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Composing a Partnership
Confortex's success comes through listening to customers and developing new ideas to meet their needs, says Executive Vice President John Fitzgerald.
D&WC: Please give a detailed description of your company and its history.
John Fitzgerald: Comfortex Window Fashions owes its existence to two complementary entrepreneurs: Thomas J. Marusak, an aerospace engineer turned businessman, and John Schnebly, a window treatment product researcher. The two combined their creative talents and, in 1986, founded Comfortex Window Fashions to fill the growing need for shades in the residential greenhouse market.
Together Marusak and Schnebly devised a motorized shading system that combined insulating cellular fabric and solar battery technology. They established a fabrication facility with 12 employees in the Harmony Mill Textile Complex located in Cohoes, NY. From 1986 through 1991, Comfortex evolved from a small regional fabricator of greenhouse shades to a national manufacturer of innovative window treatment products. The Harmony Mill site lent marketing inspiration to the new products Comfortex developed. Symphony® Cellular Shades, Serenade Roman Shades and Woodwinds® Wood Alloy Blinds are just some of the product names that were created from a decidedly musical theme.
The early 1990s presented a changing business landscape in the United States. The growing number of Big Box stores was squeezing independent window treatment retailers into bankruptcy. Looking for a way to keep its core customer base in business, Comfortex conceived a retail fabrication program that helped transform these small retailers into mini-factories, allowing them to easily compete with the national chain stores. Comfortex's innovative Composer Program created a new distribution channel that eliminated the middleman for hundreds of small retail businesses worldwide.
Growth and change highlighted the years following. Comfortex established plants in Florida and Nevada to service the southeastern and western markets respectively. In 1995, the operation at Harmony Mills moved to its current 125,000-square-foot modern office and manufacturing complex in Maplewood. A year later, Comfortex opened another manufacturing facility in Arizona to manufacture its patented wood alloy material for the company's innovative line of Woodwinds Wood Alloy Blinds.
Further growth, this time in the international sector, followed the 1998 launch of its Shangri-La line of sheer window shadings. The spring of 2001 brought another addition to the Comfortex line of productsthe award-winning Stardust Soft Sheer Verticals, the perfect companion product to Shangri-La. New, innovative products are currently being developed and will be released in the near future. Currently, Comfortex distributes products globally in 40 countries on five continents.
Today, Comfortex continues to manufacture high-quality window treatments as a wholly owned, independent subsidiary of the Netherlands-based Hunter Douglas company. It employs more than 600 people nationally, a third of whom work at the Maplewood facility. Comfortex remains at the forefront of both technology and style, and is nationally recognized as an innovative leader in the window treatments industry.
D&WC: Give a percentage breakdown of these products. What one product or line stands out above the rest?
Fitzgerald: Our top three product categories are cellular shades, sheer window shadings and wood alloy blinds.
Woodwinds Wood Alloy has been an enormously successful product category for us. It took tremendous sales and marketing expertise to create this unique segment in the window fashion market. The Woodwinds product line is also our fastest growing category.
D&WC: Is your business computerized?
Fitzgerald: Comfortex is completely computerized and capable of receiving orders via EDI with our larger vendors.
All our sales representatives are linked to the company's e-mail and sales databases, as are each of Comfortex's satellite facilities. The manufacturing and inventory facilities are fully equipped with bar codes to ensure quality and accuracy.
Our company is one of the industry leaders in Internet technology to support our dealers. We utilize www.comfortex.com to educate and communicate with our dealers. Dealers are able to find product specifications and ordering information. They can place orders online. Since the launch of our online ordering, a significant number of orders are placed via the Internet. Dealers can enter and track their orders, even those that are not placed online. They can even view their account balances. We also send e-mail newsletters and faxes to communicate with our dealers.
Comfortex also operates a separate Internet company, WindowConnection.com. Window Connection.com is a Web site dedicated to drive "closed orders" to our Composers and retail dealers. WindowConnection provides our dealers the benefits of e-commerce without having to maintain a Web site of their own.
D&WC: Who are your customers? What parts of the country do you service?
Fitzgerald: Our primary market is U.S. retailers and retail fabricators, yet we are growing rapidly in international markets. We are now distributing Comfortex products in 40 countries. Our objective is to establish longstanding partnerships with our customers and to conduct business in a way that has our customers perceiving our relationship as a partnership.
The Composer Retail Fabricator Program provides turnkey fabrication support, service and product to leading retailers. It is being expanded throughout the United States and around the world.
D&WC: What best describes your niche in the marketplace?
Fitzgerald: From a customer prospective, the focus and development of the retail fabrication channel is our niche. From a product prospective, we continue to focus on developing unique, innovative and high-growth products.
Our innovation comes from listening to our customers and developing new ideas to meet their needs. The willingness to truly listen and partner is what will continue to make Comfortex successful. The word "partner" is probably the most overused word in business, but at Comfortex it begins with an attitude of working with customers.
Our strength lies in the ability to provide innovative products to our customers and then to work with them in a way that develops tailored ways to grow these product lines.
Product innovation, customer partnership and hardworking employees have fueled Comfortex's success. The commitment we receive from our employees will continue to propel Comfortex's growth in the 21st century.