Trend Report - December 2016

Home Ground
By Wanda Jankowski

Insights into how U.S.-based companies are surviving and adapting to changing times

Leading suppliers who make or embellish goods in the U.S. with domestic or imported materials share views on how business is faring and how they are keeping pace with changing times.

Is running a U.S.-based business easier or more difficult than it was five years ago?

Jeff Kaufman, president/coo, Avanti Linens
“I don’t think any business is easier than it was five years ago, regardless of where you’re sourcing. The obvious advantage of having a domestic source is that we’re closer to need and can react much more quickly with a shorter lead time. This is especially helpful with the explosion of the online business and its high degree of volatility. We can catch unexpectedly strong sellers in a matter of hours, not months.”

Sean Auerbach, president, Satori Fine Linens
“Certain things have gotten easier, such as customer interactions, due to the many new online services and apps, but other aspects have definitely become more difficult, such as heath care costs, as these keep increasing year after year.”

Bart Hill, senior vice-president, Mohawk Home
“I would not say that it’s any easier, but it’s certainly not the same. The market and manufacturing base have continually evolved. Many domestic competitors here five years ago are no longer present, while overseas competition continues to increase. That’s the primary reason we take so much pride in the fact that our business has grown and thrived in a challenging global market.

“We’ve achieved success through continuous innovations in product and process, investing back into new manufacturing technologies which expanded our product offerings, 24-48 hour distribution advancements to service the online channel, and a continued focus to exceed customer expectations on quality and service. It’s a core tenet to remain the market leader, while controlling our destiny with a domestic manufacturing footprint supporting our North American business.”

Angela Rossi, marketing director, Colonial Mills
“Running a U.S.-based business is more difficult today due to many rug manufacturers’ choosing to make products overseas to lower costs and pass the savings to their customers, while sacrificing product quality. We believe in American craftmanship and choose to continue manufacturing and keeping jobs in America, and making the highest quality braided rugs for our customers.

“We make all products in our Pawtucket, RI, facility. We bring innovation to braid. Through quality, American craftsmanship and adaptable design, we are creating the next generation of braided home fashions. We see braid as a method of construction, not a style. It is this thinking that allows us to combine the traditional and the contemporary. Our approach reflects people’s eclectic sense of personal style.”

SuzAnne Brown, chief operating officer, Brahms Mount LLC
“Doing business evolves over time and requires us to be nimble and pro-active, so that what may have been difficult five years ago may not be a challenge today and vice-versa. Because Brahms Mount sources the majority of its raw materials and all of our colorfast dying domestically, we face the same business impediments as other U.S.-based businesses, with economic fluctuations and their impact on U.S.-produced raw material resources, labor resources and disposable income.

“We are fortunate that our quality and workmanship—grounded in the authentic character and centuries-old textile tradition of Maine—is appreciated by a global customer base that contributes to our success. Our heirloom-quality products make it easier for Brahms Mount to be a destination for consumers.”

Terry Mackenthun, chief executive officer, Faribault
“In general, it is about the same. I wouldn’t characterize that as a good thing. Many small U.S. companies that are in a similar space (textile manufacturing) are fighting similar issues. Most challenges are embedded in competition we face with imports. The low cost of labor, relative ease of import via trade laws, and global sourcing capability of conglomerates makes small manufacturing reliant on local labor, higher cost of living and the consumer’s preference for low-cost products a continuous battle.
“Small brand product companies such as ours need the U.S. consumer to embrace a higher quality, longer-lasting product, that may require a higher price, but less frequent purchase.”

Richard Sherman, president, Bedford Cottage
“I don’t think anything has gotten easier, regardless of where things are made. We have fewer traditional customers and more competition. Not a great combination. However, I’ve seen a movement over the past few years toward a greater importance for American-made products. We certainly have the advantage of shorter lead times and smaller production runs compared to most imports.”

What has your company done to keep pace with changing times and consumers?

Satori’s Auerbach
“We have invested in new machinery and in making our manufacturing processes more efficient. We are constantly looking for ways to improve and maximize our production. We are also using the internet more in connecting with our customers and providing them with the assistance needed.”

Brahms Mount’s Brown
“Our innovation is seen in engineering new raw materials from the finest natural fibers and colorfast dyes, and weaving them into new patterns and fabrics on our antique shuttle looms. We meet consumer demand by developing products in a variety of styles and constructions, while remaining loyal to our signature American look. We have invested in refurbishing our website to include substantially more lifestyle and crisp product images, and have sought to expand our social media presence through weekly e-mail, Instagram, and Pintrest.”

Faribault’s Mackenthun
“Social media marketing has become a major force in the world of brand, product and consumer marketing. The ability to instantaneously shoot images, post, discuss and receive feedback allows a brand to have constant interaction with its consumers.

“The presence of brick-and-mortar retail combined with e-commerce allows us to bring our consumers an online shopping experience leveraged by social media and also provide an in-person shopping experience with high-quality visual merchandising. Online shopping with inspired imagery also creates imagination and creativity for the consumer and enhances the retail sale.

“Faribault Woolen Mill utilizes high-tech textile design and engineering software that allows for simulation in a three-dimensional format with engineering instructions for our mill and weave shop. The ability to see how our products drape, sit or could be displayed in a variety of formats allows our designers to see real-time application.”

Avanti’s Kaufman
“The biggest change in our business in the last couple of years is the growth in on-line sales and the move to drop-shipping from shipping to customers’ DC’s. It requires a lot more hands and touches to ship a single bath towel vs. 24 to a single customer or store. We expanded our facility in Moonachie, NJ, by 50,000 square feet in July 2015, in part to handle the growth in this part of the business. We now have 15,000 square feet dedicated to direct-to-consumer fulfillment, added additional management and hourly associates and added/enhanced a number of systems to support the growth.”

Mohawk’s Hill
“We’ve had to invest back into ourselves to keep pace. New processes and innovations are critical to sustained success. We are in a fashion business, so color and design also are extremely important to remain relevant.
“The consumer is rapidly evolving in the way they purchase. We are approaching the 20 percent level of the total area rug category that is now purchased online. We have adapted our investment strategies to service the online business, which is an entirely different model than brick-and-mortar retailing. Our focus is now on reactive technologies to support higher mix and lower volumes per sku. Intead of trying to predict the customer, we are putting ourselves in position to react to the customer.

“We continue to focus on fiber innovations, as that is the most critical component to our product. But we also have invested in new manufacturing capabilities in tufting, weaving, printing and molding that provide the ability to manufacture product unlike any others in our market.”

Bedford Cottage’s Sherman
“Social media campaigns, Instagram and Facebook are all normal business practices that one must use today to stay relevant. Online retailing continues to grow in importance, and we all have to adjust accordingly.

“In terms of manufacturing, we always look for new products, designs and equipment to improve our capabilities in order to compete in this world stage.”

Colonial Mills’ Rossi
“We launched our new website on Aug. 1, 2016. It showcases Colonial Mills’ extensive offering of braided area rugs and home fashion accessories, and features artfully styled product photography, including room scenes, style shots and close-up images of product details. The lifestyle photography shows ways in which Colonial Mills rugs and accessories can be combined to create fashion-forward looks for any lifestyle and price point.
“During development of our new website, we strived not only to provide customers with a one-of-a-kind shopping experience, but also to reflect the breadth of product offerings in an engaging, relevant way. The website is organized to help retailers and designers find information they are looking for quickly and accurately in order to make purchasing decisions. It’s a resource to support our customers in growing their businesses. We also will continue to strengthen our social media marketing presence.”

Faribault Woolen Mill Co. The Revival Stripe wool blanket design has been a backbone of the mill’s line for more than a century. Made in the U.S. with 85 percent Merino wool and 15 percent cotton, the blanket is available in twin and queen sizes, and in three colorways: bone white multi stripe (shown), red and black stripe, and gray multi stripe. Faribault Woolen Mill Co., 507-412-5510, faribaultmill.com.
Satori Fine Linens The Charcoal Quilted Coverlet is paired with the Double Banding Duvet Cover in white. Satori Fine Linens, 954-604-6012, satorilinens.com
Avanti Linens The Stella design offers elegance in its embroidered crest motif and eye- catching borders. Using imported materials, the towels are made in Canada with 100 percent cotton, exclusive of embellishments, and embellished in the U.S. Avanti Linens, 800-360-0836, avantilinens.com
Brahms Mount The new, exclusively engineered, indigo “twist” yarn in the Classic Herringbone style makes a soft blanket that pairs well with the new cotton/alpaca Chunky Houndstooth Throw. Brahms Mount, 800-545-9347, brahmsmount.com
Bedford Cottage The Sturbridge throw makes a colorful splash in any room. The soft feel adds to the comfort of knowing it is made in America. Bedford Cottage, 800-242-1537, bedfordcottage.com
Karastan from Mohawk From the Karastan line, the Manifesto Collection is made with 100 percent worsted New Zealand wool. Mohawk Home, 800-843-4473, mohawkind.com
Colonial Mills Made in the U.S. with 100 percent polypropylene yarn, the Houndstooth pouf is available in multiple colors, and is stain and mildew resistant. Also U.S. made is the durable, reversible Woodland Rectangle rug. The 100 percent all-natural, undyed wool is woven in a pattern of braids that creates tonal stripes. Colonial MIlls, Inc., 800-343-9339, colonialmills.com

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