From rugs to riches, or how a trampoline started a rug import company

Starting life from scratch in a new country is a daunting thought, especially one that’s halfway around the world. But it’s something many New Zealand immigrants have done, and in some cases very successfully.

Enter Farah Farahani and her husband Bahman Bahmanpour. They made the leap from Tehran, Iran back before the turn of the millennium, and today operate New Zealand’s largest rug import company with nine staff across two online platforms and two showrooms in Auckland and Wellington.

But, as owner Farah explains, things didn’t start out that way. And it wasn’t easy going.

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In Iran, her husband Bahman dreamed of a backyard where their kids would have lots of space to run and play, surrounded by panoramic vistas, an ideal climate, and plenty of opportunities for success. Aotearoa would fit his ideal nicely. But Farah wasn’t convinced, worried that the distance from their families and culture shock would be hard to manage.

Eventually the couple packed up their belongings and began the long trek to a new life on an entirely different continent. When Farah and Bahman arrived to New Zealand from their native homeland, they were optimistic.

Unfortunately, their first impression was not a good one.

Farah recalls waking up at their temporary accommodation at a youth hostel in Auckland to discover their few expensive possessions and almost all of their cash had been stolen during the night. They were absolutely distraught. How would they manage in a foreign country with almost nothing to their names? Neither spoke much English, the language barrier compounding the heartbreak of the theft.

The temptation to pack up and go back to Iran was understandably strong. No one would blame them if they’d made that decision. But Farah was adamant they would not, under any circumstances, contact their family and ask for help. That would be a sign that they couldn’t make it on their own. So, Bahman and Farah made the decision to forge on.

They each found two jobs: Farah at a childcare centre during the day and as a cleaner for that same employer after hours. Bahman worked as a kitchen hand and would join Farah after his day job, and together they’d pull the equipment from their van and clean the childcare centre. This earned Farah a liveable wage, some sideways looks and often condescending comments from her day job colleagues.

But she didn’t let that deter her. If anything, it drove her.

When their son Ali was born, Bahman and Farah wanted to make good on the dream of a backyard where their kids could play, so together they bought a house with a yard in Auckland. When Ali was old enough, Farah thought a trampoline would be the perfect accompaniment.

Farah searched Trade Me, which was about four years old at the time, for a trampoline in their area but came up empty. She tried the local department store and found one that was on sale, bought it and went about setting it up. When she’d finished putting it together she watched her son smile and spring happily. Things were beginning to look up.

Suddenly, a thought sparked in her mind. There were no trampolines on Trade Me; what if she listed this one for sale? Would it sell? She followed that line of thought and within an hour, it was sold.

Making a tidy profit from the sale, Farah went back to the department store, picked up another four trampolines and sold each one-by-one, saving one of course for Ali. Thus began a selling spree of old toys, kitchen equipment, knick-knacks and anything else Farah could find around her home, much to the interest and encouragement of Bahman.

Then one day, Farah sold the persian rug from their lounge on Trade Me. It was this sale that gave Farah her second big idea, an idea that would change her, Bahman and their son Ali’s lives forever.

The rug sold quickly, and like the trampolines before, Farah theorised that if she bought rugs in bulk she could move the individual stock for a profit. She had friends back in Iran who were experts in the Persian rug trade and contacted them for advice. Could she make it here in New Zealand as a rug merchant, combining the expertise of her networks in the markets of Tehran with her business mind and entrepreneurial nature?

By that time, Farah had taught herself the English language and had honed her e-commerce, communication, sales, trading, merchandising and photography skills. She was ready for the challenge.

Once her import operation was up and running, it evolved from a pile of rugs occupying a corner of the lounge, to a single garage, to a double garage, to a small retail space, and finally after years of effort, to the pair of showrooms. Farah’s Persian rug from the lounge had provided the inspiration she needed to kick off the business known now as Rug Direct.

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Today, Farah and Bahman and their two sons Ali and Amin live in Auckland, where the boys attend school while mum and dad run Rug Direct, operate its website, and manage their strong presence on Trade Me.

Sometimes, Farah reflects on the struggle they endured to find success. Her mind wanders from time-to-time to the comments from her colleagues during her years working both shifts at the childcare centre.

Then Farah smiles, because her story is a testament that odds can be overcome, regardless of what people say or how unseeming it might look from the outside. All it takes is an unshakeable resolve, lots of creative thinking, years of hard work, and the will to never give up on a dream.

Editor’s note: We’d like to thank Farah for sharing with us the inspirational story of her and her family’s success. If you know a great yarn from your neck of the woods, we’d love to hear from you. Email us at stories@trademe.co.nz.

Visit Rug Direct on Trade Me