D&WC: Tell us about your
Arlene Lullove, President: This is the second opportunity Blinds & Designs has had to be showcased in D&WC. The first time was in January 1987. That article quoted our first year of business at $112,000 in 1987. At that time my husband, Neil, and I attributed our growth and success to hard work, loyalty to our customers, quality products, honesty and integrity.
Our daughter Amy and I stand behind those words and strive to practice them every day. When the original article was written, vertical blinds attributed 70 percent of our volume, mini-blinds 20 percent and pleated shades 10 percent. It is obvious how much the products in our industry have changed in the past 20 years. But our commitment to our original goals has not changed. We pride ourselves in our quality products and service as well as our long-term relationships with our customers and employees.
Neil loved this business and this industry. He passed away in 2003, as an industry innovator and leader of 25 years. He worked hard to make Blinds & Designs the family business that always sought change and innovation, quality business and personal relationships. The most recent innovation by Blinds & Designs is the Utopia™ Workroom.
With textile expertise and 20 years of industry experience, I realized in 2001 that the overwhelming influence of blinds had not significantly changed our relationship to the drapery industry. Two separate industries were covering the same windows.
Blinds retailers were challenged by confusing drapery specifications with thousands of choices. Few blinds installers understood fullness, yardage requirements or drapery terminology. At the same time, Hunter Douglas was moving the blinds industry toward soft products with Silhouette, Vignette and Luminette The uniqueness of Utopia combines the easy-to-specify choices of the blinds industry with the custom features of the drapery industry.
In 2001, Amy was a project manager for a Herman Miller owned dealership, WB Wood in New York City, and left to join Blinds & Designs. Growing up in the blind business and with her experience in product development she took Utopia many steps forward to include an alliance with Mitchell Fabrics and several high-end, top-quality drapery hardware lines. She further expanded the Utopia product choices to develop a more complete product line.
Blind customers, drapery workrooms and designers now rely upon Utopia to complete their window treatments projects. Together, we have continued to provide and fabricate quality Hunter Douglas products and services while designing a drapery workroom that compliments and enhances them.
D&WC: How did your company get started?
Lullove: Blinds & Designs, Inc. was founded in 1977 in Detroit, MI, to fabricate and wholesale a new product, Graber Vertical Blinds. The addition of Turnils horizontal blinds and Joanna pleated shades in the original 2,200-square-foot building with five employees caused Blinds & Designs to grow out of its first location quickly.
We built our fourth location of 25,000 square feet in 1991 and added an additional 12,000 square feet in 1993. It is currently located in Wixom, a suburban industrial area about 20 miles from downtown Detroit. There are currently 100 employees, 30 of whom have been with the company more than 15 years.
D&WC: What window coverings products did you handle initially? What products do you handle today?
Lullove: In 1984 Blinds & Designs began fabricating Hunter Douglas Duette and has continued to produce and distribute its innovative products as a Hunter Douglas Licensed Independent Fabricator.
Known as an industry innovator, our product history includes the development of Mylar-coated aluminum verticals in the 1980s, hand applied wallpaper laminations for verticals in the ’80s, and the early industry fabrication of faux woods and pre-fabricated wood shutters.
D&WC: Is your business computerized? Do you have a company Web site, and how is it used to communicate with customers?
Lullove: Blinds & Designs has an extensive computerized system for placing and quoting orders: www.blindsndesigns.com and www.utopiaworkroom.com.
Customers can log onto our Web sites to preview existing and new products, receive technical information and special offers. Our computer system is extensive and innovative, encompassing all facets of fabrication and accounting and customer service.
D&WC: Who are your customers? What parts of the country do you service and how many salespeople do you employ?
Lullove: Our customers include retailers at all levels of the interior furnishings industry. We have a long-term presence at the Michigan Design Center.
Our sales representatives cover many states throughout the Midwest, Northeast and the South. The Utopia Workroom is available nationally and special technical support for the workroom is available at all times.
D&WC: How has your segment of the industry changed since you first began?
Lullove: The blinds industry undergoes many fashion changes and technical advancements. It is certainly a fashion industry. Our customers are the ones who determine what will be popular.
Today much of our fabrication is in Hunter Douglas wood and faux wood products. We have seen huge popularity with roller shades and woods with cloth tapes. Silhouette is still very popular because nothing quite measures up to its versatility and beauty.
D&WC: What distinguishes you from the competition?
Lullove: Blinds & Designs has a unique niche as a Hunter Douglas Independent Fabricator. Early in the development of Duette, Blinds & Designs developed the first software for certain manufacturing controls. Since then, there have been many opportunities to add quality to existing products. Utopia has, of course, made us different from other “hard” window treatment manufacturers.
Innovation takes on many different factors at a fabrication site. Strong management and quality customer service with a solid team of loyal professionals makes Blinds & Designs unique.
D&WC: What are your strengths in the marketplace?
Lullove: Our strengths in the marketplace always include quality. We have strong relationships with our customers that always include our commitment to them and the quality of the products we manufacture for them.
D&WC: What trends and cycles do you see occurring in the industry? How is your business addressing them?
Lullove: We have learned that there are three kinds of customers. Those that like to use the Internet for research and maybe for making a purchase; those that like a retail store environment to see large samples and choices; and those that prefer professional shop-at-home personal services. The trend is value at all levels.
The customers are more educated because of Internet research and they now are the second generation of blinds consumers. They combine research and reputation to select a brand and a retailer or designer.
When a retailer is invited into someone’s home, they have the advantage of the consumer’s trust. We can supply all they need to complete the window treatment: Hunter Douglas products plus Utopia. All the blinds, drapery hardware, fabrics and complete drapery services.
Blinds & Designs, Inc.
29988 Anthony Dr.
Wixom, MI 48393
fax: (800) 960-3206