• You have seen a steady increase in two-inch horizontal blind sales from your business.
• One of your decorators has just returned from a major customer with an order for 15 wood blinds, but they must have them for a dinner party in two weeks. Can they be ready in time?
• A shipment of two-inch blinds has just arrived for another customer who is having a wedding at the house in less than a week and you discover that the large three-on-one blind that covers the main window in the living room has a bent headrail. Can it be replaced in time?
• You receive a shipment of wood blinds for a large commercial customer and find three out of the six blinds for the conference room have slats that do not match in color. Their board of directors' meeting is in five days. One of their agenda items is the possibility of awarding you a major contract on a high-end condominium project. What do you do?
These are just some of the problems faced by businesses in our industry on a regular basis, not to mention the inevitable mismeasurements. Most vendors will go out of their way to help retailers solve problems like these, but many times they are unable to resolve them quickly enough. Buying finished blinds from a vendor puts you, as a retailer, at the mercy of the fabricator's production schedule, their view of acceptable quality, and the scheduling and handling practices of the shipping company. Is it time for you to consider fabricating blinds?
Fabricating your own blinds means you have control. You can control the timing of a job, its completion and its quality, and provide a higher degree of service to your customers. This is crucial in today's market when speed and quality have become such an important part of gaining and retaining customers.
Just the thought of going into fabrication can be intimidating, but if you already are selling 10 to 15 blinds a day and are looking to expand your business, you have to seriously consider the possibilities. Sit down and take a hard and realistic look at a range of issues such as your current volume, the economic climate in your area, as well as your short- and long-term business plans.
Just the thought of going
into fabrication can be intimidating,
but you have to seriously
consider the possibilities.
Take into consideration the fact that two-inch horizontal blinds (including wood, composite, foam and PVC materials) are the fastest growing segment of the window treatment industry, while sales of most other treatments are showing limited growth, are flat, or decreasing. Research shows there has been a steady growth of wood blind sales of more than eight percent per year since 1995 with retail sales estimated to be more than $400 million this year, according to "The U.S. Market for Window Coverings," a 1999 study by Business Trend Analysts, a Commack, NY-based market research firm. With the increasing variety of materials for two-inch products being released to the market, this trend will keep growing.
There are other aspects to look at.
• Labor—Labor is always a major concern. Considering today's booming economy and low unemployment rate, the cost of obtaining and maintaining good employees is steadily increasing. The prevailing wage in your area and the wages you are prepared to offer are factors to look at.
Don't forget that the base wage is not the only determining factor for an employee's decision to come on or stay. Benefits and workplace atmosphere can be deciding factors. Yes, the cost of your labor will increase, but your cost for the blinds you are selling will go down. Depending on your volume, the savings can be quite significant.
• Space—Floor space is another concern, both for fabrication and for inventory. How much space you need will be based on your volume, anticipated growth, the number of SKUs you are planning on, and the necessary equipment. A small retail fabricator making 15 to 20 blinds a day can set up in 1,000 square feet, while a large wholesale fabricator doing 500 blinds a day may need 25,000 square feet.
• Inventory—The amount of inventory kept on hand also varies based on your volume, where your supplier is located and lead times. A small fabricator should consider maintaining a two-week supply, while a large fabricator needs to maintain at least a 30-day supply.
What inventory to carry is one of the most frequently asked questions, especially from a start-up retailing fabricator. That is not always an easy question to answer. Analyze your sales for the previous year and find out what colors and sizes actually sold. Did you sell mostly cord tilt or wand tilt? Is wide tape a major seller in your area? Do you (and your customers) prefer a two- by two-inch headrail or a low profile headrail? You will find different answers to these questions depending on the region of the country in which you operate your business.
Another major inventory decision is what slat material to carry. Your customer base and sales history will dictate this decision to a great extent. The market has changed and expanded dramatically in the last few years. Wood slats are available in a variety of woods, finishes and colors. Additionally, there now are a number of man-made slats: composites, foams and PVC, all available in a variety of textures, colors and finishes. There also are large selections of valances and wide tapes to complement the customer's decorating tastes.
Remember, in most cases it is not necessary to start out with a huge inventory, especially for a small retail fabricator. The old 80/20 rule still holds true: 80 percent of your sales come out of 20 percent of your colors. A good rule is to carry the most common colors in inventory for your own fabrication and continue ordering finished blinds from your suppliers in the colors you rarely sell.
You can purchase slats and headrails in quantities ranging from a single box up to pallet loads, but there is another option to consider. Some companies offer a program in which you can purchase pre-cut and punched slats and headrails made to your measurements and shipped to you as a kit you assemble. This program affords you the opportunity to build volume and provide a custom product while avoiding the expense of carrying a large inventory. Such a program will be available from LTL International Inc. in the very near future.
To begin fabrication you will have to purchase equipment. Your volume, available space and materials will help with that decision. If you are just starting out, you need some basics:
• A machine to cut and punch headrails
• A machine to punch the slats
• A saw to cut the slats
• A drill press
• Several tables
• Lift racks for assembly
• Storage racks for inventory.
LTL International provides a full line of equipment for two-inch horizontals starting with manual slat and headrail punching equipment for a start-up retail fabricator up to fully automatic machines for the higher volume a wholesale fabricator requires. All of LTL's slat punching machines are modular and are easily up-graded, so the equipment can grow as the fabricator's volume increases.
Knowing how to build a blind is also important. For a large wholesale fabricator this may not be an issue, but for the retail fabricator just starting out, it is. LTL International provides the training to use its equipment efficiently and also offers free seminars in its Dallas, TX, home office designed to help retailers gain a complete understanding of how to build blinds, how to lay out the shop and how to get the most out of the production facility.
Part two of this series takes a look at how to get started in two-inch horizontal fabrication including machinery selection, tools, space and other items.
Alan Katz is western U.S. sales and service representative for LTL International Inc., Dallas, TX, (800) 533-3371.