Lance Devereaux, president: Founded by John Graber in 1939 as The Graber Co., Springs Window Fashions has become a leader in window coverings and drapery hardware. The Graber Co. began with John Graber's invention of the drapery crane marketed as the Badger Crane, which was manufactured in Middleton, WI.
After WW II, the Graber Co. introduced traverse rods and became the first company to use nylon slides. The innovations continued and by the late 1960s, shades and verticals were added to its extensive drapery hardware line.
In 1979, Springs Industries acquired the Graber Co. because the brand name, quality window coverings were an ideal fit with its consumer product lines. This large textile manufacturer helped launch the production of Graber's pleated shades in 1983. In 1989, Springs acquired Bali, a market leader in horizontal blinds. Nanik, the premier leader in "Fine Furniture for Windows" joined Springs Window Fashions in 1995.
Springs Window Fashions embraces a philosophy of excellence called the Springs of Achievement, comprising seven values: quality, service, creativity, education, personal and family well-being, respect for history and planning for the future.
D&WC: What is Springs' approximate sales volume? What was it after its first year in business?
Devereaux: The late Joe Graber once stated that his father John started the company in 1939 without outside funding, but there was a $250 note which was paid off with "great relief." Joe Graber also recalled hearing his father boast that they would make "$4,000 the following year." Through hard work and determination, the Window Fashion Division has become an integral part of Springs' Industries $2 billion corporation.
D&WC: Who are your customers?
Devereaux: Springs Window Fashions' wide variety of custom window treatments and decorative hardware grace homes and businesses worldwide because of our strong network of fabricators, distributors and major retailers. For example, Graber fabricators play a significant role in reaching local designers, decorators and specialty shops. The fabricators' knowledge of specific regional trends provides valuable feedback and keeps Springs on the leading edge of innovation and style.
D&WC: Are there additional areas which Springs would like to build upon?
Wayne Gourlay, director of marketing: I think there are two major areas we're looking at: We're really focusing on the motorization of custom window treatments and we're continuing to take a look at the soft side of the business.
We've invested now about the last year and a half to two years designing the AutoView system, which was designed initially to offer an affordable battery-operated system essentially to motorize any window treatment we have available. I think as we go a little bit further, we'll probably take a look at a variety of line extensions off our motorized program, which may include hard-wired motors.
We even may extend into the security aspect of the business in which we look at the window as a point of entry into a consumer's home. If you're running some form of power into the window treatment, we may be able to offer the consumer a blind that offers much more than just aesthetics and light control. We may be able to offer some kind of security system, so if someone is tampering with the window an alarm would go off. Home security is a pretty fast-growing category, and may have some opportunities for us.
We're also focusing on the soft side of the business. We've got a variety of projects on the drawing board now that really offer a softer window treatment for the consumer. Right now, the consumer is responding quite fervently to that softer, elegant look. We've just recently introduced our new Fresco Roman shade, and that's had a successful launch.
D&WC: What trends and cycles do you see occurring in the industry?
Gourlay: There's been an important change in the way business operates today. We were at a strategic planning session not too long ago, and I remember one of the comments that Lance Devereaux made to everyone that was there -- and that was everybody from sales to marketing to engineering to operations -- was that everyone needed to evaluate the way they were doing things today and evaluate whether that's the same way they were doing it five years ago or 10 years ago. And if it is, then you need to find another way to do it.
The way business was managed before was with cross-functional groups, or silos, where you've got a purchasing silo, a production control silo, an engineering silo, a marketing silo and a manufacturing silo. Sometimes they didn't communicate well, which slows down things that are important like new product introductions.
So we're in the process of logistically re-laying out the whole office, and we've already done half of it. We're going to complete the other half early this fall. We're re-organizing the whole business essentially into product teams. So a product team for drapery hardware, for example, would have marketing players on the team. It would have an engineering segment, one or two engineers, for production planning. Purchasing, manufacturing, all the cross-functional groups essentially come together as a team, manage that category as a team and logistically are placed together in a team.
D&WC: Is the company looking to expand more in the fabricator area or the retail market?
Scott Fawcett, senior vice president of sales and marketing: Both of those businesses are important, and our goal is to continue to grow in both.
Clearly the essence of growth today is new products. Our most recent history has shown that new products really are the lifeblood not only of our organization, but of all organizations today and they will continue to be in the future. And whether they're retail-specific or fabricator-specific, clearly we've got to identify consumer lifestyle trends and capitalize on them with products that meet their needs.
D&WC: Does Springs conduct a lot of consumer research to find out what those trends are?
Fawcett: I believe companies should be consumer-driven and the only way to understand how the consumer thinks and acts and behaves is to do that type of research -- and we do that. We not only talk to the consumer base, but also the fabricator and decorator base. In fact, we have a decorator advisory board that we meet with to understand from their perspective what they see taking place on the consumer level because they're that much closer to it.
The other thing we've done is solicit the support and help of an installer advisory board. For fabricators in the commercial end of the business, time is money and ease of installation is very important. So we certainly don't want to overlook the contribution of product design as it relates to installation.
D&WC: What are some of the things this research is telling you?
Fawcett: After having talked to consumers, there are issues we believe are important to them. I think wood goes hand-in-hand with consumers who are environmentally conscious. I think environmental responsibility will always be important, not because we have to be but because we want to be. Beyond that there are consumer safety issues. We'll continue to look at products with inherent benefits as they relate to safety. AutoView clearly speaks to that issue, whether it be the elimination of cords or home security because a home owner can but a timer on it and make the home look like it's being occupied.
Consumers want immediate gratification. And that's why our new cut-to-fit in store program is becoming a big thing. We have a program for retailers in which a customer can come in with a window dimension and if a treatment in the store measures 24 inches and she needs it 23 1/4 inches, there's a machine in that store that will cut it right there.
People don't necessarily mind going through the sample books, but once they make up their minds what they want and the size they want, they want it now. Five years ago, a 10-day delivery time was acceptable, now it's become five days, soon it will be three days.
D&WC: How is technology changing window coverings products?
Fawcett: There are a couple of ways you can look at it. First of all, I think AutoView has the potential to literally revolutionize the industry, which is something, quite frankly, I think the industry will benefit from. So that's an example of a new product that has been technically driven.
But there are other effects of technology. For example, look at what's happened recently with the vertical business. If you go back four or five years, fabric verticals outsold PVC verticals, in custom products anyway. But with some of the new extrusion and embossing technologies we have, we've been able to soften the look of the PVC.
There are other things we're looking at relative to light control, whether it be a lower profile headrail, the positioning or the elimination of route holes in mini-blinds for the lift cords. Although these don't have the profound and dramatic effect as AutoView has on the industry, they are significant yet subtle product improvements.
There's also technology that has arisen out of the need to be more cost competitive. To drive down the cost of products simply because margins continue to erode throughout the entire supply chain. Our customers have to be profitable with our products or there's no need for them to sell them.
Springs Window Fashions Division
7549 Graber Rd.
Middleton, WI 53562-1096
Fax: (608) 831-2184
Manufacturer of drapery hardware, vertical, aluminum mini- and micro-blinds, one- and two-inch wood blinds and pleated, cellular and window shades.