D&WC: Please give a detailed
description of your company and its history.
Alan Gitkin: Gulfcoast International Products, Inc. is a manufacturer and importer of faux wood shutters and allied products. The company was founded in 1998 and is owned and actively managed by my wife, Cynthia, and me. We've spent a lifetime in the window treatments industry. I worked for Jencraft Corp. for 20 years in various executive capacities and later became president and CEO of National Forest Products, which owned Flair-Fold and Kaywood Shutter companies.
Initially, Gulfcoast International was founded as an importer of ready-made faux wood shutters. In 2001, we built a factory in the United States to augment our ready-made sizes and to manufacture custom faux wood shutters. With the opening of our custom factory, we introduced Slimline™, the custom shutter that fits the customer's window and budget.
Cynthia and I manage the company from the executive office and factory in Naples, FL. We also maintain our national ready-made distribution center in Brentwood, NY.
D&WC: Who are your customers? What parts of the country do you service?
Gitkin: Our marketplace is nationwide. We can ship as small an order as one shutter set to any location in the continental United States within three days of receipt of order. We try to serve a very wide range of customers spanning the entire gamut of retail stores, catalog companies, decorators and small dealers.
We service our customers through manufacturer's sales reps and retail store service companies, and we're always looking for good sales reps in markets and segments of the industry that we do not serve.
D&WC: What best describes your niche in the marketplace?
Gitkin: Certainly, our major niche is ready-made shutters and, in particular, faux wood as a raw material. When we introduced faux wood into the ready-made shutter category, it represented a dramatic change to that segment of the industry. Almost instantly the selling prices dropped and quality skyrocketed. That's a potential formula for a home run. We moved manufacturing from the United States to Asia and were, of course, able to take advantage of the efficiencies of their labor costs.
Faux wood as a raw material has proven to be incredibly better than wood. Over the last 30 years, we were never really able to overcome the disadvantages of ready-made pine shutters. Over time they warped, yellowed and the staples always fell out. With faux wood we've had none of those problems. Our defective and customer return rate dropped a whopping 17 points from 20 percent to under three percent. We like to say that we're not only selling shutters, but they're staying in the consumers' homes. One of our major customers said its best: “Faux wood is really better than wood.”
Another major niche is our line of 1 1/4-inch traditional louver shutters. We really specialize in the category and at prices that are equivalent to those of 20 years ago.
GULFCOAST INTERNATIONAL PRODUCTS, INC.
5400 Jaeger Rd.
Naples, FL 34109
Fax: (941) 514-1623
D&WC: What are your strengths in the marketplace?
Gitkin: We stock more than 110 SKUs of ready-made shutters in our distribution center, and we ship to our customers or directly to their consumer's home within three days of receipt of orders. And, over the past four years, we're proud to have shipped within that three-day time period with a 99 percent fill rate.
But no matter how many ready-made sizes you carry, you could never cover every window size requirement. Our real strength as a company is our ability to augment our ready-made sizes with custom shutters shipped within 10 days from receipt of order. This gives the consumer the ability to purchase, for example, shutters for four out of their five windows through our ready-made sizes and then utilize our custom program for that one odd size window. The consumer gets the advantage of the lower pricing of stock shutters and our customers don't lose the sale because we couldn't cover that last window.
D&WC: What are some of the key factors involved in your growth and success?
Gitkin: To be successful in today's incredibly competitive marketplace you certainly need the right products, the right pricing and the best quality levels along with super performance. Those factors are givens. But, in addition to all of those things, we believe our key to success is based on people and customer service. As an example, Andy Gonzalez, our vice president of customer service, has spent 30 years in our segment of the industry. When he talks to our customers, he brings an instant credibility to the conversation. We're more than willing to spend 30 minutes on the telephone with a consumer discussing his or her particular window requirements. In 2002, that's the kind of service you have to offer in order to be successful. Having the right products and pricing is not enough by a long shot.
D&WC: Do you offer any products other than window coverings?
Gitkin: Yes, we do. We've leveraged our management's experience in the home improvement and home decorating markets along with the success of faux wood. We're now successfully selling a line of faux wood bi-fold doors. This spring, we'll introduce an exciting line of faux wood floor screens and room dividers.