During the early years, most verticals were made from expensive fabrics such as Jacquards. The cost of these fabrics meant only high-income households could easily afford them. The alternative, plain PVC, was cold and cheap looking. It didn't give consumers the soft, textured look they wanted. This locked verticals into a strictly high-end window treatment market.
With no stylish, reasonably priced option, verticals were headed down a one-way road to the endangered species list. Fortunately, before they tagged the toe and pulled the sheet over its head, along came embossed PVC. Embossed PVC mimics the look consumers want, and puts expensive looking blinds into an affordable price range. These "imitators" have given vertical blinds the stamina to remain popular into their 20th year.
The impact of the retail fabricator has even changed the way component distributors do business. The selling price of components used to be based on how many cases were purchased on that particular order. The larger the order, the lower the price. This was a way of rewarding larger fabricators and tempting smaller ones into large stock orders.
Soon, many retail fabricators' volume began to rival that of the wholesalers. All of a sudden, the distributors' ears perked up and they began to aggressively pursue these mom-and-pop type fabricators. They lured them with volume discounts without volume orders.
Enter two-inch wood blinds (the fabric vertical of 20 years ago), a high-end product that everybody wants but is affordable only by a few. For the last five or so years two-inch wood blind sales have increased at an astounding rate despite their comparatively high price. This windfall appears to have no end, but as we learned with verticals the longevity of any window treatment relies on the availability of alternately priced versions. Wood is destined to remain a high-end product due to certain inherent characteristics: wood is a natural resource and it requires a larger, more expensive inventory, more space for production and more employees. All of which contribute to its cost. These are the earmarks of a product with an expiration date on the label unless a reasonably priced alternative is found.
Just like clockwork, in comes faux wood, the wood blind "imitator." Faux wood slats are almost identical in appearance to painted wood slats. It is the key to their success. They give the consumer the look they want at a price they can afford. Faux wood also has created the beginnings of a commercial market for two-inch wood blinds. The selection of faux wood colors and styles is expanding rapidly. New versions with more colors and a striking resemblance to stained wood are being introduced at regular intervals.
There are those who scoff at faux wood, but its lower cost and smaller inventory requirements make it an ideal product for the retail fabricator. The magic combination of look and cost puts these blinds in the "price is right" category for the consumer.
HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF
With distributors selling the raw materials at basically the same price regardless of quantity, fabricators of all sizes are assured of a level playing field. This makes two-inch blind fabrication even more alluring to the small wholesale or retail fabricator. It doesn't take much research to see that the venture is profitable. Fabricators see their costs drop an average of 35 percent once they begin fabrication. Even with a volume as low as 25 blinds per week, the machinery and inventory investment can be recovered in a matter of a few months through the additional profits.
Although money is a huge motivator, many new fabricators site other advantages of fabrication that, for them, even outweigh the additional revenues. Among them are quality control, faster delivery times, fewer mistakes and an overall improvement in customer service.
They say history is the best teacher, and history has taught us that high-end only window treatments have a relatively short life span. There seems to be no end in sight for the growth and popularity of two-inch wood blinds, but the trends of the past cannot be ignored. Faux wood will be the fountain of youth for two-inch horizontals and will likely surpass what embossed PVC has done for vertical blinds.
Ours is a fashion industry with trends constantly changing, but one thing is for sure: since their invention more than 50 years ago, some version of horizontal blinds has been the hot selling ticket. All those who fabricate these blinds, whether retail or wholesale, can rest well at night knowing there always will be plenty of horizontal blinds on their work orders tomorrow.
Bob "Tex" Svajda is national sales director at LTL International Inc., Dallas, TX, (800) 533-3371.