Monday, 15 August 2022

Let's Get Down to Business: Usman Afzal, proprietor the Rug Shed, Henley

Let's Get Down to Business: Usman Afzal, the Rug Shed

USMAN AFZAL is the proprietor of the Rug Shed in Reading Road, Henley. He was born and brought up in Lahore. After passing his A-levels, he came to the UK to study accountancy. He and his wife Mahnoor, a graphic designer, married in January following a previous ceremony in June last year. They now live in Reading Road almost opposite the shop.

Describe your business

We stock a beautiful range of hand-knotted rugs from around the world, serving both business and retail customers in the UK and on the continent. We offer visits to our warehouses in London as well as home trials. We also provide a bespoke service for those who wish to choose their own colours and design.

How many people does it employ?

We have four very nice ladies and me.

What did you do before you started this business?

When I was 20, I came to the UK to study for my qualifications as an accountant and worked part time in a wholesale rug business in Wembley. Initially, I was involved with the accounts but, as it was a small company, I was soon involved in other aspects of the business. When I’d finished my studies, I started working there full time and also started my own book-keeping business. It was through that job that I met the owner of a business being run in the shop we now occupy. Henley was an ideal place for me as there would have been a lot of competition where I had been living and I wanted to stay close to family and friends.

When did you start your business?

In February 2018.

What was your objective?

With 10 years of invaluable experience, I wanted to work for myself. I was concerned that the making of rugs was in decline in those countries dependent on the rug and carpet trade.

Who or what influenced you?

My father was always pro-business and told me many times that I should be doing something on my own. Trading is in our culture and all my relatives worked for themselves.

What would you do differently if you could start again?

In hindsight, I would have liked to have had more retail experience.

What impact is the coronavirus pandemic having on your business?

Having to close our showroom during the lockdowns exposed some of our weaknesses, so we needed to make the business more agile.

How is your business doing?

This time last year we were closed but compared with the year before, we are growing. The pandemic stunted our growth.

How do you market your business?

Word of mouth is key and we have many repeat customers. Interior designers in Henley, such as Niki Schäfer and Anne Haimes, bring us clients.

What’s the best thing about running your own business?

Freedom, of course. And when I go abroad to buy it’s liberating to know I’m helping to make a difference and supporting local weaving communities. Our rugs are eco-friendly so we have minimal negative impact on climate change.

What’s the most challenging aspect?

Selling with the uncertainty of covid. There are so many variables, particularly with the supply chain, so managing the risk is often quite difficult. With global politics, it’s sometimes hard to keep supply lines open.

Where is your business headed?

Upwards, I hope. We are working on a better website where people can learn more about rugs and how they are made.

What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned?

To take ownership of everything and to provide the best customer service.

What would you advise someone starting a business?

Go for it. Get started and then learn as you go.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?

Probably waiting some time before starting my own business.

What three qualities are most important to success?

Dedication, hard work and consistency. It’s easy to do the right thing for a few days but you have to keep it up.

What’s the secret of your success?

Besides hard work, I’d say going the extra mile and making exhaustive efforts to do things properly. Finding the best products on behalf of customers — I can only sell what I truly love myself.

How organised are you?


How do you dress for work each day?

Smart casual.

What can’t you do without every day?

I need my morning rituals and to start my day right, so most days I will read something motivational, I’ll pray and show my gratitude. Some “me time” and meditation followed by a big breakfast — Mahnoor is a great cook.

Lunch at your desk or going out?

I go home for lunch across the road.

Do you continue to study?

Yes. I strive to learn new skills for my business and personal growth.

What do you read?

Motivational books and books on wellness, health and spirituality.

How are you planning for retirement?

One day I’d like have my own little eco-farm growing fruit and vegetables and using renewable self-sufficient energy.

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