One of the leading manufacturers of carpets in Brazil, Tapetes São Carlos has been around for more than 60 years. As Associate Director Clemens Boecker revealed to writer Michael Sommers, the company’s traditional expertise and values have played a big role in its success – almost as big as its embrace of new trends and technology.
Embracing both tradition and trend might seem like a paradox, but it proves a winning approach for Tapetes São Carlos, one of Brazil’s most reputable – and revolutionary – carpet manufacturers. In terms of market share, the company currently ranks second in its country. But as far as design and innovation, Tapetes São Carlos is numero uno.
“Tapetes São Carlos has garnered a reputation for being innovative, always a step ahead when it comes to the latest fashions and trends,” declares Clemens Boecker, the company’s associate director. “At the same time, we maintain the same principles of quality that our founder brought from Germany.”
EXPERTISE AND EXPANSION
Boecker refers to Otto Werner Rösel who, before World War II, already owned a carpet factory in East Germany. After the war, Rösel escaped from East Germany to West Germany – and then to Brazil, where he arrived in 1951. Situating his family in the small town of São Carlos, some 143 miles from São Paulo, Rösel devoted himself to what he knew best: woven carpet production. In 1953, he purchased his first loom and made his first carpet.
TAPETES SÃO CARLOS WAS BORN
During the ensuing decades, the company built upon the expertise that Rösel brought from Europe. At the same time, it positioned itself at the industry forefront by introducing the fledgling Brazilian market to new technology. In the late 1960s, the company began researching nonwoven materials, which led to investment in the necessary manufacturing equipment. Subsequently, it launched the first line of inexpensive and incredibly durable nonwoven carpets, which revolutionized the Brazilian market and propelled the small company to its leadership position.
In the next decade, Brazil’s carpet market expanded significantly. Tapetes São Carlos kept pace with the growth. In the 1980s, it acquired state-of-the art machinery for tufting (now the most widely used carpet manufacturing process). In the 1990s, Tapetes São Carlos took another big step forward – and sideways – when it branched out into a whole new market: the automotive segment. Taking advantage of its nonwoven technology and know-how, the company overhauled and modernized its plant (which currently measures 23,000 square feet) and began producing insulation, carpeting and upholstery for auto manufacturers, assemblers and resellers. Today, such auto products – along with other “technical” products for industrial use and pieces made from non-fabric, all-natural and biodegradable materials – account for 15 percent of total revenues. Meanwhile, close to 70 percent of business comes from its most tried and true product: carpets.
MARKETS AND TRENDS
In terms of carpets and rugs, Tapetes São Carlos’ principal target market has always been Brazilians from the upper and upper-middle classes – or “the A and B classes” – who seek top quality products with differentiated designs, notes Boecker. Though traditionally less important for the company, wall-to-wall carpeting has also been growing in recent years. “It used to be that the majority of sales were for offices and commercial spaces, but now the demand for carpeting in residential spaces is growing as a lot people decide that carpeting is a welcome alternative to tile floors, particularly in more intimate spaces such as the bedroom.”
While the Brazilian carpet market has grown at annual rates of around six percent, Tapetes São Carlos has enjoyed significantly higher growth rates. Although the company is present throughout Brazil, the greatest percentage of its business comes from the robust South and Southeast markets (particularly Rio and São Paulo). Exports also make up a healthy portion of sales. While the plummeting dollar and rising real have forced Tapetes São Carlos to pull back in some of its overseas markets, the company has succeeded in hanging onto many Latin American clients willing to pay higher prices in return for quality and service. As a result, exports still account for 15 to 20 percent of revenues.
“Customer satisfaction with our carpets is very high,” Boecker reveals. “In terms of our international sales, we haven’t had a single complaint in the last six years. As for Brazil, the percentage of annual complaints we receive is less than one percent.”
Despite its increasing size, Tapetes São Carlos still offers old-fashioned, personalized service. “We take pains to ensure that our clients receive product in a certain manner – separated, identified, catalogued – to facilitate their logistics,” says Boecker. “And we’re always prepared to tailor products to meet specific demands. For instance, if a client wants a color or pattern, our designers customize the carpet to suit requirements.”
Another way that Tapetes São Carlos keeps clients happy is by staying abreast of the latest global tendencies. Each year, company designers travel to Europe and the United States to research up-and-coming trends. “Carpets belong to the world of fashion and our designs always have to be up to date,” explains Boecker. “We always integrate the latest international tendencies into our products, although we sometimes have to adapt them to comply with Brazilian tastes.”
As an example of Brazilian specificity, Boecker notes that a recent European trend is for fine polyester thread shag carpets in vibrant colors. Although the carpets themselves have been a hit in Brazil, bright colors are a miss – it turns out (somewhat surprisingly) that when it comes to home decor, upper-class Brazilians prefer subtler, more neutral shades.
INNOVATION AND INTEGRITY
It’s just as important to keep up with new technology. “One thing that sets us apart is our commitment to constant innovation,” declares Boecker. “For instance, right now patchwork rugs are quite fashionable. In Brazil, these are always handmade from different pieces of fabric.”
The company came up with a new idea. “What if we could do this on an industrial level? We came up with an original mixture of velvet and boucle that allows us to imitate the ‘used’ look of handmade patchwork,” continues Boecker. “And we developed looms that enable us to work simultaneously with eight colors instead of the usual two. We just launched the first of these rugs last month, as manufactured products. They’re the first of their kind in Brazil.”
Aside from fashion, another big factor that drives Tapetes São Carlos’s innovation is sustainability – with respect to both its processes and its products. “Since the beginning, we’ve been concerned with our environmental impact,” say Boecker. “Early on, our founder, Otto Rösel, implemented a zero-waste policy and over the years, we’ve really developed it.”
Since 2000, the company ramped up efforts to become environmentally friendly. In 2006, it inaugurated an on-site effluent treatment plant. In 2009, it became Brazil’s first carpet manufacturer to receive IS0-2001 certification. Last year, Tapetes São Carlos scored a major coup when it became the first Latin American carpet manufacturer to receive the Green Label Plus, a standard awarded by the United States’ Carpet and Rugs Institute to products that have low emissions of VOCs (volatile organic compounds), and which can subsequently be used in “green buildings.” Currently, a major focus of the company’s product development consists of finding ways to integrate all-natural, biodegradable materials into its products.
One of the most promising – and revolutionary – examples is a 100-percent biodegradable natural fiber derived from sugar, being used in the manufacture of automobile products. Also being produced for the auto market are sound absorbers made entirely out of materials recycled from other industries. “Although they only have 70 to 80 percent of the efficiency of standard foam absorbers, these recycled ones cost 50 percent less to produce,” points out Boecker. “For clients in search of cheaper and more sustainable solutions, this is a really interesting alternative.”
Moreover, such products comply with the company’s overall philosophy, which is all about healthy, sustainable growth based on traditional values: honesty and quality.
“Growth is important to us, but not at whatever cost,” says Boecker. “Right now, the Brazilian market suffers from cheap imports from countries such as China and Turkey. But with the low prices come inconsistencies and falsifications. Our motto is ‘integrity with quality.’ Our feet are firmly planted on the ground. We don’t take unnecessary risks, and we never create a poorly developed product. Ultimately, we’re conservative – and we’re proud of that. We’re not looking to be bigger than anyone else. We’re just looking to be better.”