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Sam Abraham - Abrahams Rugs

Sam Abraham

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Sam Abraham followed his passion and it has served him well. He came to this country to study law, but he has always loved rugs. For every rug he sold, he bought two more; today, 35 years later, he has four fabulous stores and is serving his customers’ children. Esther Steinfeld Freedman interviews Sam Abraham, founder of Abraham’s Oriental Rugs. Sam believes that if you really love what you do, the tough times don’t matter.

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Esther: This is The BusinessMakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at I'm Esther Freedman and our guest today is Sam Abraham. He is the Founder and Owner of Abraham's Fine Rugs. Welcome to the show.

Sam: Thank you.

Esther: So we are in one of your gorgeous showrooms, one of four that you have here in the Houston area, tell us a little bit about what we're sitting in front of.

Sam: We are sitting front of an antique Abusan eighteenth century piece, it's about thirty feet long by seventeen feet width; one of the gorgeous rugs in the world.

Esther: It's unbelievable. And we're actually surrounded by lots of beautiful rugs, just a few in your collection of thousands now that, you know, that you have in your showroom. So tell me a little bit about how you began your first business.

Sam: Came here into United States, Houston as an exchange law student and was joined with, uh, Vinson Elkins early on and was travelling a lot. Uh, this was a hobby and the hobby just grew and grew and, uh, we are here.

Esther: Unbelievable. And it seems like you're kind of living the dream because so many people would love to say they have this hobby and they turn their hobby into a career.

Sam: That is true, that's true. We didn't know we going to be, uh, I'm going to be doing what I'm doing when we started; it was just a passion to continue a hobby. But it has began to go on us and we open the store and it was, uh, early beginning. It was pretty hard in those days cause we didn't have any capital, I need borrow, uh, two thousand dollars I didn't have it. And I can never forget that, uh, the bank told me that I need to deposit three thousand dollars so then'll - he - get a - get a loan, I sure did that; so that was our first loan, that was the beginning of our business.

Esther: That's unbelievable. What kick-started your passion in textiles and collecting rugs and - and things that - beautiful pieces like this?

Sam: Way back we were told that, uh, our great great parents came from Middle East to India and out there were textile merchants, so maybe that has something to do with it. My wife study was Islamic Art and History and I have also studied in India International Law and also Muslim's Law. These subjects have lot to do with rugs, so that's why we became more fascinated about, uh, studying rugs; looking back that is probably what, uh, lead us into what we are now as a passion.

Esther: Tell me a little bit about how you've grown your businesses from one store to four stores and still going strong after all of these years.

Sam: Well back in eighties, uh, when after we started business few years things really got rough, uh, we didn't know how we gonna - I would like stay in this - in - in this - in this building. Our floor, we were the only one left when the - when the bad, uh, tough part came; the oil crisis came. But we were able to stay in and able to survive. And, we had a policy that any rug people buy they can always trade it to us so when the oil economy was busted, I remember a couple of people bringing rugs which they bought from us, they wanted a trade, and I don't have any money to buy it back, but sure enough, uh, I told them let me try my best, they left the rug over there and we were able to sell it, uh, within couple of days; the same rug at a higher price.

Esther: Wow.

Sam: So we were able to refund the money and we really thought well those people got the money and they couldn't believe that. They were really has not even five percent hope that we will be able to pay them. It's not that I did anything miracle, somebody else liked this rug, they bought it, and, uh, I was able to pay them. There are many stories like that so we were able to pass through the tough time again we'll pass through - passing through another tough time, we just believe we just coming out of it. But it is a passion. If you enjoy your business so much and don't come here to work, if you have something - so much passion in what you doing, you're able to survive and God's grace has been always with us and we never forget that. Any time things get tough we depend on Lord to lead us in the tough time and we are appreciate that.

Esther: Wow, that's a really inspiring story. Sounds like you have some customers who feel pretty passionately about your business too.

Sam: Thank you, thank you. Yes, we built our friendship or our customers for the last thirty-five years. Many of the customers that I am dealing now are children of the people who, uh, bought the rug first back in seventies and eighties. So, they were sitting on the same chair, uh, when they were three or four year old

Esther: Wow

Sam: And they come back over here to buy their rug, their take and putting their kids on that seat, so I - I think those are lucky chairs for me.

Esther: Absolutely. And how important is it to maintain those customer relations and what are some of the things that you do to kind of keep your clients coming back?

Sam: In this business, especially in our business people always known for going out of business or desperate liquidation auction; I never had to do anything like that. We always enjoy our relations with, uh, our customers and more able to provide them or able to show them what is appropriate for them and come some - many of them became our very close friends.

Esther: That's really unbelievable, how do you even compete with the - the companies that are constantly running these fake going out of business sales or liquidations?

Sam: So two thing; they didn't really have - they didn't have the real commitment to that business. They got into it and they never really collected great pieces or collectable piece or something which people really want. They run into difficulty so naturally they have to get rid of it. So they're naturally forced to do some kind of gimmick so this is normally the way they do it; going out of business or total liquidation or things like that. It's just a very unethical but, uh, you know, I didn't - I didn't - thank God I never have to do that. We have great rugs, our customers know what we have.

Esther: And do you work closely with designers?

Sam: Yes, yes.

Esther: As well as directly with customers?

Sam: Yeah. The - the center is exclusively for designers, okay. So they bring their clients here and we enjoy, uh, seeing them again and, uh, all the - most of the time each job is different; different budget, different, uh, likings, so, uh, we enjoy that.

Esther: Tell me about some of the challenges of working in the textile industry and the design business.

Sam: Well, you know, that is a very good question. We have invested all our life, thousands and thousands of rug here. While that is true, why would I go and borrow money again, even last week, to buy some more rugs? That's the challenge a business man have to take because what I have is may not be what a customer wanted today. They want something new, something out of nowhere to be found. They heard about that t - certain type of rug; I gotta go and find it. And this is a challenge and I enjoy at the same time that's what, uh, it - it's most challenging part of our business.

Esther: I'm looking at several hundreds of rugs, maybe thousands of rugs, it's hard to even tell; how many rugs do you have in inventory in your four showrooms?

Sam: Several thousands of rugs. It is - each one come out here not by accident, it is our collected by me and my wife together, you know, overseas and other places that we keep on collecting them. It's a joy to have them, that is the strength of our inventory. But again it, you know, it's a very capital intensive business and - and really has its chore, at the same time has its joy.

Esther: So somebody comes in here to buy a rug, what can they expect to pay for one of these gorgeous rugs, what's the price range?

Sam: It widely varies. I often faces this issue, the designer say, oh, I - I just brought the client to you, uh, he's very tough, and you must - have to deal with him price. I'm not - don't discuss with me price, you both deal with the price. So naturally I was asked, what is the price? And he definitely replied that's way too much, okay. When he hear what is that he looking at and it - it his mindset is, you know, he doesn't know whether he can get a bargain or he doesn't know what it should be paying; when he know a little bit about the rug, it make more sense. They're here because someone they know already have a great deal of report with us or bought rug from us or relations with them. So they have somewhat of a trust in what we say. At the same time they have no idea sometimes how much they have to pay, but when we are more than reasonable, that's okay. And not all the time they are, you know, like that. They sometimes negotiate a little bit, which we are fine. We come from an area where negotiation is not a sin. It is really something common in this business, so many times that is the way we close a deal.

Esther: Are there rugs in here that cost more than a hundred thousand dollars?

Sam: Of course, absolutely.

Esther: What about more than a million dollars?

Sam: No, I don't have a million dollar rug, but there are - there are several hundreds of thousand dollars rugs we have and we sold rugs too. Large oil corporations want very special rugs. We're working on right now one of the big oil companies is really looking at some very, very exquisite pieces; so they're pretty expensive. When a chairman of a large oil company looking for, uh, a rug, it's an image of the company and it is also image of the customers and this is a product which has gotta great status symbol; finer the rug, finer the person.

Esther: Interesting.

Sam: That's an old saying, you know.

Esther: Wow.

Sam: Uh, in olden days a king, when he wants to deal business with another king or to respect another king, what does he do? What is was, give him a fine rug.

Esther: Really?

Sam: Which symbolizes the kingdom's wealth and also the recipient's worthiness to receive that; so it's kind of both mutual. If you want to treat a guest in an honorable way, give a gift that will elevate your relations and bond your - your - your trade with them. So it has been for hundreds of years practice of, eh - eh, art of gift. So rug is certainly, uh, show historically a great piece of art, a great - great piece of gift items for the elite and the kings used to do it for each other.

Esther: Interesting, and I guess that's maybe where the disconnect is for some people, that a rug it really is a piece of art, it's not just something that you walk on, it's a show piece.

Sam: Yeah, the - the aesthetic beauty of a rug is part of the value. The real value of a rug is its art value. Most the time when you really getting the art value, the aesthetic beauty is the disc - is the bonus part. So, you know, people sometimes ask when I pay this much money, let my rug last for couple hundred years; of course it will last for hundred of years, but at the same time don't forget, this is an art and you getting the use and the aesthetic beauty as a bonus. Don't forget that part, most of the time people may not understand that, you know.

Esther: Interesting. So, one last question, if you had some advice for a young up-start who was thinking of starting a business, what would you say to that person?

Sam: You gotta have a passion for business. If you're willing to work and to build a business - it doesn't matter it's either rug business or, you know, money business, or - or any business, or an antique business or anything - you just - just have to work at it, go with a passion, and you love it. Things go up or down, you know, economy can, you know, put too stress on it, but go with a passion. That is reason, uh, I think I'm still enjoying what I'm doing and I'm, uh, and definitely say I'm successful and I want to be successful; continue the business.

Esther: Well we hope you're still successful, I'm sure we'll be interviewing you many years from now and you'll be saying wow, it's just taken off even more.

Sam: Thank you, thank you.

Esther: Well thank you for being here Sam, we really appreciate it.

Sam: You're very welcome.

Esther: We've been chatting with Sam Abraham, the Founder and Owner of Abraham's Fine Rugs. You've been listening to The BusinessMakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at I'm Esther Freedman, and we'll see you next time.

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