As part of Draperies & Window Coverings' 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 pending entrance of stock blinds into the colorful mini-blind market raises this question: What will business look like five years from now? The answer concerns 45,000 retail outlets catering to homemakers, 30,000 interior designers and decorators, independent assembly plants and the multitude of people employed in this chain of distribution.
To foresee, with some certainty, where we might end up, let's see where we have been.
In the heyday of the old two-inch blind business (the mid 1950s), this country produced 50 million blinds yearly with 60 percent stock and 40 percent custom work.
The public turned its back on that product, and in the early '70s, the number had dwindled to one million blinds. The explanation rationalized was that people got tired of cleaning them. But the strong underlying motivation was the demand for fashion, colors, integrated decoration and space for expression of individual preferences.
The European one-inch blind, with a color display of 100 variations, has been a steadily growing American market. Since the mid '70s there have been yearly sales increases of 35 percent, as consumer acceptance has become consumer demand.
Mini-blinds led the march of the alternate window treatment. Once commanding only 15 percent of the total window covering market, that group now represents close to 40 percent of the homemakers' choices. And the march is going on.
Yet, this year, there has been only a combined production of 10 million blinds. A far cry from the '50s.
So what coverings will hang in the windows of the future? We believe that the use of mini-blinds will continue to grow because of the following factors:
1. There is no other window treatment that combines so many utilitarian consumer benefits, yet looks attractive.
2. Dollar for dollar, and by the square foot, mini-blinds are the best buy for the money.
3. Home decoration is less susceptible to recession than a number of other industries competing for discretionary spending power, since people are apt to spend less on changing residences, travel and dining out.
4. Blinds only have scratched the surface of a market of 500 million residential windows in this country.
Stock blinds, no doubt, will make their contribution to this growth inasmuch as they will open new layers of distribution among lower income groups—a generic exposure of the product that will widen its acceptability.
Since the color choice of stock must stay quite limited, a new basis will be created to trade upwards toward custom blinds. Both lines will cross-fertilize each other and the total effect will be synergistic.
But more important than all this is the huge sales force making a living by in-house selling, the discriminatory buyer who wants her house to look different, the tens of thousands of specialty store dealers and decorators acting as consultants to the consumers who want to re-do their interiors—these people, a virtual army, are custom people. Be it carpets, furniture, paint, draperies, blinds (horizontal or vertical), in this day and age, home decoration is the strongest vestige to express one's personality.
And last—but not least—the window treatment business always has been a stronghold of the American independent businessman. For the entrepreneur who wants to define his own destiny, no field is better suited. To assume that integrated custom work for the home, blinds among them, will stop growing—that the thousands and thousands of its promoters and sellers will roll over and play dead—means denying the grass roots in this country on which our individualism thrives.
We at Hunter Douglas—makers of Flexalum—are gearing up for consistent growth of the custom sector in the window coverings field.
Francis S. Dammers, vice president, director, Hunter Douglas, Inc.