The carpet retail industry is rising steadily. More than just a home or office accessory, carpets have long been considered an art form, and the rising appreciation for creating beautiful, comfortable and distinctive interiors has fuelled demand.
Customised carpets, in a range of modern and traditional styles, have enabled carpet lovers to take this ancient art form to a new level. It may be hand-knotted or hand- or machine-tufted, but there's no doubt that the art of carpet making is more alive today than ever.
Robert Keilitz, managing director for Asia of the residential and boutique contract sector at Tai Ping Carpets, said: 'A carpet is the fifth wall of a room and clients today no longer view a carpet as just an object to finish a room. People are taking a genuine interest in making their space as comfortable, design-savvy and good looking as possible.'
Tai Ping Carpets, an internationally renowned manufacturer whose client list ranges from airports to royal families and heads of state, casinos, yachts and private homes, has more than 50 years of experience in carpet production.
The company operates on five continents, and has a team of in-house designers and ateliers in Paris, New York, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Calhoun, Georgia in the United States.
To cope with its burgeoning business, the company's Hong Kong showroom is set to triple in size by early next year and more showrooms will be added in developing markets.
However, being Hong Kong's only local manufacturer has not taken away the challenges of the industry.
'For machine-made products there is much more competition than hand-tufted products,' Mr Keilitz said.
Handmade carpets are appreciated for their artistic features and therefore have a higher value. Persian Arts, a carpet retail business with an outlet in Central, specialises in the more traditional form of hand-knotted carpets from Iran and Afghanistan.
Director Shah Luqman said that business had been booming in the residential and commercial sectors. 'There have been more tourists coming, and the China market is getting bigger too,' Mr Luqman said. The wholesale company manufactures rugs and sells them to Europe, the United States, Argentina and New Zealand.
Machine-tufted carpets and carpet tiles aside, Tai Ping Carpets also produces handmade carpets, and couture carpets are highlights of the firm's range, using a hand-tufting process that allows for variations in pattern, colour, texture and shape or material, and a hand-carving process where rugs are sculpted by hand to create unique patterns and textures.
Persian Arts opened its sister company Sinbad Carpets last year, offering traditional and custom-made carpets.
Keeping on top of interior design trends is essential for carpet manufacturers and retailers. 'I work with more than 100 designers to find the trends. Now, with the more modern interiors, the preference is for darker, brownish carpets,' Mr Luqman said.
Mr Keilitz said: 'The carpet industry is a fashion industry, and designers must have the ability to respond and adapt quickly to the trends in fashion, textiles and interior design.'
A shortage in skilled labour is a problem for carpet manufacturers. According to Mr Keilitz, Tai Ping Carpets provides extensive in-house training for new workers, and on-going training for established workers.
Carpet companies see customised carpets as a big part of their business, and demand is growing to suit different tastes and living spaces in Hong Kong.
Sinbad Carpets manager Azmut Butt said: 'Traditional patterns come in a certain size because their design is made as such. Custom-made carpets, especially in modern designs, can be made in any size.'
He said that carpet companies should provide value-added services to enhance the buying experience of customers to stay ahead of the competition. 'Carpets are lifetime items. We offer same value trade-ins for carpets, and that's how people get into collections, by upgrading step by step,' he said. His company also offers on-site consultations and free appraisals.
Authenticity of products is also an essential part for players in the carpet business. 'Originality matters a lot when you put a price tag on a carpet. We offer certificates of authenticity to reassure our clients that they are handmade in Iran and Afghanistan,' Mr Butt said. 'These days a lot of carpets are being made in China, which cost much less but look the same as those from traditional carpet-making countries. They're also handmade, but they are not original.'