Lapchi revolutionizes the rug business

Lapchi revolutionizes the rug business

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Managing partner: Kerry Smith
Founded: 2001
Employees: 48
Factoid: More than 6,000 custom and handmade rugs sold

Lapchi — Tibetan for “abode of good energy” — wasn’t the first company to fashion a made-to-order rug. “But we were the first to create a business model based on custom,” says Smith. Lapchi dealers typically purchase just a few rugs in each style, allowing interior designers to then customize for size and color. The manufacturing takes place in Kathmandu, where 30 Lapchi employees oversee the production of the on-demand carpets. Depending on the amount of silk and “knot density” — knots per square inch — a 9-foot-by-12-foot Lapchi rug typically costs between $7,000 and $12,000.

By 2005 most high-end rug dealers had started to adopt the Lapchi approach. But if the company revolutionized the industry, the rug company is also an example of “be careful what you wish for.” Under the new model, dealers no longer need large amounts of capital to purchase hundreds of rugs up front. “We inadvertently demonstrated the barriers to entry were very low,” Smith says. Today, “there are 100 companies doing what we do.”

As competition increased, so did factory costs, which are 70% higher than 12 years ago, Smith says. The recession also hit hard. In 2011 Lapchi grossed about $5 million, down from $6.5 million in 2008. To stay competitive in a tight market, Smith and his partner, Salman Khan, are pressing ahead with new innovations, with a focus on leveraging the atelier concept into higher sales.