If you have ever wondered how one fateful chance encounter could end up changing your life in a dramatic way, just read the story of Chris Smith and what brought him to settle down in Naples.
Smith is the owner of Designers’ Rug Center, whose showroom is in the U.S. 41 at First Avenue South, but he would never have believed that was his destiny as a history teacher in his native South Africa. “I was studying to get my master’s degree in foreign policy, which included doing my thesis on the Russian invasion of Afghanistan,” says Chris in his soft-spoken style. “One day, I just happened upon a man selling rugs in our local mall. One of his rugs had a depiction of the invasion, complete with helicopters and tanks as part of the design, and I just started talking to him about it.”
By the end of the conversation, the rug merchant offered Chris a job, right then and there. “I knew absolutely nothing about rugs or being in the rug business, so initially I turned him down,” he notes. “But then, I thought it over and decided to take him up on his offer.”
Chris is very glad he said yes during that one chance encounter so many years ago, or he would never have discovered the sunny, idyllic Naples life that he has fallen in love with.
About twenty years ago, with only one year under his belt in the rug business, Chris learned about an opportunity to purchase a rug store in Tampa. “I was a young man with a young family, and I rather impulsively decided to come to the United States to create a new life for us here,” Chris remembers.
Perhaps fortuitously, his initial foray into selling fine quality rugs in the Tampa Bay area was not all he had hoped for, so Chris set out to discover yet more opportunity. “I had heard about Naples as I was looking around within Florida to perhaps find a more suitable area to start a rug business, and I immediately fell head over heels in love with the city. I was excited to see what I felt was a promising future for a young family – we decided to immerse ourselves here, and have never regretted it for a second.”
An avid and accomplished runner, Chris, enjoys running through the popular Naples neighborhoods, west of 41 every Wednesday evening with his local running club. “Running clears my mind, and I find it so relaxing to wind my way through the beautiful streets of Aqualane Shores, Coquina Sands, and all the other areas where my customers live,” he says. “I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”
All of Chris’s three daughters went to Gulfview Middle School, then Naples High. He quickly began to meet so many wonderful Neapolitans in his personal and business life and realizes he would not be where he is today without them. “The people of Naples have been very good to me, and that is the most rewarding thing about my business here – I really love being invited into the homes of so many fascinating and friendly clients, and I’ll always be grateful for all of the opportunity Naples has afforded me.”
At one point, Chris had grown Designers’ Rug Center to six locations, but along the way, he realized the need to simplify and decided to focus on the town that welcomed him so warmly during the early years. His Downtown Naples showroom stocks about 5,000 rugs in a wide variety of styles, from under $400 to custom oriental masterpieces valued at more than $100,000. Designers’ Rug Center also does wall-to-wall carpeting and can create a one-of-a-kind custom rug to almost any size and design requirements.
Chris’s wife, Laura, works with him as the accountant for the business and has surrounded himself with family and a group of long-time friends to help him run the store. “My daughter now works with us, too, and my friend, Craig, whom I met back in 1981 as a teacher,” says Chris. “One of our Rug Specialists, Terry Hunt, has been with us for 17 years – it’s like going to work every day with a close-knit group of friends, which is delightful.”
Chris and Laura are actively involved in the Naples community, enjoy going to the beach as often as possible, and attending the many local cultural events that make Naples such a special place. Chris himself is sometimes amazed at the many quirky turns he found along the road that brought him here. “When we sit on the beach at sunset, holding our granddaughter and sipping a little red wine, we cannot imagine a more appealing place to call home.”