Robert Mann developed an interest in rugs and textiles after travelling extensively in rug-producing countries in the early 1970’s. “I became an apprentice rug restorer because I needed a job and found I had an aptitude for the work,” Mann explains.
Upon graduating high school, he planned to “take a year off before college” but found himself traveling and working odd jobs for six years until he took a position as a rug restorer’s apprentice. “I have worked in the rug business ever since,” he adds.
After working as a rug restoration apprentice for about a year, he began working independently after his employer moved back to Iran.
“I like the hands-on work and the great rugs and textiles our clients send us,” Mann says. “As a young person, I had imagined working by hand but could never envision what I would do or how I’d make a living at it.”
After all the lessons, Mann became owner of Robert Mann Rugs Inc. in Denver.
Strategy for growth
Robert Mann Rugs was established in 1978 and incorporated in the early 1980s, operating out of his own home. In the early days, working mostly for rug stores and dealers, they did basic repairs. Mann says, “When rugs were too dirty to repair as is, we would clean them in the bath tub or out in the driveway.”
Originally based in Boulder, CO, the business began to grow. After a few years, Mann opened a wash plant and restoration studio in a shopfront in Denver in January 1982 and hired two employees. Over the years, as they continued to expand, the business moved into larger spaces. In fact, just recently, Robert Mann Rugs moved from a 15,000 square-foot location to a 24,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art facility. There is now a staff of 20 employees including six trained rug restorers.
They have installed almost all new wash equipment and have made major work flow and process changes. At this time, they are currently developing a line of wool yarns specifically designed and dyed for rug restoration and carpet binding.
A menu of services
Robert Mann Rugs provides pick up and delivery service to their local area. They offer cleaning, restoration, and repair for a wide range of handmade rugs and related textiles, including Oriental and Southwestern rugs. In addition, they specialize in color bleeding and stain removal, working with rug cleaners, insurance companies, and private customers locally and nationally. They clean and service about 500,000 square feet of rugs per year.
Robert Mann Rugs is the sole U.S. representative of Antique Textile Conservation, a carpet and textile restoration facility in the Free Trade Zone of Izmir, Turkey. They send clients’ rugs to Turkey for restoration, providing cost quotes and handling all aspects of shipping, customs registration, and customer relations for clients in the United States. Their clients include private individuals, dealers, and institutions. The work ranges from cleaning residential rugs to large-scale grant-funded projects for major museums. As expert appraisers, they offer appraisal services to private clients and insurance companies.
As fans of old rugs and textiles, Robert Mann Rugs has also bought, sold, and collected antique rugs and textiles, purchasing primarily from U.S. and European dealers and estates.
Working as a consultant, Mann has provided technical advice and services to rug producers and has had the privilege to work in nearly all the major rug producing countries over a period of 25 years.
Like any business, Mann’s company has had its share of struggles. Having had no previous significant business experience, he had to learn to manage employees and handle the day-to-day affairs of a retail service business.
Also, developments in rug-producing countries have led to a shrinking supply of handmade area rugs and a steep downward trend in quality; and with rugs made of less durable fibers taking a large central position in the market, their owners increasingly see rugs as cheap, ‘’expendable” floor coverings.
And then there is the competition. Many have entered the area rug cleaning market. In many cities, the rug cleaning business model has never been more competitive or fragmented. “We struggle to identify ways to market our services, with a focus on increasing annual gross revenues,” says Mann.
Additionally, the company recently completed a move to a new location, abandoning their old locale under threat of an eminent domain condemnation by Denver County.
“We focus on the client and the service they require. We offer free verbal appraisals for any rug or textile a client brings us. We find that a dialogue with prospective clients is the foundation of a strong customer relationship. We offer simple pricing and direct, uncomplicated explanations of the services we offer,” Mann explains. Also, the company has advertised on local public radio for many years and do a lot of direct mailing, stressing the “craft” of cleaning and restoration, as well as the individual skills of their staff.
Advice for success
If he could do it all over again, Mann expressed he would take bigger chances, borrow more money much sooner, and buy more real estate.
He encourages others to meet as many different people as they can in the industry. “Be ready to compete, or build strategic relationships, with a wider range of players in your market,” Mann stresses. And be careful not to believe the contention that one set of methods or products is intrinsically superior to all others. This thinking will only hold you back. “Learn as much as you can, wherever you can, and as quickly as possible. Recognize that, no matter what you know, there is always a lot more to learn.”
Most of all, Mann advises, “Work hard, respect your customer, and give them good reasons to respect you.”
Three very different companies. Three very different roads to success. A multitude of business-building lessons to learn. Check out the other companies featured in our 2019 Carpet Cleaning Industry Leaders Review: