After immigrating to the United States from Turkey in 1997, Rumi Shepherd Durmaz discovered that high-quality Turkish rugs were missing from the US market. So he began selling rugs at flea markets and building relationships with small mom-and-pop stores. In 2007, he took a chance and formed Ottomanson Inc, the first major wholesaler of Turkish rugs in the United States. Then, in 2013, he became one of the first to introduce non-slip rubber back rugs onto eCommerce platforms.
Just 8 years later, Ottomanson is now a leading flooring brand that sits on the shelves of most major retailers from Walmart to Home Depot, to Macy’s, and more. We were early adopters of eCommerce, and have developed a strong partnership with Amazon and other e-Retailers.
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Table of Contents
Let’s learn a little about you and really get to experience what makes us tick – starting at our beginnings. Where did your story begin?
Rumi Shepherd Durmaz: My story begins shortly after my immigration to America from Turkey in 1997. In 2000, I was looking to start a business of my own. My first goal was to determine what was in demand but not widely available in the market. I began selling pots, pans, table enamel, and rugs at flea markets in Pennsylvania, only on weekends. I determined Turkish rugs specifically were the right products to focus on but I would not be able to expand just through flea markets. So I began going door-to-door to mom and pop shops and other brick-and-mortar retailers. Once my business began to scale, I established Ottomanson in 2007. From there, I hit many milestones with my company:
– 2009: Alongside my mom and pop sales, we began to do rug roadshows with companies like Sam’s Club.
– 2011: We partnered with Shop-Rite and Corrado’s for roadshows and set up rug racks in their stores all along the mid-Atlantic region.
– 2013: We began selling online through Amazon and Overstock. By the end of the year, our eCommerce sales grew significantly. I moved from my 50,000 sq. ft. warehouse to an 88,000 sq. ft. warehouse. At this point, we began to see a consistent year-over-year growth of 30%, which is still continuing today.
– 2015: Ottomanson completely transitioned to eCommerce and began selling on Wayfair, Home Depot, and Walmart. The immense growth led me to start researching and investing heavily in technology for my business. This led to improvements in manufacturing, daily operations with innovative inventory tracking systems, and sales through multiple online platforms.
– 2017: By 2017, we became one of the first wholesale suppliers of rugs that sold directly with Amazon and Walmart. We also sold on Home Depot, Walmart, Lowe’s, Macy’s, Wayfair, Overstock, and more. But it wasn’t only eCommerce, my new network also allowed for selling in retail stores like TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and Ross Stores.
– 2018: I saw the trend of European furniture growing in the United States and immediately targeted this market gap by creating my own private label brand, Casamode, as well as a retail store, Sweet Home Stores, to sell directly to customers. However, Casamode sales are mainly wholesale and B2B.
Now, we are continuing to see our average growth of 30% annual revenue.
Was there somebody in your life that inspired you to take that specific journey with your business?
Rumi Shepherd Durmaz: People are usually shocked to hear this face – my name was not originally Rumi. The 13th-century Persian poet inspired me so much in my life that when I was 50, I officially changed my name.
Ever since I began reading Rumi’s poems at the age of 5, I was mesmerized by his philosophy on loving, caring, and giving. Every single quote and every single poem would motivate me on whatever was my focus at the moment – in school, in relationships, in career planning, and every other aspect of my life.
“As you start to walk on the way, the way appears.”
I began at flea markets and immediately felt that I was on the right path, and every next step started becoming clear. My vision for the company was inspired by his giving philosophy – I wanted unmatched quality and affordability to the widest array of customers that I could find. Generosity is a core principle of Rumi’s, and it was not difficult to realize from an early age that as I gave, the universe gave back. I am always open to helping others with their businesses because I knew it would come back to me in surplus, which is how I got to where I am today.
What are the most common mistakes you see entrepreneurs make and what would you suggest they do?
Rumi Shepherd Durmaz: As a Turkish immigrant entrepreneur, what I’ve experienced in my community is similar to what all entrepreneurs experience, including the mistakes that are being made. After gaining some experience working, some entrepreneurs will start a business in the same industry, which is fine. The biggest and most common mistake made, however, is “copy and pasting” their old business model without making any changes because they have seen it working. The business world is rapidly developing these days and any business model must adapt accordingly.
I believe the source of this common mistake is failing to network broadly. They are only keeping in mind their previous personal experiences, but not gaining an additional understanding of new business development. If entrepreneurs were to network, gain different perspectives, repeatedly consult others, and gain their own vision for their business, they would be able to adapt and achieve greater success.
Has the pandemic and transitioning into mostly online shopping affected your company positively or negatively?
Rumi Shepherd Durmaz: Being an eCommerce business, the pandemic affected my businesses positively. eCommerce has been on track for growth since the ’90s. With new technologies, it was bound to observe rapid growth year over year. With the effects of the pandemic, this momentum was accelerated.
Expecting the growth of e-commerce, I have always proactively prepared for a drastic change. With people couped up in their homes and getting the urge to revamp their house décor, they turned to Ottomanson rugs and furniture products. We were able to fulfill the sudden and unexpected large demand brought by these customers and quickly adapt to the changing market due to our logistic and tech capabilities that we’ve been investing in for years. With an average growth of 30% annually over the last decade, last year, Ottomanson observed growth of ~70%.
When you think of your company, 5 years from now, what do you see?
Rumi Shepherd Durmaz: People judge businesses based on multiple and different factors: is it big, does it have a large customer base, how quick is its growth, does it have a nice work environment, etc. I believe, with large companies, simplicity and profitability are key. So the right questions for me are – “Is the business model simple? and “Is it profitable?”.
With Ottomanson, I place a strong focus on geographic and horizontal expansion while keeping the simplicity and profitability factors in play. In 5 years, I see Ottomanson, through our various eCommerce partners, having a global presence selling in every major international marketplace. Our product catalog will definitely be expanded to include more home décor and furniture products, and potentially into other categories depending on market trends that I catch early.
What do you consider are your strengths when dealing with staff workers, colleagues, senior management, and customers?
Rumi Shepherd Durmaz: I have two core values with colleagues and customers: Empathy and Fairness. Whether I am thinking about a labor worker in the warehouse or a senior management employee, I always ask myself “If I were in their position, what would I expect?” To keep it narrow I will disregard specifics for my company, but tell you that the answer always includes expectations of the ability to gain and improve new skills, climb up the (relatively horizontal) hierarchy of Ottomanson, and the opportunity to be compensated fairly for their efforts. It does not matter what position I hire someone for, although their paths may be different, both the entry-level employee and the senior manager will have the opportunity to ultimately rise to the board.
In regards to fairness, it’s simple – do the right thing. Keep karma in mind. If the situation is unclear or debatable, give more. You always get back what you give with a surplus. Just to provide a simple example, if Company A were to short Company B on a payment because they knew Company B would not take the hassle and financial cost of getting into litigation, they may save money in the short term. But that action will eventually come out, their brand image will be harmed, and they will lose more than they initially saved.
Being a CEO of the company, do you think that your personal brand reflects your company’s values?
Rumi Shepherd Durmaz: My personal brand will not affect my current business, because it is already established, has its own image and core values (initially developed from me and my personal brand). However, my personal brand WILL always affect future endeavors (like new businesses) and partnerships.
All successful businessmen and women will invest in you, not the idea, not the brand, and not the company. Ever watch Shark Tank? This is the Sharks’ ideology every single episode, you will actually hear them say this explicitly at least once every other episode. As important as the business and idea are, the person in charge is more important. Are they passionate? Are they willing to go the extra mile? Are they smart in their execution? What have they done before? Were they successful; why or why not? This all depends on the person and their personal brand.
What’s your favorite leadership style and why?
Rumi Shepherd Durmaz: As I mentioned, investing in people is the right path for success. My favorite leadership style is investment in people and my team. I like to help people do the extraordinary. Everyone has a unique skill whether they know it or not. I read people very well and can see their secret skills and talents very early on. I like to invest in them, make them realize this, bring it out, and have THEM utilize their talents.
I do not like to put myself at the forefront. When something needs to get done, I choose the right person I am investing in at the face of the project. This will build their confidence, improve their execution for next time, and will benefit and improve them for the future. The most important part here is that I think about them first. I try to facilitate their growth in the right areas and if I do it well, they will recognize and appreciate myself and my company, and that’s when I begin getting my return on investment.
What would you say is the main difference between starting a business at the time you started yours and starting the business in today’s age?
Rumi Shepherd Durmaz: You know how we judge time-based on Before Christ and After Christ (BC and AC)? The largest change between when I started and now is the internet. I see the business world as B.I. (Before Internet) and A.I. (After Internet). When I began, business was very traditional with direct verbal communication and slower turnarounds. Now, however, by using the internet and technology, everything moves extremely quickly. One can start a business and operate it in their own bedroom.
There are pros and cons of both BI and AI. Yes, it is much easier to start now but the problem is that everyone can do it. The industry has become much more competitive and has made quality and innovation more important for long-term success. This is why today, differentiation is all the more crucial. My advice to any entrepreneur would be: do not copy anyone’s business model. You can take the foundational parts that you think are necessary but you definitely have to add your own unique touch to improve and differentiate products/services in at least a few ways. Or else, what are the odds that you are going to be the needle that’s picked within a haystack? Very low. Become a larger and more visible needle.
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
Rumi Shepherd Durmaz: “What hurts you blesses you.” – Rumi
I am a strong believer that every new experience and every negative experience will, or rather can, always have a positive outcome. With every failure, you have the ability to think about and reflect on it. There is always a lesson if you think about it enough. Take the lesson, put it in your pocket, and utilize it moving forward.
The old saying goes, it doesn’t matter how many times you fall, what matters is that you get back up. Drawing a parallel, getting hurt is falling, and ruminating and taking a lesson out of it is getting back up. So when you get hurt, think about how and why it is actually a blessing, because it always is. You hit a roadblock or a setback. Instead of sulking, think about how to get over it, find a workaround, and now you have this new method in your toolbox. Again, all negative experiences have positive outcomes – just ponder on it for a while.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Rumi Shepherd Durmaz for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Rumi Shepherd Durmaz or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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