Ever wonder what one million yards of fabric looks like? Abe Reichbach would love to show you around Summerdale Mills Fabric & Home Decorating Center so you can see for yourself. But don’t stop with the 7,000-square-foot showroom; check out the workroom with 15 sewers and upholsterers, the custom furniture workshop and the backroom where the inventory is kept. If Reichbach can’t get you excited about fabrics, home decorating and custom window fashions, he’ll at least get you laughing. If not, then you’re just beyond help!
Abe is a second-generation Reichbach in this business, which dates
back to 1834 when Summerdale Mills was known for weaving and finishing
textiles for the U.S. military. When his parents took it over in
the 1960s, it was a mill outlet selling remnants direct to the public.
But when Abe took over in the 1980s he began changing all that,
making Summerdale Mills into the largest fabric, custom window treatments
and home decorating store in Philadelphia, PA—perhaps the tri-state
Even before his parents retired, Abe began changing things, first
by bringing home decorating into the store. “It was difficult
because my parents were old fashioned. They didn’t want to
go in that direction. When they retired, I was very lucky because
I was free and on my own and could do whatever I wanted to do and
that’s when I changed the whole trend around,” he says.
“I didn’t buy anything because of price. I started to
buy everything because of the trends, because of what I believed
was the right product. I started to go to shows—Heimtextil,
Decosit—because I carry textiles I go to all these shows and
I see what’s going on and I bring back the trends I believe
“A man said to me, ‘Always go into a business where merchandise
does not spoil and doesn’t smell.’ I always remembered
those words,” he laughs.
“I love fabric. I’ve been in so many areas of it from
manufacturing to selling. I’ve always liked everything about
it. I really loved learning about the different yarns . . . I’ve
always enjoyed the textile part of it . . . the colors, everything.
It’s clean. It’s nice.”
PRIDE AND GOOD BUSINESS
There is more behind Summerdale Mills’ success than just being
large. It begins will full service and offering everything from
start to finish. “I never say no,” Reichbach admits.
Soon after Summerdale began offering decorative fabrics customers
would ask for recommendations on where to take it to have draperies
made or reupholstering done. “Then we decided we should do
it ourselves,” Reichbach says. “That’s when we began
to offer 100 percent services to the customer consisting of designing,
measuring, producing the draperies and installing them.”
That’s also when Summerdale Mills began growing to its current
staff of 40 employees, which includes eight salespeople for the
showroom, two shop-at-home salespeople, 15 sewers in the workroom,
four full-time installers and two people for all the measuring.
The staff also includes a delivery team that spends the day picking
up and delivering furniture.
With this kind of staff, you can see why Reichbach has difficulty
turning down projects. He tells about a time during the Gulf War
that they worked on a banner that went aboard one of the U.S. Navy
ships and was about 80 by 100 feet. “It was huge. When we had
to sew it, do you know how many people we needed to handle that?
It was so heavy, but we did it.”
Everything we do is custom,” Reichbach continues. “We
make draperies, reupholster furniture, make custom upholstered furniture,
slipcovers and we sell all hard window treatments.
“We do not have one product or another that stands out, but
draperies would be the highest volume product; second would be fabric,
then upholstery and hard window products and custom furniture.”
As a matter of pride and good business Summerdale Mills stands behind
everything it does. “I thrive on good service,” Reichbach
says and offers this story:
“A customer called and said that we made custom draperies for
her. She took them to have them dry cleaned. The dry cleaner ruined
the drapery and told the customer it was because the drapery did
not have cleaning instructions and she should go back to the people
who made them. She called and asked for me, and as I was talking
to her I decided to look in the computer. I could not find her name
and asked her what year her draperies were made. She told me 1975.
This was in 1996! I sent a person out to remeasure and made the
customer brand new draperies at no charge.
“This is one story,” Reichbach explains. “I can tell
you a lot of them like that. We sell a lot of foam cushions, and
some people will come in five years later with the cushion and say
it’s getting softer. We just change it. It’s not worth
it to fight with them.”
What Abe Reichbach has been able to do with Summerdale Mills is
to differentiate it from all competitors. He has done this not only
through the breadth of products and services he offers, but also
in the specific selection of what he carries and by concentrating
“Hard window treatments, to me, are offered more as an accommodation
to the customer,” he says. “When you go to selling hard
window treatments you probably have competition. Everybody can sell
a hard window treatment. There’s little difference between
me and the next guy on a hard window treatment. Maybe I’ll
give you better service, but that’s about it.
“We do sell a lot of hard window treatments, but I try to diversify
on that end . . . like go more toward wood blinds, shutters, vertical
sheer treatments. I try to be a little bit different in that respect.”
Reichbach tries to create his own versions of many of the most popular
hard treatments, particularly those that combine the benefits of
a vertical or horizontal slat with sheer fabric. For example, he
will offer customers a sheer panel combined with some sort of shading
behind it to give customers the same function and feel but with
a bit more elegance.
Some of the most popular designs offered through Summerdale Mills’
workroom involve swags and top treatments—designs with lots
of options that easily can go from simple to ornate. And, more to
the point, each one can be unique. Reichbach’s workroom has
created many of its own patterns each of which can be customized
for individual treatments through trimmings or the addition of jabots,
Cornices are another custom treatment that can be unique for each
customer—especially upholstered cornices, which can be multi-layered
for added depth, multi-dimensional by being cut to various sizes
and accessorized with trimmings, buttons, pleats, you name it. On
display in the showroom this month, Reichbach has a cornice that
uses billiard cues, a rack and billiard balls that was done for
a game room.
“I try to look for products where we have no competition—like
custom furniture. How many people want to do that?” Reichbach
asks. Using in-stock fabrics, which he can buy direct from the mill,
Summerdale Mills can offer custom furniture at a good price.
Keeping up with the latest fabrics, styles and colors demands change—changing
your inventory, but just as important, changing your displays to
keep them fresh and exciting. Reichbach is a firm believer in the
visual stimulation of his showroom as an excellent sales tool.
“If you stand in the store, at least four or five times a day
you’ll hear, ‘Your stuff is absolutely beautiful,’”
he says. “I’ve learned throughout the years that for fabric
and designs you need to change. If I have fabric that doesn’t
move throughout the year, I’ll sell it at almost any price
just to move it out and bring new in. I change my inventory. I hate
to sit on inventory.
“The same thing with displays. This time of year I put all
my displays on sale and sell them for the cost of the fabric. I
move them out, change them, put new stuff up, new colors, new everything.”
The most common design theme Reichbach sees from most of his customers
is casual elegance. “It depends on the room. A lot of customers
still want the bullion fringe and jewelry looks, but a lot of customers—especially
younger customers—want things very casual . . . almost no fullness.
Something simple, but elegant.”
He sees pinch pleating coming back strong, “And its not only
the pinch pleats, it’s the goblet pleats and the Ripplefold,”
he says. Sliding panels are the up-and-coming design trend, Reichbach
notes. “The reason people like them is because they are flat;
it’s a casual look.” They even can be used as room dividers
in many of the urban studio apartments, he adds.
Reichbach is very much involved in the day-to-day business. “My
responsibilities are to make sure that all customers are 100 percent
satisfied with our service. I am hands-on whatever needs to be done,”
He personally attends the larger and more difficult jobs such as
stage curtains. He particularly enjoys working on motorized stage
curtains, which in one case meant climbing 80 feet off the floor
and edging along catwalks to run the cables. The tracks, he explains,
have to be suspended on cables so that they move when the curtains
sway. Otherwise the momentum could pull everything down. “That
was very exciting. I really enjoyed it,” he says.
Other contract accounts have included area hotels and motels, and
Reichbach recently worked on 360 windows for a nearby convent. But
as the business has grown, so too has Summerdale Mills’ market.
“We’re starting to get a lot of business from the Princeton
[NJ] area, which is very close to New York,” he says. “The
area that we are in is very good because we’re only about 85
miles from New York and about 50 miles from Atlantic City. Once
in a while we do a customer in Washington, DC, and Maryland. First
of all we have the manpower and, today, the world is getting smaller.”
Perhaps that’s why Reichbach is so intent on customer service—to
putting some personal touches back into business. He believes a
good salesperson needs to be a listener. “You shouldn’t
have to sell anything if you believe in it. Just listen to what
the customers’ needs are.”
Above all, Reichbach remains enthusiastic—about his business,
about helping customers, about life. “I love it every day,”
he says. “Do you know what I hate the most? Sitting in my office.
I love to be with the customers. That’s probably the biggest
enjoyment for me when I’m here. When I’m downstairs with
a customer, I really enjoy it.
“I’m never serious with a customer. I always make them
feel comfortable. I don’t try to sell them. Many times a customer
tells me, ‘You’re getting very excited. You’re more
excited than I am!’ And I do get excited. And when you’re
finished and you can see the final product, you feel good.”