In the mid-1980s Mesh, a fabricator and retailer of vertical blinds and other hard window treatments in Lodi, NJ, took a critical look ahead and saw a future he didn't like: increasing competition among products that were all too similar and an ever-growing importance by customers on price.
Looking for a way to lift his business above that gloomy forecast, Mesh and his partners, Gennady Eydelman and Leonid Golden, began importing new and unique products from Europe. At first they imported new styles of vertical vanes; that was the business they knew and were successful at. Eventually they began importing fabrics and soon developed their own exclusive lines of both.
In 1991, Mesh opened Excel Window Treatments, Inc. focusing on exclusive lines of European products and distinctive designs of soft window treatments for a higher-end clientele. It soon became clear Mesh was headed in the right direction. "The market for soft treatments grew to the point where it overflowed my market for verticals," Mesh says. He estimates 70 percent of the business today is in fabrics with the remaining 30 percent hard treatments.
Not only does Mesh not regret his decision, but it's also proving successful growing by as much as 20 percent a year, and perhaps proving the adage that different men excel by different methods.
Always on Top
Mesh's decision to change strategies and move the business into custom draperies was not an easy one given the fact that he was doing so well with verticals. "People were saying to me, 'Why don't you keep on doing what you are doing?' But selling the same items as everybody else was becoming very competitive," he says.
"I decided to go into a higher-end market because I could offer exclusive items," Mesh says. "Not only are we working with unique styles, but with unique fabrics. Customers can shop around for the same particular fabric, but they will not find it or the styling," he says. Also, in a high-end market customers are more willing to pay for an exclusive, custom item because price is less important. "That was my philosophy," he says, "I don't regret it." Since opening Excel Window Treatments business has been growing an average of 15 to 20 percent a year, Mesh says.
Excel Window Treatments imports three or four exclusive lines of fabrics and verticals from Europe. "We've established very good European contacts," Mesh says. "Right now we're working a lot with totally unique metallic fabrics from an Italian company along with beautiful hand-painted sheers," he says.
That one-of-a-kind styling also applies to the verticals Mesh and his partners import. "They are not like regular verticals. They are printed verticals and differently shaped verticals. And I believe we are one of the few companies in the United States using five-inch vertical vanes," he says. Those extra-wide vanes can create just the unique look Mesh is after, especially on larger windows. "If you're working with a printed blind or a nice jacquard, you definitely can see more of it with a five-inch vane," Mesh says.
Excel also sells imported hardware: rods, finials and all decorative items including glass finials. As the principle buyer, Mesh actively seeks the next new product or style. "I'm not sitting in my office waiting for the salesmen to knock on my door. Many times I'll tell the salesman what I'm looking for and he'll try to find it."
To keep up with new products and style changes Mesh often travels and places an emphasis on trade shows. "We never miss a European show. My motto is: Always be on top of it; always know what's going on," he says. "If you travel and go to the shows, at least you know the new products that are coming out and you're always ahead of the game. That's the best thing to do," he adds.
Mesh admits, however, that it's not easy. "I just moved into a new home and have had no window coverings for the past six months," he laughs. "I'm always waiting for something new, and I guess you just can't catch up with that."
Excel Window Treatments caters largely to residential customers in the immediate area: New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. Although he has family in Florida, so he sometimes get orders from that far away.
More and more Mesh works with architects and interior designers. When it comes to windows, "they would have their own ideas, but by the time we're finished they often will have used my ideas," he says. The reason is because designers must be involved throughout the house, while Mesh concentrates on designing all his own treatments. "I have seen more window treatments than many designers have seen, and I can pitch a few ideas," Mesh says.
"Of course, if they want something traditional or standard, we also do that. But if there's something unique or difficult coming up, we definitely work together on that," he says.
"We're not scared to take up any difficult work," Mesh says. "In some cases, we took jobs nobody else wanted to do." For example, a designer saw a valance treatment at a recent European show that featured different size grommets with decorative cording running through them. The designer took it to several shops that had never seen anything like it and didn't want to try it.
"We like the challenge," Mesh says. "I believe that's our advantage. We have learned the techniques, and we don't mind spending money on learning new ones."
The current style trend Mesh is seeing is for light window treatments. "It has gotten to the point where people don't want the heavy look. For my customers, everybody wants that sheer, very light look -- a very contemporary look," he says. "In today's market people would like to have more choices than verticals for a contemporary look. We offer contemporary hardware with a nice printed sheer to give that soft, but contemporary look," he says.
"For protection or privacy, I say you can always put a roller shade under the treatment and roll it up so at least during the day you have a nice view, a nice look that will not detract from the treatments," Mesh says.
Excel Window Treatments also does a lot of work in motorization, an area, according to Mesh, in which European markets have taken a lead. He says, "People there are aware that if they want motorization, it has to cost money. There's no two ways about it. In my market, we've been doing a lot of motorization in soft treatments and in vertical blinds." Mesh adds that recent introductions of affordable, battery-operated motor systems in the United States should see the market "shoot through the roof."
On the Spot
Despite operating in one of the largest markets in the world, Mesh says there is less competition now than ever before because so many manufacturers, fabricators and retailers appeal to a mass market. "There's always competition. I can't say in the New York area you can't find people who work in higher-end markets," Mesh says, "but I believe there are fewer of those than who work in mass marketing." What also sets Excel Window Treatments apart, he says, is workmanship and service.
Mesh designs all of his own window treatments, which become reality in the company's workroom using d÷fix no-sew techniques. His interest in fabrics and soft window treatments stems back to his start in the family business, Mesh and Sons, in Miami, FL, some 17 years ago. About two months ago, Excel relocated just up the street from its original facility. The move more than doubled its space from 4,000 to 10,000 square feet. Here, Gennady Eydelman heads production.
An important part of Excel's service is keeping in touch with customers throughout the year in case they need something done. For example, Mesh offers an on-site cleaning service. "We provide that service because of the workmanship and all the expensive fabrics that are used on the job. The clients we deal with would rather we provide that service than take down their window treatments and give them to a dry cleaner," Mesh says.
To be honest, the cleaning service does not operate as a profit center, but to cover its costs. "It keeps us in touch with our customers and leads to recommendations," Mesh points out.
Partner Leonid Golden oversees installations for Excel, which has its own crew of four installers. These installers are trained in the workroom where they can see how a product is made from scratch so they will know how to install it and maintain it, Mesh explains. Not only do they know how to install the treatment, he adds, but how to disassemble a blind or soft treatment on the spot.
Excel Window Treatments employs a total of 12 people, making it exactly the size Mesh needs. "We had an opportunity to go into the contract market, but we decided to decline it," Mesh says. "I'd rather keep the business small and unique and different."