The Man Behind the Magic: Interview with Karastan’s Jeff Seagle

The Man Behind the Magic: Interview with Karastan’s Jeff Seagle


Karastan’s showroom at Atlanta’s AmericasMart attracted some extra eyes last month at the summer edition of the International Area Rug Market.  Recently recognized as ‘Best in Flooring- Outstanding Visual Display’, the Karastan showroom is one of over 1,400 unique showrooms and over 2,500 temporary exhibits that help make the biannual market a ‘can’t miss’ event for industry insiders and interior designers alike.

Following the market, we were able to track down the man behind the magic, Director of Marketing and Product Merchandising Jeff Seagle, for an exclusive behind the scenes story of Seagle and his team’s showroom design process, from bare to beautiful!

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It is our understanding that you are the driving force behind the marketing and styling efforts of the Karastan showrooms. Can you tell us a little more about your specific role and history with the company?

First of all, you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with. I am incredibly blessed to have some of the best, most creative people on my team working incredibly hard throughout the entire process.

There are hundreds of things that have to happen prior to opening the showroom doors. Everyone in the creative services department and the sample department have a role to play, and they play it extremely well. Quite frankly, it would be an impossible task if it were not for their collective efforts and desire for excellence. I can tell you that the reason for our success is that everyone has a genuine love for doing showrooms and it shows.

Between Karastan and Mohawk Home, we do approximately eight shows a year.

I am currently the Director of Marketing and Product Merchandising with Mohawk Home. I have been with Mohawk Home for 8 years. I would say my most im­portant role within Mohawk Home/Karastan is to maximize and grow our sales and profitability using the combined talents of our creative services, merchandising and brand management teams. Our goal and is to deliver an engaging experience to each of our retail partners customers every time.

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High Point Market showroom, 2017.  

Did you wake up one morning and decide this was what you were born to do? Or rather, what experiences and education lead you to this point in your career?

Not at all, my design career began after graduating from Maryville College in 1986. After spending a year with an ad agency designing billboards, I began working for a government contractor in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. This particular firm held various government contracts with The United States Department of Energy. The largest of which, was to manage and operate The American Museum of Science and Energy.

My first assignment was to create an exhibit for the History of Y-12, a nuclear weapons facility located in Tennessee. Obviously, I had never designed anything to that scale or magnitude. The subject matter ranged from radioactive isotopes to the history of the atomic bomb. It was literally a sink or swim type proposition. Luckily, I learned to swim rather quickly and became the lead designer for the museum, as well as the company.

After ten years, I looked to do something in a completely new direction and began working as marketing director for a log home manufacturer based in Jarven­paa, Finland. We had over a hundred model homes and sales offices in Scandinavia. Eventually they entered the US market, and we were the first company to work with a newly formed company – Home and Garden Television. We were the first to give away a completely furnished home to a lucky winner, a highly successful promotion that continues to this day. It was at that time, working with a variety of designers, photographers and marketing professionals that I became even more interested in the power of visual merchandising.

Eventually, I worked my way into home textiles with stops at Burlington Rugs and Shaw Living.

How does your creative process begin when you’re tasked with designing a fresh, new showroom concept? Where do you start?

The creative process always starts with the product. We work very closely with the product designers to gain a greater understanding of the inspiration, vision, usage, features and benefits that differentiates it from the competition.

With our retail partners, differentiation is the name of the game. This applies to showrooms as well. There are monumental shifts in the retail landscape and consumer behavior. It is no longer enough to simply manufacture a great product. You must demonstrate a willingness to think outside the box – create curated collections, tell a story, create an environment, provide the customer with the right information in the right format, and whenever possible, create whenever a customer experi­ence that evokes all the senses.

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Patina Vie display at Las Vegas market, 2017.

A typical buying team sees hundreds and even thousands of rugs within any market week. Our goal is relatively simple: always be the standard of excellence in product and visual presentations. We strive to create somewhat of a logical connection with the product via a story or environment. If it comes naturally that’s great; if not, we challenge ourselves to think outside the box. Many times, the most unorthodox environments and approaches are the most well received.

 

Let’s talk about themes, the crux of the showroom! No pressure… right? How do you and your team identify a new theme? What are some factors you look toward to guide that decision process?

The theme is really born out of the product assortment we will be featuring. It also depends upon the amount of space we have to work with as well. But in the end, the final theme is born out of collaborative “brain storming” sessions with the creative team. The biggest factors that guide the decision process are space allocation, budget and, of course, the story or inspiration behind the product.

Where do you look for inspiration? Do you follow any designers, bloggers or publications?

Inspiration comes from a multitude of sources. One source of inspiration comes from small, boutique type retail shops and antique stores. These places are “goldmines” for inspiration. Not all, but many small boutiques are much better at creating more curated collections and do not have to follow strict merchandising and visual standards that big box retailers must follow. They are much more apt to be creative with signage, fixtures, photography and props.

Single biggest? Without question Disney. I am a Disney fanatic. I am fascinated by all aspects of their business – resorts, theme parks and retail areas. It absolute­ly amazes me how the Disney interior designers, architects, graphic designers, visual merchandisers, landscape architects, etc. maintain such high standards of creativity, excellence and continuity. No detail is too small…nothing. I have visited virtually every resort within Disney World the past 17 to 18 years and still walk away completely amazed. For me, it is not only a vacation but a tremendous and wonderful source of inspiration. Anyone who has ever walked down Main Street USA at dusk cannot be unimpressed with how they have incorporated, sight, sound and smell into the customer or visitor experience. I have thousands of photo­graphs—from the interior decor of the hotels to the retail shops on main street that I refer back to for inspiration.

Once the concept is conceived, the real work of bringing the vision to life must begin. Tell us a little about what all goes on behind the scenes when building a showroom. How long can this part of the process take? What roles help turn the idea into a reality?

Numerous things happen once we have decided on our approach. As the product is being designed and manufactured, we begin putting together working drawings for carpenters or contractors to make whatever we need that cannot be purchased.

We also begin shopping for furniture, props, clothing, signage – whatever we need. Once we have those things, our sample department will wrap and label every piece and package it for transport. We usually have one to two trucks filled with product, props and fixtures that go to every showroom.

Behind the scenes there is a tremendous amount of work. We begin work early each morning and usually work late into the evening. Everything from painting to replacing light bulbs are our responsibility. People would be amazed how disorganized and messy the showroom becomes in a matter of minutes once the trucks are unloaded. It generally looks like a bomb exploded.

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Construction underway at the Mohawk Home showroom in New York City.

Simultaneously, while we are beginning to assemble vignettes there are hundreds of large, heavy rugs that must be hung, folded, etc. Our sample department does a tremendous job hanging rugs, anyone who has ever tried to lift an 8 x10 wool rug 12 feet in the air knows it can wear you out fast.

Generally, it takes a couple of weeks in actual construction time to completely “tear down” a showroom and change out the product for the next show. Planning time takes far more time. One day we’re going to place a time lapse camera in a showroom to illustrate the process.

 

Is there a moment when you know the showroom is complete or is it a constant work in progress? If it’s the former, tell us about that moment and what signals to you that the showroom is ready to be revealed?

There is definitely a moment when it is complete from a timing standpoint, but you are always looking back thinking I could have, or should have changed this or that.

Though the themes may change, how do you preserve Karastan’s brand identity? Are there any core components (besides beautiful rugs!) that you try to maintain in each showroom?

It really is all about the product. The designers and product development teams do a superb job at providing the market with the most beautiful rugs in the world. The Karastan brand identity as it relates to the showrooms is really based on the beauty of the product and the creativity, care and professionalism of the environment that our customers see or experience.

Probably one of the most important core components that we implement in any of our showrooms is the attention to detail. Whether it’s distressing a chair, installing wainscot or selecting the right magazines or books for display, it’s very important to the team. In the end, that is what differentiates us form the rest of the market and is what I am proudest of.

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Details of a retro-themed vignette at the Las Vegas showroom in 2016.  

How often must the showroom be redesigned? Does this always involve a complete overhaul or can elements of previous themes evolve into the next?

We typically do one major renovation per year on each of our showrooms. Generally, we don’t like to repeat any theme unless of course it has been well received and the sales or management team requests we keep it in place. We reuse many of our props and furniture. As a matter of fact, when we purchase props or finalize a design we always want to look to the future and determine is this something we can use again and again in a multitude of different environments.

Can you recall any favorite showroom displays over the years?

There are a few that are my favorite. One in particular, was our “Speakeasy Bar” that we constructed for Atlanta Market. We featured collections of beautiful, traditional Karastan rugs in the setting of a 1920’s prohibition era bar. We actually had a bookcase and library shelves constructed that would swing open to reveal a “hidden” section of the showroom.

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The “Speakeasy” theme, along with a hidden bookcase display, was a big hit during Atlanta market 2015.

The section was filled with an eclectic blend of furniture, photography and artifacts from that time period. Our team spent a couple of days installing new wallpaper and then distressing it with sandpaper, razor blades and stain.
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Much time and effort is spent in the weeks leading up to market, making sure every detail looks and feels authentic.

We also purchased beer mugs with our Karastan “Speakeasy” logo that was used later in the evenings for customer receptions. Old beer barrels, whiskey and beer bottles with fake dust and cobwebs were also used in the vignettes. If you really look at the photographs you can see the attention to the details in most every shot.

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Notice the ‘cobwebs’ hanging on the chandelier, created by the merchandising/design teams.

As we mentioned earlier, last month’s Atlanta showroom was recently recognized as ‘Best in Flooring-Outstanding Visual Display’. For those of us who couldn’t see it in person, tell us a few of your favorite highlights! What were you most proud of?

I think the last showroom in Atlanta was probably the most complete. We launched a new collection of rugs called Kismet. The setting for Kismet was contemporary and somewhat a “California Casual” look and feel.

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The Kismet collection was a big hit at Atlanta market this summer. The Karastan showroom earned the ‘Best in Flooring- Outstanding Visual Display’.

Our Spice market section was filled with baskets and architectural pieces filled with actual spices that not only were visually interesting but created a wonderful exotic fragrance upon entering that section of the showroom.

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We also had a very unique window vignette featuring our Indoor/outdoor rugs. In this vignette, we wanted to create a patio area in the back of a typical home. However, we chose to present it in a very unusual way. We decided to place the floor of the patio on the wall, with the walls of the house hung from the ceiling. This created an optical illusion that confused and delighted many of our customers. Everything from the outdoor stone fireplace to the furniture all had to be secured to the wall. Everything was literally hung for the ceiling, secured to the wall or affixed to the floor.

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Want to know more about what goes on behind the scenes at market? Be sure to follow Karastan on Facebook for the latest updates and images.

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