Passion and Dedication
Marv Hopkins, president and CEO
First of all, congratulations to Draperies & Window Coverings on the occasion of its 20th anniversary. Many publications have come and gone in that period while you have exhibited the ability to continue to provide meaningful information to the industry.
Twenty years ago, I was living outside of New Hope, PA, with my wife and four children and was president of a division of Lenox, Inc. in Lawrenceville, NJ. I joined Hunter Douglas in 1986 as the first president of the new Broomfield, CO, Window Fashions Division where the Duette® honeycomb shade and later the Silhouette® window shadings were developed. The changes I've observed at Hunter Douglas have been quite substantial as we've enjoyed a 13-fold increase in sales and expanded from five to 15 operating companies in 40 locations with 7,000 employees in the United States and Canada. In addition, we have close affiliations with a number of outstanding independent fabricators.
The industry has undergone many changes and consolidations during my time in it, and many products and brands have come and gone. However, some things have not really changed, such as the passion and dedication of so many of the people involved, the necessity for hands-on attention to details and, of course, the importance of staying close to our customers. I've been fortunate to be surrounded by a wealth of talent, commitment and innovation at Hunter Douglas and that has made my life much more enjoyable and successful.
Hunter Douglas has been richly rewarded by continuing to focus our efforts primarily on serving the small and medium sized independent dealers and decorators who still represent the vital heart of the custom window coverings industry, despite the enormous changes in the greater retailing landscape, in technology and in consumer tastes, trends and population shifts.
I believe this industry has a very bright future provided we focus on offering ever better designs, better quality and better service, and that we communicate more closely and effectively with our customers and the ultimate consumers.
Then and Now
Roger P. Woodhour, president and CEO
Where was I 20 years ago . . . hmmm. Twenty years ago, I didn't have to think so hard to figure out where I was 20 years ago. Window treatments for me back then were made of luxurious fabrics and delicate laces. They required a hammer and nails to hang from hardware that changed according to the whims of manufacturers who kept themselves awake at night trying to "out-poof" each other. The same product was referred to by a minimum of six different names and we wondered why consumers were confused.
Twenty years ago, we talked about antique satin and seeded voile, smocked versus shirred, pinch pleats and pole-tops (no one could figure out whether or not to hyphenate that one, and to my knowledge, they haven't yet) and something called "chintz" (in your choice of no less than 25 colors) that was actually desirable.
Twenty years ago, I could read the first issue of D&WC without putting glasses over my glasses while commuting into Manhattan dressed in the last season of my brown leisure suit, which my wife donated to Goodwill the minute I got home. (They said, "No, thank you.")
Twenty years ago, I was tall-er, the kids were small-er, the house seemed small-er still and I had no idea how my life would be totally changed by the invention of a hunk of molded plastic. Little did I know what thrills awaited me on I-95 or that my best friend outside of home would become that friendly guy at the gas station with the perpetual smile on his face (or is that just when he sees me), but hey . . . I know the clutches and the joy of ball chains, spears, continuous cords, traversing shafts and the absences of dye lot problems.
Twenty years later, this transplanted Manhattanite is loving the rise in popularity of window treatments that go effortlessly up and down instead of side to side. The alternative is becoming the standard . . . life is good. Happy anniversary D&WC.
R.H. and Vaughn Rowley
Twenty years ago we had a booth in a window energy show in Las Vegas, NV. At the show we met John Clark who was just starting this magazine. Just look at the change that has taken place here.
Both businesses have been very fortunate to benefit from the tremendous change that has taken place over these years. It has not just been a change in style, but also a tremendous change in technology. Also, the opening up of the world markets, along with everything else, has provided both of our firms with great opportunities. I hope we all continue to re-evaluate and take advantage of this ongoing trend.
Twenty Years of Progress
Thomas J. Marusak, president
Comfortex Window Fashions, Maplewood, NY
Little did I realize it, but in 1981 I was well on my way to moving my career from the aerospace industry to the window treatments industry. In that year, I was working on power systems for the international space station, which is still under construction in space at this very moment. In addition to designing space power systems, I started a "part-time" business constructing residential and commercial solariums in the Capital Region of New York. Soon I learned that, without sunshades, solariums are too hot, too cold and too public for comfortable use. Nonetheless, few products existed at that time to fill the requirements for solarium applications. From this unfilled need, Comfortex was born.
In 1985, I met John Schnebly; and we decided to form a window treatment company in Albany, NY, for the purpose of manufacturing solarium sunshades. In that same year, John had just completed a business deal, along with his Denver, CO-based partners, Wendell Colson and Dick Steele, for licensing of honeycombing technology to Hunter Douglas. Our timing couldn't have been better. In that year, Hunter Douglas launched the most successful new window treatment product the industry has ever seen; and Comfortex rode on the coattails of that success, with the introduction of Duette Smart Shade for greenhouse and solarium applications.
Of course, I knew little about the rapidly developing and changing window industry. So, in 1986, John and I headed off to Atlanta, GA, to walk the floor of the industry's trade show. We missed our flight on People's Express, however, and I had to return to Albany without ever getting to the show—but just in time to witness the birth of our third child.
By the next year, Comfortex was already selling sunshade products, and we contracted for our first Drapery & Window Coverings' trade show
in Atlanta. Because we were a relatively unknown start-up company at the time, we realized that we needed to do something special to attract industry attention to our 10- by 10-foot booth. That's when the first window treatment fashion show was started. My wife, Ann Marie, unabashedly paraded through the show floor in her formal evening gown, made entirely of Duette fabric, with industry icon, Jerry Fuchs, arm-in-arm. That show (and the fashion model) put us on the map! Comfortex began to sell Duette Smart Shade products and fabrication set-ups nationally, to nearly every Hunter Douglas fabricator.
By 1991, Comfortex evolved from a fabricator to a manufacturer and fabricator, as we introduced Symphony double honeycomb fabric and shades. The Joanna Co. helped bring our product into Home Depot and Builders Square, while Comfortex gambled on a new distribution strategy involving retail fabricators through a program we coined as the Composer Alliance.
By 1996, with wood blinds growing in strength and popularity, Comfortex introduced a new material and shape through our Woodwinds wood alloy blind program. Quickly, wood alloy material established itself as the premium option in the rapidly growing faux wood category.
In 1997, we purchased the Verosol USA Co. and added pleated and Roman shades to our product basket. That same year, we introduced Shangri-La sheer horizontal window shadings. With the addition of wood alloy blinds, sheer horizontal shadings and Roman and pleated shades to our cellular collection, Comfortex's broad product basket provided us with the opportunity to become a meaningful exporter of window treatment products, and we regularly exhibited at the Heimtextil and Japantex trade shows in Germany and Japan respectively.
In February 2000, Comfortex was proud to become a member of the Hunter Douglas family of companies. That relationship continues to propel our growth through partnerships with other Hunter Douglas companies and divisions. Additionally, we are accelerating the development of new innovations for worldwide distribution through Hunter Douglas affiliated companies and market channels. Additionally, we continue to service and grow the Composer Alliance of retail fabricators. And, although Comfortex did not exist 20 years ago, we look forward to reporting on the continued evolution and growth of the industry and all of the Hunter Douglas companies in the next 20 years.
On the Eve of Automation
Jon Vrielink, president
BTX Window Automation, Inc.
In the early '80s, Sundrape vertical blind components were strongly represented in the North American market. Among others, the Levolor Lorentzen vertical blind line was built with Sundrape components. During that period, American Sundrape was formed and began an active marketing campaign, aided by D&WC magazine and the annual D&WC trade show.
In those days, motorization was practically unheard of. Other than Sundrape, only Silent Gliss USA and SM Automatic offered motorized draperies, and there were only two motorized vertical blind systems on the market. The roller screen market was in its infancy, and Verosol was just starting with its new invention in pleated shades.
In 1987, as manufacturing of traditional products started to shift to Southeast Asia, Sundrape rewrote its business plan. It now read: "Our products are on the leading edge of a major market development in the industry—'home automation.'" Shortly after that, American Sundrape became BTX, and its focus shifted to motorization. Ever since, BTX has played a leading role in the motorization and automation of window coverings products in the North American market, and later, internationally.
As it turned out, home automation developed more slowly than anticipated. D&WC and its trade shows were highly instrumental in raising the level of acceptance and awareness of the opportunities offered by the new motorization technology. However, the decade from 1987 to 1997 saw a steady growth in motorization, albeit only modest growth.
As the Information Age is now upon us, technology is turning the corner. Window coverings motorization is becoming an integral part of overall home automation. The educational task at hand for the manufacturer, media and trade continues, however; and it will grow in importance as we enter this era. Functionally movable window coverings will be integrated into the operational control systems that govern a multitude of functions in modern homes and buildings. It is our challenge as window coverings professionals to make sure that our industry will be ready as a partner for architects and builders to meet the standards of the market of tomorrow.
Adding World Markets
Stanley Fradin, president of Mills Div.
Rockland Industries, Inc.
Twenty years ago, I had already been with Rockland for 15 years, having joined the company in 1966. In fact, 20 years ago, I was in my same position as president of Rockland Mills, and a member of the board of directors of Rockland Industries, Inc.
Our company's involvement in the window coverings industry has not changed all that much, although the industry has changed enormously. We are still selling to the major jobbers. We are still selling to the major retail chains. We are still selling to the major contract groups. If anything, our volume has actually increased in all areas, including yards shipped, dollar volume and profitability.
The one major change over the past 20 years is our international involvement. We have become far more high profile in the international market, and today service accounts in more than 80 countries around the world. As a result of our export success, the U.S. government has awarded Rockland both the E Award for Export Excellence to be followed by the E-star Award, which is the highest export recognition that can be given to a private or public sector company for export excellence.
What Goes Around, Comes Around
Ray Hicks, president
The Blind Maker
After 32-plus years of observation, I began my career in window coverings in 1981, the same year as D&WC. It was in the middle of the mini-blind era. Mini-blinds ruled the industry and the king of mini-blinds was Levolor.
Levolor had built the category and opened the door for many of us. We fought Levolor with all we had. Our blinds were just as good. In fact, they were better because we made them. We had great service: standard two weeks. Only sometimes we were two weeks behind, so it was only a four-week delivery on our "almost-as-good-as-Levolor" blinds.
Those were the days. We had fun. One Halloween I came as a Levolor salesperson. (I knew I wouldn't run into a real Levolor salesperson at my own party.) I didn't know that eventually I would become one. Last year we began to fabricate Kirsch products from Levolor Home Fashions. It is great to be fabricating for the company with such great tradition and potential. Their commitment to fabricators and to independent dealers will make this business fun again like the old days.
Some observations about this evolving industry and interesting changes I've noticed:
• The product categories are expanding.
• The styles within each product category are expanding.
• Product life cycles are expanding.
• The product channels of distribution are expanding.
• The players within each channel are expanding.
In the boom times after the war (1945 to 1960) there were only a couple of blind companies in any given town. Suppliers respected those businesses' domains and strong alliances were formed. Decorators and designers dealt with the local blind shop. There were no 800-number companies, no catalogs, no Internet sales, no fabricating retailers, no "trunk slammers" and there were no big box home centers. The local blind shops knew their competition.
Likewise, the product lines have greatly expanded. The post-war Venetian blind gave way to stock Venetian blinds, lower margins and eventually to draperies, roller shades and woven woods. The '70s began the era of the mini-blind and it continued through 1981 when D&WC magazine began. There were no cellular shades, wood blinds, two-inch blinds, vertical blinds, shading systems, motorized blinds, woven woods or roller shades. Faux was a word only known by the French. Some of the products were around, but they just weren't factors in the market.
I watched curiously in 1982 as the new president of one of the original Venetian blind companies dropped two-inch products declaring it at the end of its life cycle.
In those days we were known as the "hard" or "alternative" window covering industry. We were the hard alternative to draperies. What happened to those terms? Could it be that we got softer, or that draperies are now the alternative? For how long?
The mini-blind era was fiercely competitive. There were only a few name brand blinds and generally each company only had one main product. Like the post-war Venetian blind, the mini-blind gave way to stock blinds and eventually to a host of new products. Today the surviving major brands have greatly expanded the styles, features and colors.
It is interesting to watch today's wood blind market evolve in parallel with the post-war Venetian blind and the mini-blind.
With product categories and the offering within each category expanding, it is much harder today to be an expert on everything that is available. I look at it as a matter of commodity versus fashion. If the market only wants white mini-blinds or white wood blinds, it's a commodity that could be provided by anyone through any channel. However, with an expanding range of fashionable and functional products, the skills and talents of a true window coverings professional are much more valuable.
It's remarkable how little my involvement has changed in the last two decades. I'm still fabricating name brand products to the trade only. In fact, I'm sitting at the same desk I had 15 years ago, and I have most of the same management group, sales team and many of the same customers today that I had then.
I have enjoyed the past 20 years, and I'm looking forward to the next 20 years.
Looking Back, Moving Forward
David Walker, president
LTL International, Inc.
It has been an honor and a privilege to work with Draperies & Window Coverings since its beginning. The magazine has been a great service to the industry. We are pleased to congratulate them on their first 20 years of success, and wish them all the best for the next 20.
As the premier manufacturer of hard window coverings equipment for over a decade, and having been in the business since 1962, I have witnessed every turn in window coverings over the past 20 years and am pleased that we are still able to support the growth of our industry to its current level and to the unforeseen evolutions of the next 20 years and beyond.
In 1981, mini-blinds were 70 to 80 percent of the U.S. market in window coverings. Moderate cost, quick response and customized service provided the homeowner with a window covering solution in thousands of colors, installed in under a week. As a manufacturer of one- and two-inch blinds, we added micro-blinds, verticals, pleated shades and roller shades to our product lines in the mid '80s. It seemed the new, high-end products in verticals were the going things: channel panel with cane, mirror and macramé moved very well. Two-inch horizontal wood was going into the testing stage, although this market wasn't promising at the time. For every wood blind, 2,000 minis were sold.
In the late '80s, with a recession in the United States, the importing of one-inch PVC blinds became the trend. Diversification into soft window treatments and micro-blinds was a solution for some businesses, others closed.
Sani was the leader in window covering production machinery. In 1990, the company was sold and downsized creating a void in machinery and support for horizontal window coverings manufacturing. In 1985 LTL was created to supply mini-blind components to the U.S. market from overseas and from custom components developed in-house. In 1989 LTL shifted its focus from component sales to machinery development. During the 1990s LTL grew from a supplier of add-on's and attachments into the premier designer and supplier of horizontal blind manufacturing equipment in the world. Two-inch wood blinds became the primary window covering solution. The steady development from minimal color selections and long delivery delays has culminated in extensive color selections with quick turn-around time.
The LTL family is pleased to have been part of the growth of this industry and looks forward to the next 20 years along with D&WC. Their continued growth in editorials, articles and advertising will continue to add the information and excitement to keep the industry informed and moving.
Riding the Industry Roller Coaster
Larry Gardner, president
Alabama Venetian Blind Co. Inc.
I wish to congratulate D&WC magazine for the accomplishment of making it to the 20-year mark in its publication. I have been with AVBCO since 1975. At that time, I had just completed graduate school and my wife and I decided to take over an old business from my father-in-law in which he had lost interest. In 1975, our first daughter was born. Today she heads our shutter fabricator program. In 1978, my son was born, and in that year, we bought our first Hunter Douglas gray automatic-to-manufacture mini-blinds.
In those days Levolor was the big kid on the block, and Hunter Douglas was the new kid. My, how times change. In 1979, we started manufacturing our first wood blinds. We had to mill our own slats, because at the time, almost no one made wood blinds. By being one of the first in our market, it allowed us to make some great margins.
After minis and wood blinds came Verosol. It was the first company to introduce pleated shades with Duette being the next significant product. Duette was a fabulous improvement in what was available to the industry. For the first time, we could make wide shades without overlaps.
By the time we entered into the oil embargo and resulting recession of the late '80s, the window coverings industry was hit hard. Many of my old fabricator friends either folded or were bought out. Times were hard and money scarce. It was clear that we needed to get into a market other than blinds to survive. In 1991, we started manufacturing a synthetic shutter that changed our business direction for the next decade and beyond. We were up and running after the Gulf War, and by the time Clinton was in office, we were ready to fly with this new product line. We had looked at the market over the last half-century, and surmised that shutters had been a constant seller for decades. Our decision to specialize in shutters has been positive.
The new synthetic shutter was a success for AVBCO that helped us rebound from a struggling industry in the late '80s. In 1999, we developed a new and exciting shutter called the PolyDesign. We made changes in compounds, component design, fabrication methods and installation techniques to make PolyDesign one of the industry's easiest shutters to assemble and install. Having been in the window coverings industry literally for all of my adult life has given me the insight to develop and market this new shutter program.
The changes in the industry over the last two decades have been phenomenal. There was a time when there were many mom-and-pop retailers that sold window coverings from a storefront. The Home Depots and Lowes have replaced many of them.
The companies that will survive long-term into the next millennium will be those that are innovative and market specialty products to improve profit margins. Other survivors will be the companies that can master new avenues of marketing, such as the Internet. It has been my experience that the companies that sold by price alone, seldom survived economic downturns because there was always someone that sold for less around the corner.
The window coverings industry has provided for my family and employees for more than a quarter of a century, and AVBCO has been blessed with a continued growth during this time. In past years, we have seen many fabricators, suppliers and retailers come and go; it is truly an industry of survivors. It will continue to be difficult for new fabricators to enter into our market due to the large initial investments. Times have been lean, and times have been lucrative. Products have come and gone. It has been quite a ride.
Others Have Come and Gone
Bamboo Abbott Florida Corp.
Twenty years ago I was settling in the south Florida market as a salesman for Joanna Western Mills Co. We had about 15 branch operations located throughout the eastern half of the United States, and about as many under a distributor, William Volker Co., in the western states. Marty Rakitin had moved the Florida operation from Hallandale, FL, to a larger facility in Hollywood, FL. Alan Rakitin was in the New Jersey Bamboo Abbott operation taking care of business in the northeast.
During this period, the big names in the industry were Joanna Western Mills Co., Graber, Kirsch, Levolor, Del Mar and LouverDrape. Most of them were old companies that were being run by second- and third-generation family members. The hottest product was vertical blinds. Mini-blinds held a mature slice of the hard window covering pie. Woven wood sales had declined from their prime in the '70s. Most of these big companies had already diversified from their original products into other hard window covering areas.
Bamboo Abbot Florida was emerging from its core business of woven woods into other hard window coverings as well. We served the needs of local retail dealers in the northeast and southeast markets. Our primary suppliers were Levolor for mini-blinds, Joanna for roller shades, Graber for verticals and our own line of woven woods.
The product of the day has changed from one to another over the past 20 years, but we have continued to produce our core woven wood line through thick and thin. We have seen fabricators come and go during the past 20 years, but by giving the customer the right product and the service they expect, we have grown. We have tried to stay on the cutting edge of product development. We were one of the first to introduce a wide range of open weave roller shades and motorized products. Our success has come from our ability to blaze the trail in new product innovation. We have become known for doing the hard designs about which others only dream.
The window coverings market has continued to grow over the past 20 years. What were the big suppliers have been consolidated into The Big Three. The number of fabricators has diminished. The Big Box retail stores have jumped on the bandwagon and launched successful campaigns to get many consumers to purchase hard window coverings from them. This has taken a bite out of the independent and national retailers.
Really new product lines in the industry during this time are few. Refinement of staple lines and their pattern expansion is the driving force of our industry.
Ron Militello, president
Redi Shade, Inc.
The younger among you will not remember a time without temporary shades—a time before Redi Shade®. Contemplate for a moment sheets, blankets and even newspapers in those beautiful, but naked, windows while the homeowners were awaiting their new custom coverings. People moving into new homes and apartments would have to suffer through 10 more long years before the advent of the Redi Shade revolution.
Initially conceived of solely as a quick-fix product used by consumers while awaiting new, permanent coverings, Redi Shades have assumed a broader and more valuable role for industry professionals. They provide instant privacy when it's needed and help out during delivery, repair and installation problems. Temporary shades have given decorators and designers a way of differentiating themselves, building good will and improving customer service. Lastly, Redi Shades are often utilized as an important sales tool facilitating and closing sales.
Such revolutionary changes as organizational consolidation at all levels, the arrival of giant new category killer retailers and the emergence of e-business are all too familiar. Today's industry professionals must be more knowledgeable, better trained and more focused at customer service than ever before. The availability of broad assortments of cut- and made-to-measure products from home centers, Web sites and catalogs continue to encroach on the custom market. Sophisticated customers with infinitely more choices demand the best from all of us. Redi Shade, celebrating its 10th anniversary, is proud to be a positive force in providing products that address the needs of today's industry professionals.