no-human touch business, twenty years ago?!

Old Generation Rugs

1-        These rugs were generally made with good material and over the average
standards. Like the sales people, the weavers were expert themselves, and had
learned the weaving by internship or through their families
2-        The designs were busy and detailed. Corner medallion and busy designs
were popular. Tribal and village rugs were not welcome by the city customers who
bought rugs. Open field design had its own customers.
3-        Three main colors, red, dark blue and beige were dominant. If the
background was red, the border would be dark blue and if the background was dark
blue, the border would be red.
4-        The origin (the city or village in which the rug was made) was very important.
Number and density of knots was a determinant factor in pricing. Durability of the
rug was considered a high value.
5-        Buying a good rug was a sound investment. Persian rug and Oriental carpet
were considered capital goods. Due to inflation in raw material, increasing wages
and lack of that much competition, the prices of rug was on the increase, and if a
dealer did not sell his/her rugs, they would appreciate by the passage of time.

New Generation Rugs

1-        Now, there are all kinds of rugs with all kinds of material. The weaver is
making a rug, not because his/her family was involved in the same practice, but
because he/she needs the job. He/she is not an artist and does not feel and sense
of belonging to the rug.
2-        Designs are not busy or at least as busy as they were. Overall design is
much preferred over corner medallion and open field. Big Shah Abbasi flowers are
more popular than ever before. A less crowded version of classic designs are well
liked by the customers.
3-        Vast range of colors is now used in rug production. Rug colors are a function
of trend and fashion and are determined by the fabrics of the furniture, wall
covering, and curtains. Neutral colors, earth tones are popular colors which match
many types of interior designs.
4-        Rug origin and where it is made (city or country) in most of the cases is no
longer a value. Number of knots (KPSI) and durability is not important any more.
The first variable a customer is after is size, and then color. Design comes next and
after that, customer asks about the price. Of course, this does not mean that price is
the last priority, but to emphasize how important color and design maybe.
5-        Rug is considered a consumer commodity and no longer an investment. Due
to mass production, high competition and variety of material and many other factors,
rugs are poured into markets cheaper than ever before. Area and tufted rugs are
affordable and now everybody can afford to buy some kind of rug. Customers have
a wide range of rugs to choose from. Selling rug has become more challenging than
ever before.

The change in the interior of homes and using less wall to wall carpeting and using
more hard wood, laminate, tile, stone and other types of hard flooring is a good sign
that oriental and area rugs are more welcome than ever before. This bring hope to
the rug industry and those who can catch up with the trend and keep up with the
changes in the production and customer needs will be the winners of this game. Are
you among them? If not, read this article again.
Dr. Khosrow Sobhe is from Iran, and is a member of the Board and the Spokesman
to the Iranian Carpet Exporters' Association. Sobhe is an importer and
award-winning producer of Persian rugs. He is the founder and CEO of SOBCO Int'l.
Ltd. in Los Angeles
You can reach him at
Oriental Rugs, Now and Then        by Dr. Khosrow Sobhe