Issue Date: 2018 APRIL, Posted On: 4/4/2018

04032018 Step Inside 'UnderFoot': Scottsdale's Exclusive Trade-Only Source for Designer Rugs and Flooring
Jessica Harlan

Owners Shelly and Gary Lester tap the designer community at UnderFoot, their Scottsdale to-the-trade showroom for area rugs, carpet, hard flooring, and wall surfaces.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- One too many brutal Ohio winters spurred Gary and Shelly Lester to relocate to this beautiful desert town. And a history of experience in the flooring industry enabled them to establish a new life as the proprietors of UnderFoot, a to-the-trade showroom for area rugs, carpet, hard flooring, and wall surfaces.

Or, as Gary likes to say, loosely quoting from one of the Godfather movies, "Every time I want out, they pull me back in!"

A welcoming entrance table greets designers who shop at UnderFoot in Scottsdale for its broad range of styles, exclusivity and custom capabilities in rugs, floor and wall coverings.

Gary worked for years for a fraternity brother's carpet business in New Jersey. When he relocated back to his hometown in Ohio with the company, he reconnected with Shelly, who he'd dated in high school. Shelly's family owned Pearl Carpet, a prominent floor covering chain in Northeast Ohio. With Gary's experience, joining the family business after he married Shelly seemed inevitable. Shelly, meanwhile, has worked throughout the years not only at her family's store but also as a representative for luxury flooring brands and as a showroom manager, among other positions.

When the couple relocated to Scottsdale in 1996, they started a manufacturer's representative agency for fine carpet and flooring there, working with design professionals and luxury brands. Eventually they turned their business into the UnderFoot showroom in 2006, a to-the-trade resource for design professionals.

The format of the 8,000-plus square foot showroom allows the Lesters to showcase thousands of area rug and carpet options. Nearly everything is shown in corner samples or 2x3 sizes, hanging from racks, draped over ladder displays, or viewable in sample books. There are a few 5x8 sized rugs on display as well, but the majority of rugs are shown in sample swatches.

The 8,000-foot Scottsdale trade resource offers designers one-stop shopping for hard and soft surface floor coverings and area rugs.

"We're working with design professionals, and they, like ourselves, have the ability to view something in a smaller format and be able to make good decisions," explains Gary. "With our sampling system, we're able to cover all bases and show a given style in seven to eight colorways."

The carpet and rug categories comprise more than half of the company's total business, with area rugs accounting for a larger share than carpet. UnderFoot was mainly a soft surface company until about six years ago, when Gary invited a former manufacturer's rep colleague to partner with them. Stan Upiter brought in the hard flooring and wall surfaces, and runs that aspect of the operation.

The Lesters protect their business by branding the bulk of their products -- both soft and hard surfaces -- as private label with the UnderFoot name. "That's done as a service to the designers," Gary explains. "In this day and age of shopping online, when designers spend their time selecting things, if it can easily be known what it is, [the designers] can be taken out of the equation. It's a lot for us to do it, but for our purposes, it pays its dues."

An island display featuring plush shag samples gives designers an overview of color, texture and the ability to coordinate with other constructions on display.

In the rug department, Gary says they work with close to 100 suppliers - "a who's who of the rug business," he says. Among their vendors are Feizy, Capel, Harounian, Louis de Poortere, and more.

The Lesters understand that their client is the designer, not the customer in whose home the rugs end up. And to this end, their services are geared to making the designers' jobs easier. UnderFoot receives the rug orders in the showroom, where there's a space to unpack and inspect the order, and prepare it for the consumer's home as needed, whether that be steaming it to lift the pile, weighting the corners so they'll lie flat, and cutting a pad to fit underneath. Often they'll also help with delivery arrangements as well. UnderFoot even provides continuing education classes to help designers keep their certifications current.

The company has a full-service workroom onsite, as well as an offsite facility for larger projects, to do a wide range of fabrications, such as adding a leather border or cutting a rug to fit a space.

UnderFoot is a Premier Partner with Wools of New Zealand, and its 'showroom of excellence' status a bonus for designers seeking top quality broadloom and cut and sew rugs.

Because of the longstanding relationships with its designer clients, UnderFoot's reach has extended far beyond the reaches of Scottsdale. "Our business tentacles can go all over the world," says Gary, since the designers' clients often have homes in many cities across the globe. One of the farthest-reaching transactions was ordering and shipping a carpet to a port in Great Britain, where it was to be installed in a condominium on The World, a residential ocean liner.

The expansive UnderFoot showroom offers the gamut in styling and construction to meet the tastes of Scottsdale's diverse and sophisticated consumers.

And because Scottsdale's residents might also be transplants from elsewhere, their tastes in furnishings vary wildly, one of the reasons why it's essential for UnderFoot to offer the gamut in terms of styles. "Scottsdale is a second-home destination for customers from all over the country, and with that comes a variety, from rustic cowboy styles indigenous to the Southwest, to sophisticated formal looks of the East coast, to the industrial looks of urban living style, since we have a growing condo market here," says Gary. "As the Southwest grows, it's becoming more and more homogenized."

Gary and Shelly have now been married 38 years, and with UnderFoot firmly established, they plan to just continue to grow their clientele and stay current with a broad product assortment.

Gary likes to quote the mantra that also appears on the staff's business cards: "Rely on us for support, guidance, education, and partnership," he says. "So much of this is just about building relationships and partnerships."

Copyright © 2019 Rug News All rights reserved.  | Console Login