BY LINDA BAKER
Kerry Smith, managing partner of Lapchi, in the company's Portland atelier
// Photo by Eric Näslund
Kerry Smith, managing partner of carpet company Lapchi, knows a thing or two about beauty — its power and limitations. “Lapchi makes beautiful rugs,” says Smith, sitting in the company’s elegant Pearl District atelier in Portland, featuring floor-to-ceiling windows and an array of silk and wool rugs. “But nobody has a monopoly on beauty,” Smith says. “Beauty is part of the cost of entry. Beauty is not a strategy.”
A former bread-baking magnate with a penchant for yoga and meditation, Smith co-founded Lapchi in Portland in 2001 with $300,000 and a clear objective: to disrupt the dominant business model in the handmade carpet sector, which at the time involved a lot of inventory but limited financial returns.
Twelve years later, Lapchi is the main reason the industry standard today is made-to-order custom rugs. The company itself has sold more than 6,000 custom and handwoven carpets, mostly to hotels, professional firms and high-end residential customers, including hotel chain Ritz-Carlton and Oprah Winfrey. But Lapchi’s innovations also led to new challenges. “We demonstrated there was a better way to sell rugs, and lots of people did it,” says Smith. “The result is a tremendously competitive business.”
To help distinguish the company, especially in an economic downturn, Lapchi continues to adopt initiatives that push convention, including opening new ateliers in several cities, launching new digital marketing strategies and even rethinking the company’s pioneering custom-made approach. Innovation has always been a core value for the company. Changes in the marketplace, he says, simply mean the company must “further refine our strategy.”
Before Lapchi, most high-end rugs made in Asia were purchased from huge piles off showroom floors. Those piles were driven by manufacturers, most of them “fifth to 15th generation, making traditional things, pushing them through the pipeline,” Smith says. For dealers, carrying massive inventories meant a low return on investment. Meanwhile, interior designers — Lapchi sells primarily to the trade — often had to compromise on size, design and color. “No matter how many rugs were in the showroom, they rarely had the perfect rug for the end client,” Smith says.