D&WC: What are some of things you have been working on at Kirsch over the past year?
Jeff Powell: The biggest thing is our push in the decorative arena and regaining our leadership role in fashion and trends. We've had a full-court press over the last 12 months in regaining that leadership.
We started with a grassroots approach. We looked at the industry's trends and identified our weaknesses in the marketplace first from a trends perspective: where do we have gaps, where do we not have products that fit all the different trends going on in the industry? We addressed that, and then we addressed it with a more channel-specific approach: where do we not have products covered on the high-end, where are we at on the low-end, and all the different channels? Then we addressed it by price point. So we really mapped out an entire strategy, and identified the entire marketplace. We're very focused in our approach to designing new products that are on trend and meet all these different criteria.
At the same time we've been growing and expanding our design expertise and capabilities in-house. We also went out and solicited quite a few outside designers. We obviously have a relationship with Raymond Waites, we have a relationship now with Waverly, and we have a design relationship with a company called Adesso, which is a real fashion, edgy lighting company.
These efforts are ongoing, and we're looking at launching 500-plus new products in the next six months. It has been mind-boggling, all the things we've come up with. We challenged ourselves to a point that we're skipping a generation of products and we're inventing the next generation. It has been a little stagnant in decorative products in the last 12 months, there hasn't been anything new or creative—a different color here and there, or maybe a different finial—but nobody has really taken decorative to the next level and that's really what we focused on.
D&WC: Have there been global influences involved as well?
Powell: Another major push we've had this year is working closely with our friends in Europe and really understanding what's going on in the global market. It's exciting because we're going to have our product now featured in Europe. That's the reverse of a trend. That's never happened before.
We just started a global design team. We will meet at least two if not three or four times a year and poll all of the top design and marketing people from each of the different companies in the different countries. We have companies in the U.K., Spain, France, Germany, Italy and Scandinavia. We just met in Bundi, Germany—it was our first meeting—and all the groups shared new product development, design, where the trends are and why they're developing products for those trends. We all decided in that group, here's what we're doing, here's where we're going. So we've quintupled our design staff, basically, and how quickly we bring products to market.
We're also taking that idea one step further by including not only window treatments but also what's going on in picture frames and custom products and really looking at the entire trend of the industry. We're not just focused in on our products. A lot of what we're seeing happening now is starting in the clothing industry or the jewelry industry—a lot of the colors and things are starting in fashion jewelry and moving into window treatments. What's the hottest finish in high-end frames? We should be doing that same finish in window treatments, or the same look, or the same style. We're trying to coordinate with all the different Newell companies on what's going on in trends, style and design.
D&WC: The European and North American markets used to be separate and distinct, and trends moved in one direction. Aren't these markets becoming one?
Powell: It has been happening gradually for the last three to five years, but you've really seen the explosion in the last 12 to 18 months. With the different technologies that are available in textiles now, the things they are doing are absolutely gorgeous. A lot of the same product that we're developing on the decorative side is coming from India, Indonesia, China, Thailand. When we're over there we're seeing that what they're developing for Europe they're developing for everybody else. It's really a global fashion marketplace for the window right now. It's no longer trickle down from Europe to high-end New York to department stores.
D&WC: What types of products or materials are we likely to see?
Powell: Wood is still very important and it will continue to be important. We just think it's tired. We think some of the new products we've designed will reenergize wood in the home. We still think it's an important decorating trend and style, and it is loved by the consumer.
Decorative metal is important, but we're really getting into decorative poles with five or six different styles of mixed media finials and components: leather, stone, wicker or wood. It's no longer metal on metal, it's a lot of different combinations of different types of materials. That's an area we think we're going to change in the way a product looks in the home.
D&WC: What are Kirsch's plans for its basic white goods lines?
Powell: When people think about Kirsch they think about white goods, basic drapery hardware. We've put a big push on functionality, ease of use, ease of installation. We're really focusing all of our product development efforts on how do we make it easier for the consumer to put it up, how do we make it easier for the consumer to shop and make selections.
On the installer side of the business we're looking to do the same thing with installers: how can we make it easier to put it up, to make it easier to function, to make it easier for them not to put up 10 a day, but put up 20 a day. We're really focusing on that segment.
D&WC: What are some of the changes we'll start seeing first from Kirsch?
Powell: We've redone our whole brand and look and thought about what our strategy is and where we are going. We spent a lot of time looking at outside brand consultants. We brought in one of the top brand consultants in the country, and they interviewed consumers, retailers and everybody in our company just to see what we thought was important about our brand and what was important to us and what we thought about our company. Then they looked at product and looked at stores. They came back to us with a strategy on how we can grow our brand.
So we've got a new logo, we've got a new tag line, we've got new colors. We're going to try to rebuild the Kirsch name with one unified look at how we go to market. We've done a ton of consumer research and we're excited about where we're going.
The best part about this is that the color we chose for some new products we showed to customers early on, before the research was done, is the color that was eventually chosen. We were on target there. We went to several top advertising agencies for logos and to our internal people. The logo that was chosen was one that was designed internally. And the tag line that was chosen is a tag line we currently own: Decorating your life. It was a great feeling knowing we are right on track.