D&WC: Please give a detailed description of your company and its history.
WILLIAM O’CONNOR, PRESIDENT: The history of B&W Mfg. is
the history of the Perkowitz family in the window coverings business
and goes back more than 100 years.
In 1891, Joseph Perkowitz Sr., a trained craftsman and new immigrant to this
country, opened the family’s first window coverings store. Joseph was joined
by his son, William, in the 1940s. William started producing woven woods under
the name William Perkowitz Designs in the 1970s. Today William, his wife Barbara,
two sons David and Thomas and myself continue the rich family tradition as B&W
With three production facilities in northern Illinois and hundreds of employees,
B&W Mfg. is one of the nation’s leading manufacturers of natural shades.
D&WC: What window coverings products did you handle initially? What products
do you handle today?
O’CONNOR: The family has produced many of the day’s popular window
fashions over the last 112 years starting with roller shades before 1900, horizontal
blinds in the 1940s, shutters in the 1960s, woven woods in the 1970s and vertical
blinds in the 1980s.
Today, B&W Mfg. specializes in high fashion, designer niche window fashions.
We want to be known as “Your Source for Unique Window Fashions.” The
company’s flagship line is Horizons™ Natural Shades. It is an extensive
line of Roman-fold shades woven in over 100 patterns from exotic materials from
all over the world. We’ve also recently added Horizons Shades of Elegance™,
a distinct line of fabric roller and Roman shades.
D&WC: Is your business computerized? Do you have a company Web site,
how is it used to communicate with customers?
O’CONNOR: Our Web site is www.horizonshades.com. It is an information
site. Anyone can visit and view product photo galleries, learn information about
our company and product lines, and read the latest updates.
Retail customers can put in their ZIP codes and find a dealer in their area.
D&WC: Who are your customers? What parts of the country do you service?
O’CONNOR: Most of B&W’s customers are independent decorators
and design firms as well as other window fashions retail professionals.
Despite their current resurgence in popularity, natural shades will never be
a mass-market product like mini-blinds. Natural shades are something special
and unique that decorators like to use to give a home that special look. We have
customers in every state as well as some international customers.
D&WC: How many salespeople do you employ?
O’CONNOR: B&W Mfg. does not have any salespeople. Our product, sample
books and support are available directly from our customer service department.
Not having an expensive sales force is just one more way to keep our prices low.
In a way, I think it also makes for a more educated customer.
Anyone buying from B&W Mfg. has sought us out. They’ve been given a
personal recommendation or found out about us through the grapevine and really
had the time to check us out. They’ll never have a pushy salesperson come
knocking on their door and try to talk them into something.
D&WC: Do you work through distributors or sell direct to the retailer?
O’CONNOR: B&W Mfg. sells direct to retail stores and decorators. The
elimination of two big links in the price markup chain (distributors and sales
commissions) allows us to keep our prices down.
D&WC: How has your segment of the industry changed since you first
O’CONNOR: I think everyone in the industry remembers the type of woven
woods that were popular in the 1970s—loud colored yarns and heavy weaves.
Today, we call the product Natural Shades; a name that evolved as the types of
weaves changed. Today, there are no more yarns. The weaving cords are made to
blend in with the natural materials that they bind.
In addition to woods like ramen and arakaria, the patterns are made from other,
more exotic materials like bamboo, jute, reeds, grasses and raffia that give
the product a much more natural and organic feel.
D&WC: Where do you see yourself and your company five years from
now? Are there additional areas within the industry that you would like to get
O’CONNOR: Nobody is as aware of the cyclical nature of the window fashions
industry as a company with over 100 years of experience. Today’s hot product
can very easily be tomorrow’s dog. Five or more years from now, you can
expect to see B&W Mfg. producing unique, niche window fashions aimed to please
the designer market.
D&WC: What best describes your niche in the marketplace?
O’CONNOR: Actually, niche is a very good word to describe B&W Mfg.’s
place in the market. We don’t try to be all things for all people. We don’t
make mini-blinds, vertical blinds, cellular shades or any of the other mass-appeal
products that flood the market. B&W makes two unique, specialty window fashions
lines: Horizons Natural Shade and Horizons Shades of Elegance.
We strive to have better variety, quality and marketing than anyone else with
our own little niche of the window fashions’ market. We also have one fair
discount for everyone, so our customers don’t have to worry about a larger
retail competitor getting a better discount and out pricing them.
D&WC: What are some of the key factors involved in your growth and
O’CONNOR: The old idea that success is one percent luck and creativity
and 99 percent hard work probably applies to B&W Mfg. You could be fortunate
to have the best product in the works, but without the right marketing, customer
service and production, no one is going to know about it.
D&WC: What are your strengths in the marketplace?
O’CONNOR: First and foremost, B&W Mfg. has a solid base: great products,
friendly customer service, strong distribution system and sound management. Beyond
that is magic.
It’s difficult to explain, but one of our major strengths is a secret network
of retailers. With the Internet, I think that retailers are talking to each other
more than ever before. A retailer who might be cautious of talking to a competitor
across the street will have no problem bragging about his secrets to a retailer
in another state. To many retailers, B&W Mfg. is their own personal secret
source for natural shades. They love our product and love our sample books. Now
with this amazing, long-distance communication system, designers and retailers
are sharing their experiences.
B&W Mfg. does some unique things that most people would not expect from a
company our size. With most manufacturers, when you ask to see their price list,
you are presented with a little black and white booklet of price grids. We have
our “Retail Product and Pricing Guide,” a beautiful 66-page guide
to our products. It has full-color, room-setting pictures and organized answers
to all of your technical questions.
D&WC: What trends and cycles do you see occurring in the industry? How is
your business addressing them?
O’CONNOR: Every window fashions category has a lifetime. Ask the person
who was selling pleated shades and vertical blinds 10 years ago and thought that
those products would be the top sellers forever. All of the fancy advertising
in the world will not make a consumer buy a product that they really don’t
want. At B&W Mfg. we are constantly keeping our eyes open for that next unique
window fashion that people do want.
D&WC: What distinguishes you from the competition?
O’CONNOR: To some people it might sound like a minor point, but we are
especially proud of our sample books and sample policy. For example, our Horizons
Natural Shades are displayed in an easy-to-carry two book set. It has 114 big
eight- by 11-inch samples that really let your customers see the pattern and
picture it on their windows.
Other manufacturers would charge hundreds of dollars for a sample set like this.
But we want our customers to have our sample books. The more retailers who have
our book, the more opportunity there is to sell the shades. That’s why
we sell for an amazingly low price—and even that is fully rebatable!
263 Ambrogio Dr.
Gurnee, IL 60031
fax: (800) 858-8556