Upholstery in Motion and Other Innovations

Rodd Rafieha helps ensure that Abbyson Living is always on the cutting edge of design, sales, and manufacturing

Rodd Rafieha, Abbyson Living

When Abby Rafieha founded Abbyson Corporation, the company was fueled by his passion for design and creating beautiful products. He began by focusing on handmade Tibetan rugs and antiques. Today, Abby has been joined by his sons Yavar, president; Doddy, executive vice president; and Rodd, senior vice president.

With two generations at the helm, Abbyson has experienced ongoing growth and offers merchandise in twelve different product categories: upholstery and living room, dining, kitchen, bedroom, mattresses, occasional, patio, home décor, entertainment centers, office, children, and rugs. Revenue is expected to reach roughly $250 million within the next two years.

All three sons began working with their father when they were young. Their mother and an educator, Sherri, had built a strong foundation at home and in their schooling that supported their evolution from apprentices to partners. Rodd went on his first trip with his father to visit manufacturing facilities in Asia when he was twelve years old. He was fascinated by the details that went into product design, development, and manufacturing. By age sixteen, he was making his own trips overseas.

“My first trip was like mini-boot camp,” Rodd recalls. “My father and I visited five factories a day. I saw what a great entrepreneur he was and how much he was respected. It ignited my own passion for the family business.”

In his current role as SVP, which includes overseeing many departments, Rodd works with a team of designers to develop 200–300 new products each quarter. One of their priorities is developing features that will make Abbyson merchandise unique. Several years ago, its upholstery group was one of the first in the industry to include power mechanisms, such as power headrests and lumbar support. Rodd calls it upholstery in motion.

The design team is always thinking years ahead to anticipate consumer trends and demand. Part of that focus is shifting attention to millennial buyers, who are replacing baby boomers as the company’s prime customer demographic. Value, smaller-scale living, and a willingness to take more design risks are priorities for these consumers.

“Millennials look for bolder designs that would have been slow sellers in the past,” Rodd says. “Of course, as we add brighter colors and more mid-century modern and contemporary choices, we’ll keep our established best sellers to maintain a balanced product line.”

As Rodd explains, Abbyson operates on a limited distribution model. This involves a great deal of due diligence to identify the most appropriate partners, which include Wayfair, Target, Macy’s, Amazon, and Overstock, to name a few. The company also operates AbbysonTrade.com, a sales portal for designers, and it currently has a waiting list of thousands of vendors for its separate e-commerce platform.

“We don’t want to overexpand,” Rodd says. “By maintaining a specific, manageable volume, we can stay the top partner for each customer by consistently providing top quality and service.”

Rodd spends nearly one-third of the year visiting customer showrooms and brick-and-mortar stores around the country. To prepare, he conducts extensive research to familiarize himself with the floor lineup of each one. As a result, he is able to provide expert advice on where there may be gaps in their offerings and how Abbyson can fill them.

He also still personally trains each of the company’s fifty salespeople. He views this as an opportunity to share his experience and intimate knowledge of the products.

“A training manual can’t adequately show the amount of work that goes into developing our manufacturing processes and our products,” he says. “I like to share our culture, our history, and how our relationships have developed.”

One example he frequently shares is about excess products that remained from a few retail stores in California in 2006. The items were offered to an online retailer that—within a week—sold the entire five hundred pieces of inventory. That relationship grew into $30 million of business with that one partner and was the beginning of Abbyson’s drop-ship model.

“That was an idea that was intended to sell some excess goods, but turned into an entirely new business,” Rodd says.

On the manufacturing side, Abbyson has set up its own upholstery factory and leather tannery in Shanghai, China. The joint venture, called AbbySky, produces about one thousand containers monthly. The facility has reduced the time required to develop new leathers, colors, and to produce samples by 80 percent.

As the company looks toward continued growth and reaching the $250 million revenue mark, it has invested heavily in logistics and recently hired a new vice president of operations. But there is also a new generation of Rafiehas waiting in the wings—three-year-old RJ and six-month-old Emma. “My wife Chelsie brings our son to the office every few weeks,” Rodd says. “Now, he just runs around, but when he gets older I’ll start teaching him about the business—just like my dad did.”

Reaching a High Point

Rodd Rafieha got a firsthand look at the quality of Abbyson’s products at an early age. Now, even more people can experience it with the opening of a 30,000-square-foot showroom in the International Home Furnishings Center in High Point, North Carolina, home of the largest furnishings and furniture industry trade show in the world. The showroom includes custom white marble, a bar and small restaurant, and space for five hundred products.

The space also houses Abbyson’s Product Row, a venue for showcasing one thousand thumbnail images of additional products. Plasma screens also feature the company’s technology and fulfillment services that enable orders to go out within twenty-four hours. “The showroom is a great stage for showing the breadth and quality of our product lineup,” Rafieha says.