Rob Leahy, the owner of Fine Rugs of Charleston, has been weaving stories for 50 years, having spent five decades in the carpet business. He opened the independently owned flooring design showroom 18 years ago and is profoundly grateful to his customers for their loyalty and the privilege of being part of their lives. “My relationship with our customers is extremely personal,” says Leahy.
Leahy has been away from the business for a good part of the last three years, working on a project for USAID to help women in Afghanistan who are weaving carpets. General manager Rhiannon Esposito oversaw the operations of Fine Rugs of Charleston in Leahy’s absence. USAID is a government agency whose mission is to “lead international development and humanitarian efforts to save lives, reduce poverty, strengthen democratic governance and help people progress beyond assistance.” This June, Leahy wrapped up what he says is one of the most successful programs ever launched by USAID. He was part of a team of four industry experts who created the Kabul Carpet Export Center (KCEC) to enable business between carpet sellers in Afghanistan and international buyers. Today, KCEC has a staff of 18 in Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan. They work with weavers and their families to understand the nature of internal markets and train them to work with overseas buyers. KCEC helps weavers improve quality so they can sell large quantities of carpets now and in the future.
Over the last few years, Leahy visited Afghanistan five times per year but did not make the journey in 2020 due to the pandemic. He is particularly proud of the team’s ability to successfully navigate through the pandemic. He notes that the true gift of the project is its sustainability for the Afghan carpet trade. “Despite how difficult things are in Afghanistan with the United States pulling out troops and the challenges of a new government, KCEC continues to be a viable business because carpet making is a cultural and socially acceptable business for women that is driven by and empowers women. It is a family-centric enterprise and a perfect project for Afghanistan at this moment,” says Leahy.
Fine Rugs of Charleston is an expert on the current industry trend of creating custom carpets in the form of broadloom carpet cut into shapes to fit various room layouts. “I am proud and happy about what we have accomplished in business,” says Leahy, noting that giving back is what truly makes a difference. He observes that business is excellent, with record numbers of people dressing up their homes.
“We are the go-to store in Charleston. People come to the showroom because they want to see the product before they buy it. As a brick-and-mortar store, we focus on style, performance, quality and customer service,” says Leahy, who notes that he is looking at the business in a different sense these days. “We need to educate customers to satisfy the growing need for best-quality handmade rugs and carpets.”
Leahy says that color is back in vogue much more than it was before the pandemic, with colors that are brighter and “more fun” as customers marry their carpets to their furniture, which is trending away from bleached and limed to redder tones, such as mahogany and walnut. According to Leahy, this is a 10-year trend that will move back to neutral in a decade. “We have reorganized to meet market trends,” he says. “This is the hardest I have ever worked. We go out of our way to maintain our service expectation. It has been a remarkably busy time, and I want to take a moment to say thank you to our customers.”
Stacey Marcus is a Boston-based freelance lifestyle, luxury and travel writer. Her works have appeared in Art New England, Boston, Boston Common Magazine, Coastal Design Magazine, Charleston Style & Design, Modern Luxury Chicago, Ocean Home Magazine, Playboy.com, RD.com and many others. A lover of big words and little white dogs, Stacey’s biggest joys are found in life’s simple moments.