It has been several years since I last attended the Atlanta International Area Rug Market, and since I skipped Domotex Hannover this year I had a great opportunity to get back in the area rug sphere and check out firsthand how much the domestic rug business has changed over the past few years. The changes have been many and have taken place in just about all quarters.

I had an opportunity to be brought up to date by an old friend and student of the industry for many years: Roy Evans, VP Sales and Marketing at Colonial Mills. Roy points out that the consumer (really the younger, newer consumer) is at the root of much of the transformation when it comes to fashion and design. These younger consumers, says Evans, bring with them a craving for more lifestyle and casual and less traditional looks.

He points to a mix of the mid-‘70s, which was roughly 70% to 30% traditional versus contemporary/non-traditional. The mix today, he says, has swapped and is closer to 70% non-traditional/lifestyle and 30% traditional. He states the reason is the influence of the Millennials and Gen Xers and their appetite for more casual, less formal, easy living looks that give them a healthy distancing from the more starchy, conventional looks they grew up with in their parents’ homes. Traveling the corridors in Building 1 at the Mart, I found it is not as easy as it used to be to find rugs that would fit in your grandmother’s parlor.

Roy also brought to my attention another major change that’s taken place in the rug sector, and that’s the big change within its channels of distribution. Like everywhere else, the Internet has changed everything. Online marketing has made the rug market of 2012 something your grandmother wouldn’t recognize. As the big have gotten bigger, many of the smaller brick and mortar specialty players, especially in this hollow economy of perpetual belt-tightening, have been struggling to survive.

Roy notes that in years past a rug supplier would be satisfied if they could gain a placement of any size in any retailer’s store. Now, with the Internet, there is instant placement for everybody’s line and they’re all there for customers to ponder and buy, and for the supplier to drop ship. For area rugs, the perfect online flooring product, it’s difficult to imagine anything but considerable online growth for years to come.

Looking at the whole structure of the market system in the area rug arena itself, I was anxious to get a feel for shifts in any of the industry’s tectonic plates. When the Las Vegas-based World Market Center came on the scene it had its sights on being the granddaddy of markets in the U.S. The facility in the Nevada’s largest city certainly had the ambience to pull that off.

However, what I heard over and over in Atlanta was the Las Vegas was indeed a good market but a regional one, and that Atlanta is still king of the hill. (As always, it was not wall-to-wall people crowding the halls, but all of the exhibitors I talked to were happy with the turnout and told me they were able to meet with all the big hitters.)

One more thought: After being in this industry for 35 years, this is the first Atlanta Rug Market I’ve attended where I did not see Chas Sydney, who has been a part of the Atlanta facility seemingly since Ben Franklin, in his basement in Philadelphia, came up with the idea of the lightning rod. Chas retired last year and I hope he’s sunning on some exotic beach somewhere. Chas, you left the market in great hands, but it’s just not the same without you.