By the end of this month, a new line of window treatments will be available to consumers: Kathy Ireland Home by Alta. It sounds simple enough—Alta Window Solution Specialists, Los Angeles, CA, is rebranding and taking on a line of products carrying the name of a famous former supermodel.
On the contrary, that’s not at all what it is. What is happening
is that Alta has become the exclusive hard window treatment manufacturer
and newest brand division for Kathy Ireland Home, part of Kathy
Ireland Worldwide, a group of manufacturers whose products extend
throughout the house from apparel to fine jewelry, carpeting, lighting,
furniture, tabletop and accessories and even from house to house
through television network and cable media partners.
What this could mean for the window coverings industry is a new
way to brand and market products. It’s a package deal. The
manufacturer brings its expertise in fabricating products along
with its distribution channels. The brand partner brings product
direction, an instantly recognizable image—along with its associated
quality and style—and the capability of delivering a sought-after
consumer segment. It’s not cheap, but neither is achieving
the same reception and conveying the same message to consumers on
What this means for Alta is a complete change. “We’re
changing our products over. We are adding new features and styles,
we’re adding new color palettes and really converting our entire
program over to fit within the Kathy Ireland Home brand environment,”
says Lynn Ranger, Alta’s vice president of marketing.
“We had initially thought we would put together a collection,
but we believed in the brand and the relationship so much that we’ve
decided to convert our entire company over to Kathy Ireland Home
by Alta. That will be our new name.”
Seeking input from well-known outside sources is not new to this
industry. Kirsch is a good example. In 1999, Kirsch entered into
a licensing agreement with noted designer Raymond Waites for a collection
of decorative rods, finials and accessories (see D&WC, March
1999, page 14). Since then, the company has produced two Raymond
Waites lines: The Vintage Collection, primarily resin and wood,
and the Jewels of the Crown collection, which is cord-wrapped.
In 2002, at the International Window Cover-ings Expo in Baltimore,
MD, Kirsch unveiled a similar relationship with international designer
Clodagh, noted for enduring designs founded in lasting materials
and sensual satisfaction.
Similarly this year, Oxford House announced a partnership with designer
Missy Blaine to create a custom collection of window treatments
and accessories that will be marketed as the M. Blaine Custom Collection
(see page 16). Blaine’s collection for Oxford House will include
swags, valances, cornices, fitted bedspreads, duvet covers, designer
pillows and more.
Partnerships have also found their way into the retail end of the
business. About a year ago, multi-state window coverings dealer
3 Day Blinds, Anaheim, CA, began a relationship with decorator Christopher
Lowell (see D&WC, July 2002, page 10). Lowell is an author and
hosts the Emmy™ Award winning “The Christopher Lowell
Show” broadcast on the Discovery Channel.
Like Ireland, Lowell has partnered with several manufacturers to
create an exhaustive line of products including furniture, paint
and his Home Collection through Burlington Coat Factory that runs
from bedding, pillows, bath and accessories to luggage.
What Lowell brings to 3 Day Blind’s Christopher Lowell Collection
is a line of quality, “stress-free, pre-coordinated” window
treatment solutions for the home as well as a national television
audience. Fashion and value is the promise, and to make selection
easier for the consumer the line is broken down into four lifestyles:
Town, Country, City and Shore. The idea is for homeowners to visualize
where they dream of living, then choose from wood blinds, honeycomb
shades, mini-blinds and sheer vertical blinds grouped by lifestyle.
This partnership began by seeking to fulfill a perceived need. “We
believed there was a vacuum in the industry for a very high-end,
coordinated, properly branded collection, and we began the search
for a partner to bring this to market,” says Jim Buch, 3 Day
Blinds’ CEO. “At the end of the day it came down to Christopher:
his credibility, his expertise, his exposure and the growth he was
Over the past year the results have been exceptional. “We couldn’t
be more pleased,” says Buch. “It is tremendously over-performing
projections and our expectations through all of the channels that
we manufacture and distribute this product—through our showrooms,
our shop-at-home sales force as well as through e-commerce.”
Lowell says his collection reaches two markets: do-it-yourself homeowners
and designers. “We were also looking to pre-coordinate [window
treatment selections] for the designer and make [the collection]
a real designer tool rather than an afterthought in designing a
room,” he explains.
“The first thing we had to do was find a company that understood
this industry and would deliver that in-home component, which is
an extension of our branded personality,” he adds.
Right down to the delivery of the product the interaction is special.
3 Day Blinds’ packaging for the Christopher Lowell Collection
has more in common with gift wrapping, including tissue paper sealed
with the Christopher Lowell logo and a personal note from Lowell.
This special attention indicates how deeply this partnership goes.
“Branding is about taking something common and ordinary and
bringing to it an emotional bridge that the consumer identifies
with and have the feelings last for a long time,” Buch says.
“Christopher has built this bridge for many years, and our
vertical integration and service allow us to make sure these feelings
are carried through the entire cycle of experience the consumer
Some eight years ago, Midwest retailer Eddie Z’s Blinds &
Draperies signed actress Mariette Hartley to do their television
commercials. People know Hartley from her many television roles.
Eddie Z’s relationship with Hartley falls into the category
of a traditional celebrity endorsement. As the company has grown
and expanded into the Midwest’s largest markets (Chicago, IL,
and Milwaukee, WI) Hartley has been retained exclusively and now
appears in all of the company’s advertising including print
While Hartley’s image and voice are familiar to consumers,
she also brings something extra to the company’s marketing:
believability. Eddie Z’s Jim Zakor explains the company consumer-tested
several spokespersons using female audiences before signing Hartley.
In the end, Hartley rated “very high in testing in terms of
our customers thinking she would be a good representative for the
company,” says Zakor. “You have to find someone who is
credible for the product—do they match that product, would
they use that product? You have to do testing to find that out.
It’s what the customer thinks.” He adds, “You have
to use somebody who appeals to your customer.”
Customer appeal was an important factor in bringing Alta and Kathy
Ireland Worldwide together. “The fit was absolutely amazing,”
says Ranger. “And it’s so much more than just a brand
name. Ireland truly is a lifestyle designer and she really gets
involved hands-on. She will be working with us in product development,
in setting design and style trends. Along with her other brand partners
she has put together a package that is perfect for our consumer
base. Our consumer base is essentially her consumer base. The consumer
we want to attract is the consumer who is busy, that wants a value-priced
product but wants a quality product and wants it backed by a brand
name that they know and trust.”
Alta’s new product lines will rollout in three phases beginning
the end of this month. The first phase will include honeycomb and
pleated shades, wood blinds, faux wood cornices, a new line of roller
shades and vinyl shutter arches. “Why we’re rolling them
out in phases is that, obviously, we’re working with Kathy
Ireland’s group on design and color and incorporating the trends
that she and her group have identified into our product development,”
“This is very much a partnership, and she just happens to be
well-known. It’s not so much an endorsement as it is a partnership,
and they’re really bringing valuable input in design and trends
MORE THAN A PRETTY FACE
What is essentially different and vital to the relationship between
Alta and Kathy Ireland Worldwide is the “valuable input”
Ireland brings. Most widely known and recognized from her modeling
career, Ireland began her company 10 years ago with the mission
of “finding solutions for families, especially busy moms.”
In that time, Ireland has built her company to more than 1,800 products
that carry her design philosophy, trend direction and coordinating
color palettes. Her Home Collection is highly acclaimed and honored,
and includes the Good Housekeeping Seal. Her entrepreneurial efforts
have been recognized by the National Association of Women Business
Owners and the National Association of Business Leaders.
These credentials are important because they speak to the character
of the person or people involved. As Eddie Z’s Zakor reminds
us, partnering with a well-known person is a double-edged sword.
A “celebrity” is always in the limelight and always draws
a lot of attention, which is exactly what you want—until something
goes wrong. “It’s dangerous because if they do something
that tarnishes their image and people frown on them for that, it’s
going to be a negative for your company,” Zakor says. Can anyone
say, “Martha Stewart”?
Ranger says with Ireland, these concerns were quickly laid to rest.
“There certainly is a risk, and it’s one we considered
heavily, but had virtually no concern at all about Kathy Ireland
because she is such a good person. If you talk to anybody in the
apparel market, her past modeling career, in the home furnishings
industry, no one has a negative thing to say about her. She is a
good person with good values, she has a deep religious belief and
we just had no concern about her.”
What’s more, Ireland, herself a “busy mom,” identifies
with her market while making no pretense to doing it all herself.
“She won’t go out and build a fence and bake a pie and
plant a garden and profess to know absolutely everything about all
of that,” says Ranger. “She has partnered with venders
who she believes are experts in their fields—at that value-priced,
quality product level—to have them be the experts and she can
share them with her customers. She will work with us and help us
and steer us as far as design, trends, color palettes and topics
her consumers are interested in and concerned with.”
NEW WORLD OF OPPORTUNITY
Alta began talking with Kathy Ireland Worldwide two years ago as
Alta was expanding nationally. “We really wanted an image and
a style that was more updated, more 21st-century, more cutting-edge.
We wanted something that we could really take and translate to the
consumer level. We are a value-priced company, that’s what
our foundation is, and we found that in order to get that message
out to the consumer you need to have big budgets and do consumer
advertising. We were never going to achieve that on our own,”
Kathy Ireland Worldwide was an attractive partner first because
the demographics were such a perfect match and second because of
Ireland’s other partners. “She has cultivated a group
of vender partners that really have synergistic qualities so we
can all work together and help each other with her overseeing it
all,” Ranger explains. “We’re all talking now with
[Ireland] steering the direction.”
This is the part of the partnership that could have the most exciting
future possibilities. Think about a furniture manufacturer coordinating
its bedroom finishes with a wood blind manufacturer. Think about
an area rug manufacturer coordinating color palettes with a bedding
supplier and a pleated shade manufacturer. Think about all these
products featured together in a designer showroom.
And let’s not forget the bottom line. “When we talked
with the other vender partners, they were just so excited about
what the Kathy Ireland Home brand has brought to their businesses
they just can’t say enough great things about it,” Ranger
says. “Every single one of them has told us that their business
has grown a minimum of 20 percent and continues to grow.
“It’s really going to open up a whole new world of opportunity
from media exposure, but the biggest and most important part is
the instant brand recognition and consumer confidence and credibility
it will bring to us. Next, of course, are the other vender relationships
and the synergies we can create.”