Tim Secker, vice president, Fabrication Division: LouverDrape was founded in 1937 as a manufacturer of Venetian blinds and, in 1948, the company invented the first vertical blind. Known throughout the industry for its premium vertical blinds, LouverDrape also produces cellular and pleated shades and horizontal blinds.
Primarily a product for commercial design use, vertical blinds made a successful move into the residential market in the early 1970s. The success of vertical blinds in the mid-70s brought about the concept of localized fabrication, and LouverDrape created a nationwide fabricator network that pioneered the two-step distribution system. Rather than fully assemble complete products to order at limited manufacturer-owned locations, the fabrication concept provided components that could be assembled by locally owned entrepreneurs who would market, sell and service the brand to best suit local demands.
Due to the growth of the industry and the value of the distributor, the fabricator concept has further evolved into our recent creation of the Levolor Home Fashions Fabricator and Distributor Division.
D&WC: How is your sales force organized?
Secker: With our network of fabricator and distributor partners, we undoubtedly have one of the largest and most efficient forces in the industry representing our brands.
Levolor Home Fashions has dedicated a sales force and merchandising support for its fabricator and distributor partners. The company is committed to the further evolution and growth of this distribution channel.
Because of the power of LHF to provide the fundamentals of all our product lines to these local fabricators/distributors, our partners’ opportunity for growth is unlimited.
D&WC: How has your segment of the industry changed since you first began?
Donald McIlnay, president of Levolor Home Fashions: The fabricator concept has increased quite considerably since its beginnings in the mid-1970s, and LouverDrape traditionally has been the foundation of our fabricator product lines. As a result of creating our Fabricator/Distributor Division, the combination of these two channels allows us to expand our focus to the distributor as well with an offering of Levolor distributed products.
We recently completed a systems conversion to Newell’s state-of-the-art operations and order processing system. This advancement to a level of world-class operations has greatly improved our customer service performance in terms of speed, accuracy and efficiency, making the experience much easier and faster for the customer.
An exciting addition to our merchandising will be the introduction of LHF Custom Express. Custom Express brings technology to the point of sale by assisting the sales associate and customer through the process of ordering a custom window covering error-free. This addition, linked with the accessibility created by the local fabricator and distributor, makes a magical combination.
D&WC: Where do you see yourself and your company five years from now? What additional areas within the industry would you like to get involved in?
McIlnay: We are now just at the beginning of the evolution of this new distribution channel. The addition of the fabricator and distributor division will contribute to the widest part of the consumer population by providing our products on a local basis.
The growth of this segment of the market is due, in part, to the nature of the product (it is a custom product that requires a certain amount of technological know-how) and we want to be a significant part of it. Because this channel will only continue to grow, our strategies are focused on serving it, which has put us ahead of everyone by five years. Our concentrated energies will continue to keep us at the top of this wave.
We have established the leading edge in both technical and customer service support by making the process user friendly for our fabricator and distributor partners. Other significant parties within the industry tend to be moving away from this great opportunity.
D&WC: What are some of the key factors involved in your growth and success?
McIlnay: Our focus on specific channel dedication and greater customer service support will add to our survival and growth. We are fortunate to have as strong a parent company as Newell to create this pattern and system of growth and success by which we are influenced.
The magnitude of our recent systems conversion cannot be overstated. This was a major undertaking that involved combining four companies, cultures and organizations into one company with four brands dedicated to maximizing profit and growth in its sector.
Our direction from the beginning has been very clear, and our fabricator/distributor network is a solid foundation for this channel to move forward. We have recognized the fabricator/distributor channel as the largest class of trade dedicated to this business. We have focused the resources of our company through these specific business units to take advantage of this opportunity.
D&WC: What trends and cycles do you see occurring in the industry? How is your business addressing them?
McIlnay: What we have seen in retail is the resurgence of super stores offering a mass selection of products. In the 1970s, hardware was big; department stores in the 1980s; and office super stores in the 1990s. We, too, can represent all things to all customers, and our fabricator/distributor channel is the means of doing business in this realm.
The retail layout at this point includes large retail national chains, boutiques and major independent retailers. If done correctly, there is no better way to serve the boutique retailer than through the fabricator. Boutique retailers are not disappearing, instead they are reinventing themselves and flourishing. We, too, are changing to serve this retail reinvention.
When decorating, the average customer wants to know he or she is making the right decision. The customer can get this reassurance much better with a boutique retailer who can provide more efficient service.
D&WC: What distinguishes you from the competition?
McIlnay: We fully recognize the importance of supporting this business through the end of the century and beyond. We have created a distribution channel and a culture that already are ahead of the curve.
The persona of Levolor Home Fashions is that we are core specific -- we have brought together companies that represent their industries. For example, LouverDrape is verticals; Levolor is horizontals; Del Mar is woven woods, and Joanna is roller shades. This combination gives us full-line expertise to provide consumers with the best product and innovation. No other company within the industry has this advantage of core line representation.
We also have a tremendous resource in our parent company, Newell, which provides financial horsepower and holds management expertise in transitional markets like ours. No business could have gone through such a monumental process as our systems conversion without this strong backing and management expertise and pull off the project successfully.
D&WC: Do you educate your customers?
Secker: Due to our great fabricator and distributor network there always are presentations on LHF product being conducted by our own sales force or our fabricator/distributor partners.
For the future, we plan support materials targeting product application and instructional how-to’s to be offered in conduction with price lists that serve our customer base as well as consumers.
LouverDrape, a brand of Levolor Home Fashions
4110 Premier Dr.
High Point, NC 27265
Fax: (910) 881-5700
Manufacturer of custom vertical blinds, cellular and pleated shades and mini-blinds.