The year ahead holds great potential for the window coverings industry. As the business climate continues strengthening and homeowner interest remains high for making their interiors personal, inviting and comfortable, dealers stand to build business as 2004 progresses.
A few prerequisites need to be met say this year’s panel of
top industry leaders. Dealers must not succumb to pricing pressures,
but sell the benefits and problem-solving aspects of custom treatments
and educate customers so they understand the value they are getting.
These efforts will be supported by manufacturers through top-quality,
innovative products, business-building programs and sales incentives.
STRENGTHENING THE MARKET
T. Brant O’Hair
O’Hair Shutters Ltd.
In 2003 several real wood shutter companies (including our own)
awakened to the reality that we must educate the consumer on the
benefits of real wood. These true benefits are credible but not
self evident to consumers, and so we must educate and promote.
In 2004, I expect to see more real wood shutter companies join and
strengthen the effort. This is timely as trends in shutter finishes
are beginning to show a resurgence in naturals (i.e., stains, washes).
The longstanding shift toward wider louvers will continue, as four-inch
louver spacing will increase in popularity. Parallel with wider
louver profiles is the call for wider and taller panel sizes. Look
for more shutter installations with one or two panels across the
window instead of two or four. Also, look for more full-height panels
without mid-rails for an uninterrupted view. Real wood shutter manufacturers
should thrive in this trend environment due to the greater strength-to-weight
ratio of real wood. So have a great shutter year in 2004 and get
THE GLOBAL DILEMMA
Caco Window Fashions, Inc.
It seems the prevailing trend pertaining to consumer purchases of
clothing, electronics and home products is not to buy American.
With the window coverings industry becoming more global, a real
dilemma has surfaced. Most companies struggling to compete are forced
to invest in some form of overseas program. Is this a good thing?
Probably not regarding the small picture.
Just like the textile and furniture industries, stock and custom
window coverings, as well as the raw materials, are being produced
in non-U.S. factories and in large numbers. The pressure to compete
does have a major effect on federal and state economies. Due to
attrition and industries moving production overseas, states such
as North Carolina now have unprecedented unemployment statistics.
In North Carolina alone they have more than 180,000 unemployed registered
unfortunately; manufacturing and middle-management jobs are not
easily replaced unless new industries move in.
The only balance for U.S. companies comes from their producing finished
products domestically. Raw materials from overseas are dominating
the North American market, but not necessarily with a totally damaging
effect. This does allow U.S. companies to offer a better value and
still remain profitable. Consequently, the American manufactures
have stepped up their quality while maintaining a level of competitiveness.
SPARK CONSUMERS’ IMAGINATIONS
B & W Mfg.
The uncertainty that many people were feeling at the end of last
year is still with us. It is affecting many sectors of retailing.
In these areas it is as if the economy has been put on hold. Studies
show people are staying home more. The trend is called “nesting”
and that has actually been very good for some parts of the window
fashions industry. We saw it last year and there’s every indication
that it will continue this year and on into the future.
The series of events is simple: the uncertainty is causing people
to spend more time at home. They want their homes to be warm, comforting
places. This leads them to choose soft, warm, comforting, even nostalgic
decorating themes. This is certainly reflected in the product mix
of the window fashions industry. Forget about “blinds”;
consumers are gravitating toward the softness of fabrics and the
natural beauty of woods.
B&W Mfg.’s main product, Horizons Natural Shades, fits
right in to this desire and we’re seeing it reflected in sales.
Another interesting trend can be seen on TV. In the last year there
has been a flood of new home improvement shows focusing on home
decorating. “Trading Spaces,” “While You Were Out,”
“Designer’s Challenge,” “New Spaces,” “This
Small Space,” “Designing for the Sexes,” “Before
and After,” “Weekend Warriors” and (my favorite)
“Monster House” are all showing people that there is more
to decorating than “off white.” They are encouraging people
to try new and bold things. Is it a coincidence that sales of ordinary
window treatments such as mini-blinds and vertical blinds have stagnated?
These shows are encouraging even the “average Joe and Mary”
to try bolder window fashions.
If you are reading this, you are probably looking for an answer
to the question of what’s going to be the hot selling products
in the window fashions industry this year. The simple trends outlined
above call for products that are warm and comforting, but also bold
and creative. I think growth will move to traditional, or variations
of traditional, fabric shades, draperies and toppers. Natural Shades,
woven woods if you will, will continue to grow strongly. Of course,
there’s also an opening for something new—a product that
will spark the imagination of today’s creative decorators.
THE IDEAL TREATMENT
Superior Roman Shades
At Superior Roman Shades we try to keep in touch with consumer tastes
and spot trends by maintaining a local retail outlet for designers
and consumers. This way, our decision makers are able to get firsthand
feedback from end users; this allows us to spot trends faster than
most large companies that have many layers between top management
and the consumer. Our dealers benefit by being able to offer new
products that address these trends sooner.
We predict that Roman shades will become one of the best-selling
products in the industry in 2004 because of their unique look and
versatility. As an alternative to hard treatments or draperies,
Roman shades offer consumers virtually unlimited choices in patterns
and colors, styles and designs, light control and insulation by
adding multiple linings and almost unlimited looks from sheer to
Consumers can choose from thousands of fabrics on the market. There
also are many choices of lifting systems—everything from a
manual cord and pulley to motorized. These features make Roman shades
very different from other products that have many restrictions in
size, style, color and pattern selection. A Roman shade also is
very practical because it serves two functions: When lowered it’s
a beautiful shade, when raised it becomes a soft valance.
Roman shades offer a great opportunity for soft window treatment
professionals. Consumers are becoming more aware of Roman shades
because of increased exposure. Consumers are beginning to see Roman
shades everywhere—in decorating magazines, movie sets, model
homes, etc. Constantly seeing Roman shades in the background is
causing consumers to ask for them, or at least to recognize them
when presented. Consumers’ tastes create trends and the industry
follows those trends, thus we will see a strong trend in 2004 toward
Roman shades. As strong exposure continues, consumer demand will
continue to rise.
Roman shades are a great crossover treatment for hard window covering
specialists. Although a soft treatment, Roman shades are becoming
strongly positioned in the hard window covering market as they become
more affordable. They are a great alternative for consumers that
traditionally buy wood blinds or other hard treatments and especially
for those who wish to soften the treatment with a fabric valance.
Many of these consumers are switching to a Roman shade because it
accomplishes both treatment goals in a single product. You’ll
also often see them replacing roller shades, mini-blinds and honeycomb
We’re preparing ourselves for 2004 by increasing our production
line capacity 200 percent. Many of our dealers have been asking
for a tailored pleated and tailored soft pleated Roman shade. We
will introduce these two new styles early this year and, because
of their clean look, almost invisible hardware, compact headboard
and minimal projection, we predict that these new styles will top
our best-seller list in 2004.
BE THE PRODUCT EXPERT
Lafayette Interior Fashions
The market share that the independent dealer has enjoyed since the
early ’80s has experienced significant pricing pressures due
to the growth of the D-I-Y market, the catalog industry and, most
recently, the Internet. The factors that have consistently given
the edge to the independent retailer, designer and decorator have
been their appetite for education and the ability to add value.
This will become more and more important in order not only to survive
but to thrive in the window treatment industry.
The ever-changing desires of American consumers for new and innovative
products will require dealers to be very knowledgeable about the
products available. As new products are developed it will require
ongoing education to stay abreast of the complexity of products
and to understand the technical aspects of properly installing those
The attribute that makes a retailer or individual powerful and successful
in the window treatments industry is to completely take advantage
of that complexity. The successful dealer will take the time necessary
to fully understand the products—their features and benefits—so
they may guide the buyer to the products and features that best
fit his or her needs.
Finding a dependable supplier and taking the time to build a partnership
with that source will help the dealer offer the products and knowledge
that will meet and exceed the consumer’s buyer expectations.
Merchandising will become more and more important as consumers will
continue to educate themselves on the Internet, but will still have
the need to see the product firsthand.
The Internet and D-I-Y market is not going away and will continue
to drive price. The successful retailer will combat price with the
added value of being the product expert, offering professional installation
and providing the consumer with a completely satisfying buying experience.
PURSUE THE UNIQUE AND DIFFERENT
US Polymers Inc.
What can the window covering industry expect to see in the 12 months
ahead? The shutter category continues to grow, but supply is catching
up to demand. Many dealers and fabricators have jumped into the
shutter business and, while demand continues to grow, there is more
pricing pressure on the streets and signs that supply is catching
In the year ahead the greatest success will be among those who carve
out a niche position for themselves. How can dealers and fabricators
do this? By offering a shutter package to their customers that is
different than what everyone else has. For example, the medium density
fiberboard (MDF) shutters coated in polyethylene from overseas are
now commonly sold by many dealers and fabricators. With so many
dealers selling the same product with the same lead time consumers
will just buy from the dealer that gives the lowest price for that
product. Likewise, dealers will buy from the least expensive fabricator
in the area.
Smart dealers and fabricators should pursue unique and different
offerings. Some examples include: vinyl-clad wood shutters, which
are distinct, high-quality and amazingly affordable or the polyfoam
shutter, although this shutter tends to be a little pricey. In addition
there remains a great opportunity for quick delivery of shutters
in days not months. For example, the vinyl-clad wood shutter by
ShutterSMART and various other vinyl shutters are fabricated and
shipped in less than 10 days.
The demand in shutters is strong, but differentiation is going to
be key in the year ahead as the supply side catches up. The winners
will be dealers and fabricators who recognize this and carve out
a niche in the marketplace with a unique offering.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Never in the history of our economy have we had the unique opportunity
to market our products and services to the wealthiest population
segment of the world: The Baby Boomers. In addition, we traditionally
enter into a promising upturn in our economy with a presidential
The combination of these two economic trends has elevated the confidence
of consumer spending, suggesting that this is the perfect time to
introduce new products and line extensions that cater to an affluent
market with enormous disposable income.
Kennedy White Shutters will leverage this opportunity by launching
a unique selection of proprietary shutters designed to create and
meet the needs of all customers with distinctive tastes. Look for
the introduction of these highly profitable products in spring 2004.
ADD VALUE OR LOWER THE PRICE?
BTX Window Automation, Inc.
In a deflationary economic climate everyone is looking for more
value for less money. It is important to pick the correct side of
this equation to be successful in 2004 and secure a healthy bottom
line. Raise the value or lower the price?
Many are tempted to work the pricing side to secure orders. However,
most dealers, decorators and fabricators face tough times with decreasing
margins. To lower prices even more, and still offer the service
that the customer expects and deserves, has become difficult especially
when dealing with the many commodity-like manual systems. Frankly,
price-cutting is usually the worst formula to secure ongoing success
in business. It hurts the bottom line, it hurts morale and it leaves
no money for investing in the company’s future.
The days during which it was possible to grow the business and make
money through exorbitant dealer discounting are over. Instead, it
is necessary to work on the value side.
Customers are more demanding and selective than ever. In 2004 and
beyond, successful businesses will offer true value and state-of-the-art
products with true, reliable service support that outstrips the
others in profitability and reputation. It will be necessary to
provide support that reaches all the way from point-of-purchase
to satisfactory operation of the products in the customers’
By increasing the overall benefits of the product and by creating
a clear awareness of those benefits, the necessity to work the money
side of equation will disappear. Often it will be possible to secure
a better price that is fairer for the overall product package.
Adding motorization and automation to your product lines is an excellent
way to build the value package of the product. The market for motorized
products continued its solid growth through 2003 and is expected
to show significant growth in 2004.
In this market segment, it is more important than ever not only
to offer a reliable product, but to be able to take care of all
customers and all after-sale questions promptly and correctly. The
success that BTX enjoys in this market stems from its focus on those
two factors: quality motorization solutions for all window coverings
challenges combined with exceptional support for all our dealers
and customers. We expect 2004 to be a strong year for motorization
and for BTX.
FOCUS ON THE DRIVERS OF SUCCESS
What makes a window coverings dealer attract more customers and
build profitability? Early last year we conducted a survey of our
Priority Dealers to determine the elements and behaviors that successful
Hunter Douglas dealers share.
We learned they have five common traits, or “drivers of success”
as we have come to call them: They have an outstanding Hunter Douglas
point-of-sale display; they run upscale local advertising; they
attend training sponsored by Hunter Douglas and their fabricators;
they participate in Hunter Douglas promotions; and they sell a healthy
mix of Hunter Douglas products.
Some would say, “Easier said than done.” But, we looked
at these business drivers and developed the 2004 Business Planner
around them so that dealers have action steps, tools and programs
to build their businesses for the future.
Transformed with new and compelling graphics in a rainbow of colors,
this year’s Business Planner begins with a “Road to Success”
page and breaks down the information into bite-size how-to chunks.
The planner allows dealers, along with their fabricator sales representatives,
to evaluate their particular accomplishments in the context of the
“drivers of success” and then easily target those areas
that necessitate improvement.
With the idea that all the “drivers of success” bring
us back to the most important goal: consumer satisfaction, the first
step in the planner is “Identify Your Customer,” which
gives target demographic information. The second step provides the
tools to create the ideal selling environment, including evaluating
a store environment from the outside in, display information and
a new Shop-At-Home selling system. Then, traffic builders—tips
on advertising, public relations and promotions—are outlined.
Also covered, the keys to achieving a profitable product mix, training
and education and the hugely successful Windows To The World incentive
trips as well as other benefits to Hunter Douglas dealers.
Clearly there are many opportunities in 2004. Staying focused on
the ultimate goal of customer satisfaction and pushing the pedal
on those “drivers of success” will ensure that dealers,
working with their fabricators, enjoy maximum growth and profitability.
Fabrics are back—and not that they ever really went away, but
we have to tell you that fabric is indeed everywhere these days.
This year alone, ADO will introduce a collection of 118-inch multi-purpose
fabrics within three books. These fabrics will serve a number of
varied uses and all are washable.
You will notice another trend with fabric, and that is its use in
“relaxed” Roman shades. Judging by the looks of the trends,
we see fabrics especially where they are applicable in their use
with Roman shades as the perfect replacement for the blind.
Many of the color variations are trending toward pastels with dark
backgrounds such as turquoise against dark chocolate. Earth tones
never go away completely, but you may see them accented with stripes
On another note, we would like to remind everyone that ADO International
and ADO-USA will celebrate its 50th anniversary worldwide at its
German headquarters March 19 and 20. ADO-USA will celebrate its
25-year anniversary in the United States at its Spartanburg, SC,
plant October 15 and 16th. ADO-USA offers a full line of multi-purpose
fabrics and has a top-of-the-line workroom facility. You can contact
any of our 50 sales representatives for help or information on any
of our products or services.
Here’s to another great year from our place to yours in 2004!
NEW PRODUCTS LEAD THE WAY
The Soleil Designer Shading and Lifestyle Technology™ product
line (branding with a message of “Unlimited Possibilities”)
is now offered to the trade as a dealer direct program and offers
dealers new ways to increase profits with a limited distribution
program. It includes: self-lubricating clutch and spring-assisted
roller shades, 24-volt and 120-volt motorized shading systems, wireless
remote controls and exciting new hardware systems. (ShojiTrak™,
Pre-Assembled Cassette Shade™ for easy installations, and flat
and soft-fold Romans for elegant dimensional shading solutions.)
The company will be rolling out an exciting new battery-operated,
wireless remote control shading system in the first quarter of 2004,
which will feature easy installation, no maintenance and upgrade
options for interfacing with light dimming controls.
Soleil continues to support dealers with SmartSeminar™ training,
to drive home the message that selling up to motorization is profitable.
New advancements in RTS wireless controls and motors that require
minimal wiring, make installation easy and motorization far more
appealing to a wider audience of consumers looking for both convenience
and prestige of automated home shading amenities.
New 100-inch wide seamless Equinox black out fabrics in elegant
residential colors, award-winning Faux Naturals™ woven woods
and the innovative DoubleShade bracket (sunscreen and black out/room-darkening
system on one compact bracket design) enable designers to offer
their clients convenient shading solutions for multi-purpose family
rooms that require both daylight shading and room darkening for
home theater viewing.