As part of D&WC's 20th anniversary celebration, each month we will return to early issues of the magazine to revisit interviews, advice and columns providing interesting, pertinent and fun historical perspectives on our industry.
The introduction of new colors, rich textures and stylish, contemporary designs have taken woven woods from the kitchen to the living room, resurrecting them from their decline in the late '70s. For the first time since the introduction of mini-blinds, woven woods are showing signs of resurgence. And while their market share will never reach its former magnitude, regaining a piece of the pie is a formidable accomplishment for a product that was once the only game in town.
With 1986 sales at the $81 million mark and unit figures of nearly one million (units peaked at 1.9 million in 1979), manufacturers agree that woven woods have created a permanent niche in the marketplace; they are an alternate with a past . . . and a future.
Evidenced by steady sales over the past two years, most manufacturers interviewed by Draperies & Window Coverings magazine estimated that woven woods will finish 1987 with a repeat performance of last year's sales and unit figures. Despite the influx of vertical blinds, mini- and micro-blinds and pleated shades, woven woods sales are steady and holding. Waiting in the wings for the past decade, woven woods have kept one foot in the door.
Persistence has paid off.
A SERIOUS CONTENDER
Since their introduction in 1946, woven woods have absorbed a multitude of shocks. The first occurred in the late '50s when sales plummeted with the introduction of vertical blinds. Cumbersome and bulky, woven woods quietly took a back seat to their more sophisticated cousin. Consumer interest began to dwindle. But the real downward shift in market share occurred in 1976 when mini-blinds were introduced; woven woods were no match for their sleek, contemporary, high-fashion appeal. As predicted, woven wood sales waned as the field of alternates swept up consumers' decorating dollars.
Last year's estimates position horizontal blind sales at $1.378 billion—which includes $164 million for micro-blinds—and pleated shade sales at $300 million. Dwarfed by these markets, as well as the growing $500 million vertical blind industry, woven woods seem to be playing in the wrong league. But optimistic manufacturers contend that there is a sizeable market for them to (re)capture.
A five-year look at unit sales reflects a slow but steady move toward the top. In 1983, approximately 960,000 units were sold. And while that figure decreased by 10,000 units in 1984, that was the year that micro-blinds kicked off their introduction by finishing out the year with over 600,000 units sold. And in 1984, woven wood sales exceeded the one million mark with 1.025 million units sold.
LOOK FIRST, PAY LATER
Not surprisingly, fashion is the motivator behind woven woods sales. But unlike its competition, woven woods pack a one-two punch with the added perk of energy efficiency: a factor that never goes completely out of style. Woven wood shades are actually one of the most fashionable window coverings along with their energy efficiency and reasonable price.
Lighter, bolder colors, exciting new patterns, intricate weaves, light-weight yarns, fashionable styles and designs tailored for today's contemporary interiors have been introduced by the market's leading manufacturers.
Woven woods can be used either informally in family rooms, vacation homes, etc. or formally in plain patterns in almost any setting to provide a soft, warm look that will coordinate with many other fabrics and provide privacy, light control and energy efficiency.
One manufacturer explained that fashion is the chief reason why consumers buy woven woods. Promotion at the dealer and consumer level rank second, while price and energy efficiency are third and fourth, respectively.
SEEING IS BELIEVING
Improving and upscaling merchandising efforts and advertising is cited by manufacturers as the number one key to improving woven woods sales, especially since the majority are sold through specialty stores where displays are the biggest selling tool. Perhaps more woven woods are sold through shop-at-home services and independent decorators because of the opportunity to expound on the virtues of the product.
Yet, the lack of overall advertising to the consumer is cited as a factor in the diminishing interest in woven woods. If manufacturers' money were put into more advertising, there is no doubt that interest could be increased.
A successful marketing approach for woven woods consists of a knowledgeable presentation of the complete range of decorating choices from traditional to contemporary, displaying natural patterns at the point of sale, eliminating dead lines and patterns from offerings and making sure salespeople understand the product.
A SPECIALTY PRODUCT
The majority of woven woods sales occur in the Northeast while fewer sales are reported in the Southeast. The basic difference can be attributed to climate. For a warm, sunny climate, window coverings are light, airy and open. In colder climates, energy efficiency and traditional decors are more important.
Custom woven woods retail for approximately $95 while stock shades retail for a third less. Most manufacturers agree that well over 90 percent of woven woods are found in the residential market; the remainder is sold in the commercial market. The same majority exists in custom sales with stock woven woods accounting for 10 percent of overall sales.
Specialty stores are consumers' number one source for woven woods, followed by department stores, interior designers and home centers.
FASHION TAKES A STEP FORWARD
A far cry from the dreary earth tones of two decades ago, today's woven woods offer consumers a soft, stylish, but relatively inexpensive alternative to covering their windows. Unlike hard lines, woven woods feature inherent privacy and energy saving features as well as decorator flair. And according to manufacturers, it's this decorative element that catches the eye.
The most obvious trend in woven woods is to change the current image of heavy traditional shades to the upbeat, fashionable color trends of the '80s. Combining the fashion appeal of woven woods with the functional aspects of vertical blinds has even seen the introduction of woven woods verticals to the market.