Whom are we?
Whom are we?

Whom are we?

“Whom are we to judge?” – Unnamed colleague/acquaintance of “The Ruggist”* The answer to that question is just as complicated and convoluted as the business of design – and by extension the critique thereof – is highly subjective, highly personal, and fraught with anxiety causing potentially dramatic and/or career altering repercussions. Indeed every time I write a post on “The Ruggist” I think to myself: “What am I saying?”, “Whom am I (potentially) offending?”, and “Does anyone really care?”
The “We” who judge can be the Consumer, the Maker, the Critic; both collectively and severally. It can be the pluralis maiestatis bestowed by the grace of god to Marie Antoinette, and it can be the lowly “we” of those peasants who were tired of eating cake. (Note: It is widely disputed that Marie Antoinette actually said “Let them eat cake!”, but for our purposes it works.) The power of any “we” who judges is derived from those who choose to believe what is said, rightly or wrongly, keeping in mind of course right and wrong are often, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder. Unfortunately for Her Majesty, the peasants weren’t so trusting.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it may be necessary from time to time to give a stupid or misinformed beholder a black eye.” – Miss Piggy, US Muppet and Pig
Like Miss Piggy, the “we” of me, myself and I, along with most anyone else on the planet tends to think of our own opinions as being right, with others deserving of the aforementioned black eye. And so, keeping that in mind as “we” pass judgement today: Whom am I to judge? I am The Ruggist, reviled in some circles, lauded in others, chronicling (and commenting on) the truths of the rug industry one opinionated comment at a time, sometimes with a black eye. Enjoy!
The short(er) setup!
I was recently made aware of the opening of Lapchi’s latest corporate showroom named in keeping with their style AtelierLapchi Cleveland. “Cleveland?” you ask. “Yes!” I say, “and let me tell you what I think of the new AtelierLapchi Cleveland!”
In short: What the hell are they doing?**
I’m not going to dwell at length on this as I am sure this post is going to be controversial enough (oh whom am I kidding, being concise is not one of my talents), but the first and most obvious “what the hell?” moment comes from the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”. To make this easier I’m providing photos.

AtelierLapchi: Los Angeles***

AtelierLapchi: Chicago***

AtelierLapchi: Cleveland***
I’ve been called an expert (is that because people read this drivel?), and though I will argue I am far from an expert in anything, I will concede to being opinionated and vocal. That being the case, let’s sing a song shall we? One of these things is not like the other…. The point of my highly irreverent and puerile treatment of this subject is that quite frankly, you don’t have to be an expert (or even an adult) to understand similarity and by extension the singularly most important invention of American Marketing, Retail, and Merchandizing prowess: Branding. To quote myself (wow! that is arrogant eh?) “…regardless of which showroom you are in, your senses tell you that all of the wonderful previous… …experiences that you have had are about to be repeated.” – “Simply the Best” Cover, Winter 2009. In short, consistently delivered (positive) customer experiences translate to repeat sales. And the experience is everything, not just the product. Just ask Starbucks and Les Wexner. When I walk by or into or just look at the images of AtelierLapchi Cleveland, the look immediate tells me my experience is about to be different from my previous Lapchi experiences, and that my dear readers is in a rather condescending manner a “no no”.
Editorial Note: It appears that Lapchi may be fully aware of this disconnect as if you visit their website you find not a wonderfully produced image of the Cleveland showroom (as you find with Chicago and Los Angeles) but in its stead a stock advertising image of one of their rugs.
My, isn’t he bitchy?
Yes, but I’m also the beholder, black eyed or otherwise, and in this case I’m hedging to bet I’m right about the branding faux pas (amongst others I am committing in the post). The real question we need to ask though is not “What the hell?” but “Why the hell?
“Why the hell?”
Lapchi has chosen to open a corporate showroom in Cleveland for reasons unknown to us. Oh sure, I could have called them and tried to find out more info, but that would take away from “The Ruggist’s” lack of credibility and moved us a little too close to being an “actual” journalist. I prefer instead to remain as an overly aware consumer as it were, rambling on at my whimsy. So… Why?
1) Obviously they want to piss off New Yorkers. Nothing says we value the trend setting opinions of the United States’ largest (and arguably most internationally connected) rug market like a list of showrooms that reads: “Chicago, Los Angeles, Cleveland” [!] Notice my use of the sarcasm mark. Now, rumoUr has it that Lapchi is finally attempting to move into the New York market in a larger way, but after so many years of neglect will New Yorkers embrace them? Only if they can get a cab.
2) Cleveland Rocks!
Ok. Ok. More seriously…
3) Great Market they wanted to keep. I know from my own experience at the company that was “Classic Oriental Rugs” (the former Lapchi dealer in Cleveland which also curiously enough occupied the same space Lapchi now occupies), that the market truly embraced Lapchi. When Classic closed, Lapchi was left scrambling to keep those sales (assuming there were any in this financial climate). Perhaps Classic didn’t even close? Perhaps is was a metamorphosis into AtelierLapchi. The phone numbers didn’t’ even change.
4) In case you hadn’t noticed I’ve taken a rather aggressive and critical position in this post, but I will give credit where credit is due. Kerry Smith and the entire Lapchi management team are very intelligent and capable businessmen. “We” can be assured that whatever the reason behind this move, the numbers as it were make sense. More telling of their plans though is that they’ve appeared to retain several non-competing lines of rugs from manufactures other than Lapchi in this new Atelier. Is this a patent admission that for all of Lapchi’s strengths, its product cannot be everything to everybody? Maybe, maybe not, but their methods may well be.
5) Clearance centre. Many companies have clearance centres. For that matter, any company with inventory should have one (or a system in place) as a means to manage, oh how does one politely say, less desirable inventory. Odegard has one in Long Island City. Tufenkian has one Online and as I recall in Portland, Oregon. (By the by: The Ruggist is gaining credibility. We are now on the Tufenkian Media email distribution list. They are auctioning a Barbara Barry rug on ebay as of today!) Is this the case for Lapchi in Cleveland? (see ** footnote).
The summary of this flippant post.
Aside from being passionate about rugs, and moreover quality rugs, I am a product and creature of American origin. I love Brand names, widely known or otherwise. Our (speaking of the high end of the rug industry) consumers are no different. While it is true there are relatively few rug companies whose names are true Brands. The caché , once laboriously obtained, must then also be carefully maintained. Consumers after all, are fickle. Reflecting on Lapchi’s current, and no doubt carefully crafted tagline: “Modern Carpet Culture”, I am left to wonder exactly what culture they are cultivating in Cleveland.
So, what is Lapchi doing in Cleveland? My bet is on making money, and regardless of how poorly I or anyone else thinks this reflects on a broader marketing and branding strategy, the fact remains that in Lapchi’s defence, the likelihood of any Lapchi client from Chicago, or especially Los Angeles (they are too busy trying to be the West Coast New York), wondering into the new AtelierLapchi Cleveland is quite remote. The consistently delivered positive message I so laboriously defend may not need to exist (for a rug showroom) on a Nationwide level, but rather only on a regional or local level. While I don’t agree with this from a Branding viewpoint (for large importers) I can see the merits from a continuing sales (in local markets) standpoint, and from the later’s position Lapchi scored a perfect Ten (10). Same Location, Same Staff, Same Phone Number. Same Interior. The customer likely didn’t even notice the change. Hmmm. Maybe I do need to have the black eye?
Once again, thank you for reading. Join us next time as “The Ruggist” blogs our first interview!

*I recently sent a solicitous email to rug dealers regarding Red Spruce, which was of course promoting the line and inviting those who received the email to become dealers. Did you not get the email? It might be that I don’t have your email address, or it might be that I don’t know of you, or it might be that you are in North Platte, Nebraska. In any case, if you think you might be interested, you can download the Informational Brochure for perusal at your leisure. But anyway I am getting off topic, and being highly self promoting. In the follow up from that email I was contacted by an acquaintance/colleague of mine from the world of rugs who was interested in learning more. In the course of our conversation my aversion to beige carpets once again surfaced at which point said colleague remarked: “Whom are we to judge?” And so I started thinking.

** To clarify some points and provide full disclosure. I have chosen to write about this particular topic due to my rather intimate knowledge of the Cleveland market, and the showroom that we will be studying. I was the Manager of Classic Oriental Rugs, and more to the point of this article, I painted the walls in the showroom the colours they remain today, five (5) years later. Moreover, during my time at Lapchi I actively pursued scenarios involving the purchase of the Cleveland location for Lapchi as use as a clearance centre. And also! I recently returned from NYC where I was told by a Ruggist Confidant (ask for your own Ruggist Confidant Identifying Lapel Pin) that many people think I am a front man for Lapchi due to my praise of their innovation of samples as a sales method. This is simply not the case, but they did innovate the use of samples, this much is certain. Though perhaps that is a concept (in its current form) that has run its course.
*** The photos are not used with permission, but were obtained from publicly available sources and fall under Fair Use permissions of United States, Canadian and International Copyright Conventions.