For at least the past decade, the mantra in the window coverings industry has been: “Fabric is returning to the window.” While, indeed, it has, it seems as if it were never truer than it has been in just the last five years. For any number of reasons—from the cocooning effect following September 11 to the popularity of home decorating shows on cable television—homeowners have taken to soft window treatments in a big way.
Jason and Rodney Carr have too. The brothers Carr run Softline Home
Fashions, Gardena, CA, an importer and distributor of home decorating
fabrics. Their primary target market is large retailers, chain stores
and jobbers, and in just the last five years they have grown from
nothing to being able to count many of the top 50 retailers in the
country among their repeat customers.
“When we first started it was right after the [September 11]
attack and everything in every industry slowed down,” Rodney
Carr says. “It was tough to go out and get business because
we were a new business and because it was just tough out there.
We just kept plugging away and every month or every three months
or every six months the orders would keep growing and growing until
“We have not had a slowdown at Softline,” Jason Carr
adds. “The orders keep coming in. All of our orders are generated
either through fax log or through e-mail. When we first started
the business our fax logs were about three or five, seven, eight
pages of orders a day and now they are up over 100. Our volume is
going up monthly, projections of orders and customer sales every
month keep on climbing, our inventory and our receivables keep on
increasing. Softline, in general, is on a roll. There is no slow
SPECIALTY OF THE HOUSE
“Our strength is two main items right now: It’s ready-made
curtain panels and fabrics by the yard,” Jason explains. Rodney
adds, “All of our fabrics are available in finished products.
So if we’re carrying it as piece goods, then we’re also
carrying it as panels.”
“Our market is really not the decorator market,” Jason
continues. “It is the market that caters to retail stores
that stock fabrics and place the orders, and we also cater to the
jobber market—which, in turn, the interior designers go to.”
More specifically, Jason describes Softline’s primary target
customers as retail outlets, the hospitality market, manufacturers,
distributors, chain stores and jobbers. The minimum order for piece
goods is 100 yards; for panels it’s at least 24 panels at
a time (one color, one SKU).
Softline’s specialty is lightweight sheers, polyester, and
silk and taffeta faux-look fabrics—most are machine washable
and won’t discolor in sunlight, they say.
“Right now the things that are doing well for us are the chocolate
and blue look, chocolate and pink look, a lot of the mix-and-match
look,” Jason says. “The nice thing about our line is
that a lot of the patterns and SKUs coordinate with one another
so they can take a plain item and mix it with a nice embroidery.
If you order one design, you can order another design in the same
color with just a different look.”
“The nice thing about our business is that not only do we
offer the fabric, but if someone wants to carry the fabric in their
store and offer a ready-made panel to the customer, we offer the
panel in various sizes and various top treatments,” Jason
says. “Sometimes they’ll come in and buy two rolls for
tablecloths, room dividers, bed skirts, bedding and also provide
the customer with finished product. It comes in an 84-inch panel,
a 96-inch panel, a 108-inch panel and a 120-inch panel.”
PRODUCT, PRICE DRIVEN
The founders of Softline Home Fashions describe their company as
“youthful, aggressive, a fair but firm company.” Each
bother has a set of strengths that complement and compound the other’s,
and both have a clear understanding of the company’s goals.
“We’re going to continue to focus and specialize on
what we’re strong at. We’re going to get better at it
and offer more,” Jason says. “It’s very humbling
to hear companies that are in the top 50 retailers call us up and
say they want to do business with us. We see the physical growth
right in front of our eyes. It’s not like we’re daydreaming
and waiting for purchase orders to come in. We’re aggressively
approaching the market. We’re not ones to sit back and say
the market is soft—and I guess the market is soft—but
we don’t accept that from our salespeople. We tell them that
if it’s not good for that customer, then approach another
customer because there is a big, big, big pie out there and we just
want a piece of it. You see these top retailers out there having
huge profits every quarter. There’s a reason for it.”
“Strong demand,” answers Rodney.
“We’re product driven,” says Jason. “We
keep the product line very fresh. We’re always coming up with
new SKUs—every three months, which is important because when
they see a salesperson, customers want to see what’s new.
They don’t want to review old things that they’ve passed
on. Our salespeople get very excited with our line because we always
have new things, and they always call upon customers to show them
Rodney Carr works most directly with the sales staff, constantly
reviewing them, going over new customers with them, going over the
monthly quotas. “We’re very price driven, as well,”
he says. “We offer very well designed and good looking product
for not a lot of dollars. A good value for each of our fabrics and
each of our panels.”
The Carr brothers’ drive may have been hardened during the
company’s difficult beginnings, but their ability to work
together goes back further than that. At about three years apart
in age, they have been close all their lives.
“We never fight,” says Rodney. “We’ve always
gotten along, ever since childhood. We’re so different in
character. We have the same goals, but we’re just very different
in how we approach things. Jason’s strengths are different
than mine and we really complement each other and have complemented
each other since Day 1.”
“One of my strengths is product and product development—eyeing
new items,” Jason says. “I travel overseas quite often
and I’m doing a lot of the buying for the company. I also
have strong business knowledge or an overview of operations—accounting,
overseeing the books.”
Rodney is a little bit more out there—really. From the day
he finally arrived in Los Angeles to begin working with his brother
he has been on the road. Not only does he work sales and help the
sales staff, but he also works Softline’s main marketing program:
trade shows. In his first year he did 25 trade shows. The second
year he did 36 trade shows. “I was on the road . . . the record
was 302 nights of the year,” he says.
“It takes a certain character to be away from home the extent
that I’m gone,” Rodney says. “I love working with
the customers. A lot of the time I get a really good response from
customers because I don’t really treat them like customers,
I treat them like partners. I truly believe that when our customer
does well—when our partner does well—then we all do
well. With the product that we’re carrying now, I love the
fabrics and I love our panel business and when you love something
it’s easy to promote it.”
In was in late 2001, very soon after September 11, that Softline
Home Fashions incorporated. Jason had been in the Los Angeles area
for about five years by then. Rodney was in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Both brothers had grown up in the soft window treatment business
working for their father and his partner in Montreal, Quebec. They
learned the business from the ground up. Jason’s first day
on the job was spent sweeping the floor in the warehouse. By the
time their father sold his portion of the business in August 2000,
Rodney was working in Toronto and Jason was in Los Angeles.
Rodney decided to move to California and the two brothers would
start their own business together. It had a shaky start. “It
was very difficult,” Jason says. “The economy was definitely
at a halt. We were in a desperate situation to make something of
To make matters worse, Rodney had problems getting into the United
States. Right after September 11 nonresidents were not being allowed
across the border. He was rejected and couldn’t get into the
United States for another four and a half months. He had already
sold his home in Toronto and used the proceeds to lease a warehouse
for Softline and buy a little inventory. Jason, meanwhile, took
a second mortgage on his LA condo and put it into the business.
The bothers even turned to a private finance company that would
lend them money based on the credit of the companies they were shipping
to. “The companies that we were selling to were very good
companies. We used the purchase order basically as leverage,”
Within the first six moths in business they got a very large order—$500,000.
But even after that order was delivered, things still were tight.
The brothers shared Jason’s condo and put everything back
into their business.
“After three months it was basically a wash because we didn’t
make any money, but yet we got our foot in the door with that first
big customer. It was very risky,” Jason admits, “but
we had no choice really.”
ROOM TO GROW
Softline Home Fashions now has 42 employees and continues growing.
Besides warehouse space, the company includes its own workroom,
which develops all of its samples—headers and panels. The
workroom also can produce finished product for smaller volume orders.
Softline has three ways of producing its finished product, Jason
explains. Small volume orders are developed in their own workroom.
Larger volumes are contracted out to a few workrooms domestically.
For some of its largest orders, the company will bring in finished
products direct from the fabric source.
“In this business you have to stock goods,” Jason says.
“People want service immediately. Customers are not going
to wait for you to import 50 panels for them. That has to be done
locally. If it’s a customer that can order 300 or 400 at a
time then it’s worth importing.”
Even in large volumes, though, Softline features a personal touch.
“We buy fabrics and develop fabrics that we would put in our
own homes,” says Jason. “It’s very important that
we like the item that we’re buying. We don’t just buy
on speculation and hope it does well—if I don’t like
maybe someone else will. Everything we have is handpicked one at
a time, each color, every item.”
With their company’s current level and type of business the
Carrs have decided to look for a larger facility, which they plan
to be in by midyear. The new warehouse, they say, will triple the
company’s current size.
“We still have the same philosophy of putting all the money
back into the company,” Rodney says. “Every time we
launch a new SKU, we launch it in 22, 25, 30 colors. We just launched
a program that offers 36 colors. Considering that, each program
takes up a lot more space.”