D&WC: Please give a detailed description of your company and its history.
Rhea Nicotra: Bishops, Inc. is celebrating its 40th year in the window coverings industry. Anyone who has worked with Bishops over the years, tells us it is a name that they have learned to trust for quality service and fair pricing.
Bishops, Inc. was founded in 1961 by Bob and Helen Kanarek, and was primarily a drapery workroom. After a few years, the Kanareks decided to introduce their private sample book collections of moderately priced drapery fabrics and linings. As the company grew, the owners expanded as Conso and Kirsch distributors to further offer the "complete package." In 1984, the decision was made to discontinue the drapery workroom operation and focus more on the distribution portion of the business.
In 1991, the Kanareks retired and sold the business to my husband, Sam, and I. Sam had been an employee of Bishops Inc. since his high school days. I came on board full-time in 1991 to offset the retirement of three key employees. After several years of product distribution, Sam and I decided that in order to grow and service our customers in the manner we felt was necessary, it would be beneficial for Bishops to re-enter the workroom industry.
In 1998, we purchased a second, sister company, which operates solely as a drapery workroom. (Ironically, a previous Bishops Inc. employee formerly owned this second company.) Bishops currently employs 14 people, and the drapery workroom employs 10. Since the offering of the drapery workroom services, Sam and I have experienced double-digit growth in that particular segment of the business. We found out very quickly that the need was there for a full-service distributor.
After 30 years of servicing our customers from a warehouse in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1995, we relocated to facilities in Millvale, PA, two miles outside the city limits. Our new home offers more than 25,000 square feet of products, services and a user-friendly showroom with plenty of free parking. For convenience and efficiency, the drapery workroom is located off-site just a few blocks away and consists of more than 8,000 square feet.
In addition to the drapery workroom, Bishops manufactures Kirsch Accordia shades on-site. Over the past 10 years, we have continued to expand our product lines by offering brands like ADO, Hunter Douglas, Sculptured Elegance, Claesson and Premier hardware, M'Fay patterns, Kirsch custom products and hardware and Conso trimmings. We also offer workroom supplies, selling aids, lamination services, custom laminated roller shades, cornices and bedspreads, as well as all custom bedding, carpeting and padding and pillow forms. Our philosophy has been to offer customers one call to order it all.
D&WC: Is your business computerized? Do you have a company Web site?
Nicotra: In addition to the relocation, over the past 10 years we have found it necessary to invest in infrastructure by updating our computer system. After careful due diligence, we selected a state-of-the-art wholesale distribution package that could be customized to track sample book distribution. We are currently upgrading the modules to include manufacturing. One of the advantages of the new computer system is that it enables us to update our new price increases from Conso and Kirsch electronically.
We were one of the first in the industry to have our own Web site on which customers could browse and review our product lines. Bishops developed www.bishopsinc.com in early 1999. By the fall of 2001, Bishops hopes to implement a new state-of-the-art digital phone system that will offer many of the latest options that our current system does not.
D&WC: Who are your customers? What parts of the country do you service?
Nicotra: Bishops, Inc. services the entire United States with a focus on western Pennsylvania, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia and the Northeast.
Although we would like to further expand our sales staff, we feel that our current sales representation is one of the best in the industry. We feel very fortunate to have them as a viable part of Bishops. Bishops, Inc. constantly seeks out sales representatives that complement our philosophy that emphasizes fair pricing and outstanding customer service.
D&WC: What best describes your niche in the marketplace?
Nicotra: When we first purchased Bishops from the Kanareks, we could not have picked a worse year to take over. Hard window treatments were at their peak, and soft treatments were on the decline. Everywhere you turned, they would show either hard treatments or the bare window trends. At the time, the focus of Bishops had been primarily fabrics, linings, trims and hardware. We knew that in order to survive, we must further diversify. Although we offer an entire custom hard and soft window treatment product line, we have expanded further to include Hunter Douglas, ADO, Sculptured Elegance, Premier brass wear, fabric lamination, custom headboards and bedspreads and accessories, just to name a few new product categories.
We continually listen to what our customers want and always try to accommodate those needs. We constantly poll our workshops to stay in front of our customers and make ourselves known. We were confident that if we waited out the storm, soft treatments would surge once again. We were right.
We focused on offering the complete package and the fact that "one call will take care of it all." In addition, our mission statement has always reflected our belief in treating people fairly. From our employees to our customer base, we try to treat others the way we would want to be treated. We can't always give everyone all that they want, but we try and give as much as possible and still maintain profitability.
D&WC: What are your company's strengths?
Nicotra: We are extremely focused on customer service. We know that is a typical response, but we have actually had customers return to us who have left for better pricing only to find the new company could not measure up to our service level. We take great pride in that. We feel that is a real strength of ours because the demands have become greater than 10 years ago.
From our sales representatives to our customer service and warehouse personnel, we have some of the best and most knowledgeable staff anywhere. We are constantly told this. We all work very hard at servicing our customers and always emphasize that that must come first.
Our workroom is one of the best around. There isn't anything we can't create. We have had requests for every design and creation imaginable, and our customers are always impressed with our quality and timing. Our turn-around time is excellent. We stand behind all our work. If a customer should happen not to be satisfied, we immediately do whatever it takes to correct the problem.
In addition, our new technology gives us better sales data so that we can follow our profitability strengths and learn in which direction to go. Our niche is that we are "small enough to know you and large enough to serve you." Our goals are to grow modestly in a manner that never detracts from that statement.
We feel once you grow to a certain size, it becomes impossible to know your customers. We have found that our customers love that type of service, so we constantly try to reach out to them in as many ways as possible. We feel that this personalized service sets us apart from our competitors. It's not uncommon for either Sam or me to call a customer at 8 p.m. to find out what they need. We believe in going that extra mile. We have an excellent and dedicated staff that is well versed in all areas of our business and they really take their jobs seriously. We know that we could not succeed in this business without them.
D&WC: Where do you see yourself and your company five years from now?
Nicotra: In five years? We don't need to be the largest; we merely hope that we can continue to grow our business modestly while maintaining profitability.
We would like to focus on more community and industry issues. Our children are grown and this business consumes us. We have a strong need to give back. We would like to be able to give back to our employees, our customers and finally to our community. We have truly been blessed, and we feel strongly that it is our obligation to try and support the organizations that enable us to help others. It may sound a little corny, but it comes straight from the heart.
112 Lincoln Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15209
Fax: (412) 821-SHOP