Meet Gerald Gerami, owner of Rug Gallery by Gerami’s, who has followed in the entrepreneurial footsteps of his late grandfather, Joseph Patrick Gerami, who opened his first retail establishment in Lafayette in 1920.
Gerald Gerami sat down with Jan Swift, host of Discover Lafayette, to share his experience as a successful vendor who has survived the ups and downs of the marketplace in Lafayette. This interview is full of nuggets of wisdom from someone who jumped out of his comfort zone, believed in his ability to meet the needs of his community, and took the risk of opening his own retail establishment.
The original Gerami family business was started by Joseph Patrick Gerami who had immigrated to the United States from Sicily and settled in Lafayette after he returned from WWI. Gerami’s opened first as a furniture market in 1920 with the financial assistance of the iconic businessman, Maurice Heymann, who believed in investing in solid business people who could use a helping hand. Although Joseph Gerami was originally a furniture craftsman, his retail operation evolved into the opening of a second store offering flooring. This store is still open today on Jefferson Blvd. in downtown Lafayette, some 100 years after it was first opened by Joseph Gerami, and is run by his grandsons Gary and Greg Gerami.
Gerald Gerami, Jr. had been influenced by his maternal grandfather, L. D. “Dudley” Foreman, who was a longtime banker at First National Bank in Lafayette. Post-college, Gerald first went into banking as a young man and then in the late 1980s was courted by his college buddy, Don Hargroder of Courtesy Automotive, to go into auto sales.
After about 10 years in the auto business, Gerald was ready to open his own business and decided to return his family’s retail roots with a twist: he decided there was a good opportunity in Lafayette to open a stand-alone rug location which could offer complementary pieces to the flooring options his family was selling. The original Gerami’s Flooring store didn’t have the room to offer an expanded selection of area rugs, and the natural synergy between the two stores could be utilized to enhance the business of both.
In 1998, Gerald Gerami, Jr. opened Rug Gallery by Gerami’s to meet a needed niche in Lafayette’s retail market as homeowners increasingly installed hard flooring and decorative rugs were becoming more popular. The timing was good and the original location in Time Plaza on Johnston St. was a high traffic locale with a convenient location across town from the original Gerami’s. In 2014, Gerald moved his store to its current location at 105 Englewood Drive, facing the busy Ambassador Caffrey corridor and allowing him to roughly double his showroom space.
Gerami’s clientele is mainly women who make the home decorating selections. The store’s experienced manager, Monica Cagle, has worked with Gerald since its inception. Gerald’s wife, Carla, while not full-time, travels to market to help with the selection of the rug and accessories inventory, and with day to day decisions.
Many people think that Gerami’s only offers rugs, and expensive Oriental rugs at that, but the store offers rugs in all price brackets as well as accessories to complement your home decor. Its staff will help you select the appropriate rug and accessories and you have the opportunity to take the merchandise home to see if it works with your existing decor before committing to the purchase. Gerald says that 90% of the people they help take the item home and he stands behind the guarantee, “Try it Before You Buy it!”
Service and the business’s personal touch are what have allowed the store to remain intact through the inevitable economic ups and downs the Lafayette area has faced since 1998. And, of course, the internet has challenged all local vendors worldwide, but in Gerald’s view, “You can’t get the personal touch offered by local vendors when you shop on the internet. I know people shop the internet for convenience and may have the misconception that you can buy cheaper off the internet. I know for a fact that that’s not true, especially when it pertains to my business. We’re competitive and you have to be competitive in terms of price. Otherwise, people will go to your competitors or they’ll shop online. We offer a service, not at a premium price, and provide the personal touch you’ll never get on the internet.”
“People shop the internet for convenience and may have the misconception that you can buy cheaper off the internet. I know for a fact that that’s not true especially when it pertains to my business. We’re competitive and you have to be competitive in terms of price. Otherwise, people will go to your competitors or they’ll shop online. We offer a service, not at a premium price, and provide the personal touch you’ll never get on the internet.”
When asked if he had advice for budding entrepreneurs, he offered, “You have to have the right balance of product and price, and offer a service that the customer can’t get somewhere else.”
Experience, support, and good timing are also indicators of potential success. Celebrating twenty-two years in business in May 2020, Gerald looked back and reflected on his own decision to jump into retail, leaving a comfortable, secure position to go out on his own. “It’s scary to step out of your comfort zone, from something you’re comfortable doing to something completely different. It was a risk, but I believed in myself. I knew I had my family’s support, that we were bringing a product that filled a need in the community, and that the community would support us. I knew I had the knowledge to put the whole thing together, but of course, you always have your doubts.”
“It was a risk, but I believed in myself. I knew I had my family’s support, that we were bringing a product that filled a need in the community, and that the community would support us. I knew I had the knowledge to put the whole thing together, but of course, you always have your doubts.” Gerald Gerami looking back on his 22 years in business.
We thank Gerald Gerami for sharing the story of his journey as well as a bit about his family’s history. He’s helped us “Discover Lafayette.”
For information on Rug Gallery by Gerami, visit https://ruggallerybygeramisla.com.