Alex and Eirini Kalafatides had just spent nearly two hours explaining the allure of doormats - aesthetically and as a business investment - when awkwardness struck.
"There's no doormat here; that's embarrassing," said Alex Kalafatides, co-owner with his wife of Entryways, as he walked me to the exit when our interview was over.
Then again, the company's offices are in a recently renovated, mostly empty building off Marlton Pike in Cherry Hill, where few people other than Entryways' staff of eight pass by its second-floor portal.
More important for the nine-year-old wholesale business is the exposure its mats get where most doormat sales are made - in catalogs, gardening shops, and independent stores, and online.
Designed in South Jersey and made on community looms in India from coir, fiber obtained from coconut husks, Entryways' mats are higher quality than what is typically carried in chain home-improvement centers.
"If people would understand what it takes to make a doormat, I think they would be more thoughtful on their decision-making process," Eirini Kalafatides said.
She showed me a photo gallery of their mat production in the state of Kerala, southwest India. The pictures showed coconuts being split and soaked in water, the coir removed and arranged for drying before being turned on a spinning wheel into thread that is then fed onto looms.
Designs made of water-based dyes are silkscreened on tightly woven mats. The Kalafatideses say they are committed to an environmentally sensitive process.
Entryways mats are "the best quality . . . in the industry," said Linda Moran, owner of Hill Co., a home-goods store in Chestnut Hill. "We sell them like crazy."
Molly Kirchhoff, owner of Left Bank Home stores in Lahaska and Frenchtown, said Entryways also is unrivaled among competitors in customer service.
When a French vendor Kirchhoff also bought from discontinued a popular "Bonjour" mat, Entryways account manager Susan Wallace had one made for its line. "We sold the heck out of it for years," Kirchhoff said.
The Kalafatideses spent a week in India in 2007 interviewing potential suppliers before deciding who would replace one that had been providing mats - unreliably, the couple found - to their business under previous ownership.
The business was known then as Imports Unlimited and located in Branchburg, N.J. Its owner of 35 years, a native of India, was on the verge of closing when a business broker called the Kalafatideses to gauge their interest. When they bought it in 2004, they were running an underwater construction business in Hammonton.
That was not doing much to satisfy Eirini Kalafatides' creative itch. After a short career in finance in New York, the 41-year-old native of Greece had earned a certificate in image consulting from the Fashion Institute of Technology before moving with her husband, 51, a marketing professional, to South Jersey to help with the construction business.
The prospect of owning a doormat business had instant appeal. She and a staff of in-house and freelance artists have produced 180 designs.
Among the most popular: Wicked Witch's Shoes, featuring a pair of curly-toed boots and black-and-white-striped leggings against an orange-and-red background. Guy fave Go Away consists of just those two words outlined in black. A total bust was the ironically named Happy Harvest mat. Designed for Thanksgiving with an overflowing cornucopia, its sales have not been bountiful.
Though unwilling to disclose their total revenues, the Kalafatideses said Entryways sales have grown from 15,000 mats in 2006 to 130,000 last year, with retail prices per mat from $35 to $200. (They introduced a lower-priced Sweet Home collection during the recession.)
Already profitable, Entryways sees "untapped potential" domestically and abroad.
Recent expansion has added retail customers in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, where the Entryways mat that is by far Left Bank Home's best seller - "Nice Underwear" - is not offered.