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How a 112-year-old family business stays fashionable

Every business faces obstacles, but there are some that only family businesses can appreciate. In this series, we scour the country in search of family businesses that have stood the test of time and ask them to share the keys to their success.

The Korhani family business was built from the ground up, from outfitting palatial homes in Iran with exquisite, hand-knotted Persian rugs to decorating today’s North American homes with quality, affordable designer carpets made in a state-of-the-art factory in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec.

The business was started in 1902 in Iran by real estate mogul Bahram Korhani after he was intrigued by the craftsmanship of hand-knotted Persian rugs. Bahram’s son Ebad inherited a passion for the rugs and he was 17, his father died suddenly and he took over the business.

Today, Korhani Home is a major Canadian manufacturer of mass-produced rugs with more than 150 employees and a state-of-the-art factory in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec. The company is now owned by Bahram’s grandsons Moji and Hessam Korhani and its products are sold at major Canadian retailers and in the U.S. and Europe.

An example of the type of products Korhani sold early in its history: A hand-knotted Persian rug made for a palace, almost the size of a football field and worth millions of dollars.

Ebad Korhani had transformed what had been largely a hobby for his father into a successful business. He was interested in the life cycle of the rugs, not just the beauty, as the product went through 20 to 30 hands, including sheep shearers, weavers, sales agents and shippers before ending up with the customer. He travelled extensively, selling antiques and rugs to palatial homes. His desire to expand beyond Iran brought him to Europe in 1969 to establish the headquarters in Germany.

Talk around the family dinner table centred around the business, recalls Moji Korhani. “It was the talk of the family and it gets embedded in you. It becomes infectious.”

In the 1980s, the Korhanis were eager to break into the North American market and Expo 67 and the 1976 Olympics had put Canada and Montreal on their radar. They set up an office in Montreal and in 1987, Moji came to Canada to join the company.

Business boomed initially and it was not unusual to sell more than $1-million worth of rugs in one-day department store events.

“We were selling rugs for $150,000 or $160,000 each at the Hudson’s Bay store”
Moji Korhani

However, a recession followed and business evaporated. Tastes also changed. Customers wanted fashionable affordable products rather than high-end investment pieces.

The Korhanis made a dramatic decision, to gradually shift from importing expensive hand-made Persian carpets to selling machine-made rugs.

Korhani's factory in Montreal, Quebec

“It definitely was a big adjustment and it didn’t happen overnight,” says Mr. Korhani. “We went from selling rugs for palaces to selling rugs popular with the consumer in the 1980s. It was a gradual evolution. For a while, we sold very thick hand-knotted wool rugs made in China.”

The company had also liked to deal directly with its artists when it dealt in high-end rugs. By the early 2000s, they saw that state-of the-art weaving machines could produce high-quality rugs at a fraction of the time and cost of hand-woven rugs – and give them control of their products. The company bought and refurbished an old factory in Montreal to manufacture its rugs, going against the trend at the time of Canadian companies outsourcing their production overseas.

Kirsten Korhani, Korhani Home’s chief designer and creative director, and Moji Korhani, co-owner and COO

“When we implemented it, we had the technology to hang our hat on and with our own facility, we could be quick to market and could change with consumer demands and trends immediately,” says Mr. Korhani. The factory created jobs in Canada and now employees 150 people.

Chief designer and creative director Kirsten Korhani, Moji’s wife (the couple met as high school students in Germany), joined the company in the mid-2000s. She and her husband were in the process of moving to Toronto from Montreal when he asked her to come to the showroom to choose rugs for their new home.

Korhani Home on the runway

“She didn’t select anything,” recalls Mr. Korhani. “She said ‘I like something more modern and updated than the old Persian rugs’ and that’s when the light went on for me and I saw the need for change and what consumers were wanting.”

Utilizing her fashion designer background, Ms. Korhani created seasonal collections to allow customers to affordably change their home’s look throughout the year (most Korhani products are priced at less than $200). She turned Korhani rugs into couture outfits paraded on the runways of Fashion Weeks in Toronto and Berlin.

In 2014, she staged an innovative multimedia exhibition at the Interior Design Show in Toronto, using cutting-edge video projection and surface mapping to bring mannequins to life who guided visitors through a theatrical spectacle showcasing Korhani’s fashion and décor pieces.

Cuba libre inspired theme featuring the Veranda Rug Collection

“She made a rug company very sexy and attractive,” says Mr. Korhani. Her industry-leading creativity proved to be a perfect fit with her husband’s forward-thinking approach.

“Innovation is a huge focus for Korhani Home,” says Mr. Korhani. “We are always ahead of the curve in creating new products, designs, colours and concepts.” He says the company’s forward-thinking philosophy and its willingness to recognize and accept change when it is needed is a key factor in its long-term success.

In 2008, Korhani Home developed the first recyclable indoor area rug and Canada’s first rug recycling program. Every product made is 100 per cent recyclable and certified by UL EcoLogo, the only North American eco-labelling program approved by the Global Ecolabelling Network (GEN), an association of third-party labeling organizations dedicated to improving transparency in environmental products and services.

“I am always intrigued to take things to the next level and I wanted to make a difference in our little world and I challenged our team,” Mr. Korhani says. “I wanted us to be recognized and accountable to EcoLogo. They gave us a list of what we’d have to do to become certified, and at first it was Mission Impossible, but we chipped away at it one item at a time.”

Korhani also established an industry first by introducing a one-year unlimited warranty their Canadian-made products. The company is currently working to expand its market.

“The future is bright,” says Mr. Korhani. “We are forging a path for Canadian-made products in other markets around the world.”

The Korhani home 2015 Outdoor Matrix of Nature Collection will land in retailers this spring and feature the company’s new innovative Turf Meets Fashion product

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