Brothers Sunil Patel and Atul Patel purchased Orion Ornamental Iron in 2002. In just five short years, they have doubled the company’s revenues, expanded the company’s product offerings by more than 40 percent and instituted new technology and procedures to take the formerly small company from a very informal enterprise to one that consistently implements the latest in manufacturing expertise and the most up-to-date of technology. All the while the company has continued to produce a product line that requires individual, hands-on craftsmanship from dedicated, skilled artisans in the midst of the most modern—and some of the most ancient—equipment. Going from the old fashioned anvil used in forging wrought iron to the latest in computer software is just all in a day’s work for Orion’s CEO, Sunil Patel.
D&WC: Why did you decide to purchase Orion Ornamental Iron? How do you hope to guide its future success?
Sunil Patel: We purchased Orion in 2002 because we were interested in the wrought iron drapery hardware business and felt that we could grow and diversify the company. While it was originally a business investment, it now has also become a wonderful personal opportunity to focus our marketing, financial and management talents in ways that have brought about tremendous growth.
Our plan is to continue to expand our offerings and continue to improve our technology. This year, for example, we have partnered with KBlair Finials, one of the most unique custom, high-end, drapery hardware companies (see D&WC, March 2008, page 18). The addition to Orion of the KBlair line allows us to now offer hardware in iron, wood, wood resin and crystal—a unique combination that does not exist elsewhere in the industry.
D&WC: Since purchasing Orion, what areas of the company have received your primary attention?
Patel: Originally, Orion was a relatively small company with internal systems and manufacturing processes that were reflective of its size. We analyzed all the manufacturing processes and procedures and implemented the latest in techniques and technology.
This year we are continuing our technology focus by implementing the new SAP computer software system. SAP is the world’s largest business software company. Because it operates in more than 120 countries, and provides the best and most advanced in electronic resources, it offers Orion a perfect platform for our product component sourcing from Europe, China and India. And, with its ability to do the most up-to-date order tracking, improve efficiencies and performance, and connect with our Web site, we feel we again are at the leading edge in implementing systems that will greatly benefit our customers. It all comes down to how we can best communicate with and serve our customers. That is always our primary focus.
D&WC: What do you perceive as Orion Ornamental Iron’s strengths in the marketplace?
Patel: First, Orion prides itself on being a custom company. I believe that is our greatest strength—whether it be designing a template for wrought iron hardware or doing a custom, hand-painted finish on KBlair products. Second is the diversity of our product offerings: from wrought iron to wood to wood resin to crystal, from drapery hardware to cornices in wood and metal to wood-framed mirrors, from the traditional to the contemporary in design. We offer our designers a wide range of choices. But all this is not enough unless we also provide consistently high quality products and reliable, quick shipping and outstanding customer service.
This year, Orion celebrates 25 years in the industry and KBlair has just completed 15 years. Together, we have a wealth of products, experience and expertise to offer our customers, which I feel is unmatched.
D&WC: What are your goals for Orion Ornamental Iron? Where do you see the company one year from now? Five years from now?
Patel: We will focus on two important areas: our markets and our designer customers. First, our markets. We are now focusing more on the high-end market, which we began with the acquisition of KBlair earlier this year. Then, we want to develop specific products for specialized markets, for example, our Tropical Collection of bamboo on iron, or our new contemporary crystal line, the Bohemia Collection. Another example is our development of traversing for both iron and wood rods, and our rod motorization offerings. Next, we want to do more private branding for larger companies, where they would market specially designed Orion products under their own brand name.
And second, the other major focus for Orion this year is providing more support for our designer customer base. We want to enhance our promotional items and displays for our designers to help them expand their businesses. We know it takes greater investment and a lot of listening to our customers on our part, but we also know that we only succeed if we succeed together, the individual designer and Orion as a company.
Five years from now? We want to again double our revenues and again be at the forefront of developing new products and new markets. And we plan to be among the top three drapery hardware manufacturers in the United States.
D&WC: Please provide a general description of Orion’s product lines and services. How much of sales is residential versus commercial?
Patel: About 85 percent residential and 15 percent commercial, which is a mix we like. We would like for people to think “Orion means custom.” You could say we specialize in custom since both Orion and KBlair focus on custom offerings. So that comes first. Our products include wrought iron (Iron Art), wood (Wood Art), crystal and unique wood resin designs and hand finishing (KBlair) and wood-famed mirrors (Diamante Mirrors). Orion is also noted for its line of cornices in wood and metal. Again, our diversity sets us apart.
D&WC: Please tell us a little about yourself. What is your background and experience? In what areas does your expertise lie, i.e., marketing, management, operations?
Patel: I was born in Los Angeles, CA, and I have lived in India and traveled extensively around the world—China, many countries in Europe, England, Thailand. Personally, this has given me the opportunity to connect with people of many different cultures and the experience to work with them to bring the best resources to Orion and to our customers. Because of this, we know where to source mass-produced items (China), hand-produced materials (India), and specific products such as crystal (Europe).
We want to bring the best items and most unique and diverse drapery hardware to our customers. My education was here in the U.S.—finance and marketing degree from Georgetown and an M.B.A. in international business from George Washington, both in Washington, D.C. My experience includes chemical manufacturing as well as other types of manufacturing. I feel my expertise in heading up Orion comes from my education, my work experience and my personal experience in working with a diverse collection of people from many cultures both inside and outside the U.S.
And I believe it is this background that has led to my very strong belief that Orion’s manufacturing must be based here in the United States. Yes, Orion is based in a very expensive state in which to operate—California. And yes, it does require special skills, management expertise and even resilience to continue to manufacture here. Many companies are shying away from true U.S. manufacturing because of the costs and the difficulties. However, we feel that it is not logical to take our manufacturing outside the U.S. and still call it custom.
It is not in our customers’ best interests either. The closest delivery point to our designer customers is the U.S. obviously. The way to succeed is to work with our customers where they live and work, so we just have to create more efficient and more effective management and marketing strategies. Orion Ornamental Iron is absolutely committed to continue its manufacturing here in the United States. Our real success will always come from nurturing long-term relationships with our customers. We have to be here to do that.