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Don't Push The Carpet Industry Under The Rug An insight into the online carpet industry of the world

By Ritu Kochar

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Rugs & Beyond

It's amazing how a carpet can change the complete look of a room and still how little we think about it.

By "we' here I solely mean our generation who wouldn't waste our time on thinking where the carpet in our house came from. But you will truly understand its importance once you go carpet shopping with your mother. You will not only visit every shop nearby but you will also get to hear questions you never knew existed. A little research out of curiosity made me realize how big and niche this business is.

It made me realize that Indian Carpets are no less magical than Aladdin's magical carpet.

Some numbers to prove my point. India holds 35% share of the world markets for handmade carpets and 90% share of that made out of machine. Out of these India exports a total of 90% with 39.25% just to US. At this year's Carpet Expo held in March, and established by Carpet Export Promotion Council, Ministry of Textiles, the total business generated was worth Rs. 260 crore to Rs. 300 crore, with an expected growth rate of 15% - 20%. Now isn't that something.

But despite being one of the largest producers and exporters of carpets across the globe, the unfortunate part is that these handmade carpets and rugs have witnessed a downfall in demand, not overseas but in the Indian market. A great initiative towards to overcome this has been the online retailing of carpets. And so much so that this industry will reach $40 million just in USA.

Saving the art with Rugs & Beyond

Talking to Sakshi Talwar, founder of Rugs & Beyond, we got some insight into the carpet business. A graduate from Interior Design course from Parsons, The New School of Design, Sakshi always wanted to do something in the creative space that would also improve the lives of other people and create an impact. In an interview she said, "All this while, I would see rug weavers, carpet manufacturers relying on a chain of middle men in order to sell their craft. They would put in their heart and soul into weaving a rug and would not get much in place of that. I would really feel for these people and that's when I decided that I needed to provide a platform to enable these weavers to sell directly to consumers. Hence, Rugs and Beyond was conceptualized."

Living in New York and Los Angeles, rug stores were in the vicinity. It was appalling for her to see how the retailers were selling these products at almost 5 times the normal prices in India. This also prompted her to provide a vertical to consumers worldwide and have access to beautiful rugs at reasonable prices. She remembers how growing up around beautiful rugs, considering her father started his carpet export business with just one rug, the art of carpet weaving has always enticed her. Thus, it was this feeling to save this dying art that led to Sakshi's inclination towards the carpet industry. To ensure this she made sure that weavers are paid adequately to pass on this unique craft to future generations.

What need is Rugs & Beyond addressing?

The aim is to provide a structure to the already existing unorganized Indian handmade carpet industry that currently holds more than 70% of world market share. Carpet is such a niche market that a lot of customers are uninformed about a variety of factors like the weave, knots, design origination, quality, pricing etc. Rugs and Beyond aims to educate customers so that they know what they are paying for unlike in other tourist and marked–up retail stores where customers just pay what they are asked for without knowing the nuances of the rug that they are buying.

Psychologically and economically, no customer would want to order a $1000 rug and pay $500 shipping. With all this figured out, Rugs & Beyond provide the same beautiful handmade rugs to customers worldwide at a much lesser price along with free shipping which is a big deal since carpets are bulky items.

What should be the ideal business model?

Commenting on the same Sakshi said, "Our business model, which we feel is ideal for us, is selling "one of a kind' handmade carpets to a global audience while empowering local weavers to sell their craft through our platform." They believe they have miles to go before sleep and shall be carrying out a lot of new, exciting ideas soon enough while creating an impact on the society at the same time.

Talking about the name Rugs & Beyond, she said, "The "Rugs' part is self-explanatory. Whereas, I never wanted to restrict the business to only carpets, hence, the "beyond" part creates curiosity in the minds of the consumers as to what is "beyond". To begin with, "beyond" signifies Fine Art and soon enough we shall be adding more categories."

Will Indian mothers succumb to this trend?

Sakshi says they will.

A little skeptic in the beginning, carpets retailers like Rugs & Beyond did think that this trend might not take off in the Indian market. But we must also see that the trends are fast changing. l remember a time when people felt the same when eCommerce entered Indian market. Indian mothers, especially, were a little hesitant and spend almost an hour trying to study a shirt. Now, not only is online shopping hugely accepted but India has become one of the largest eCommerce markets in the world. Also, with the advance of technology, people are becoming more and more adaptable to change and if they don't, the market will change according to the trend. Carpets can be bought to people's house before they buy it and they can get to choose from several carpets. In the future, I don't see people facing a lack of options.

Dating back to thousands of years, carpet weaving is a market waiting to find a striking presence online. Through we are getting there; we have to make sure we reach it faster than the rate with which this art is depleting. After all, we all need a magic carpet in our life.

Ritu Kochar

Former Staff, Entrepreneur India

Ritu used to work as a Feature writer for Entrepreneur India.
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