Window View - May 2010

Back On Track
By Len Mozer

Signs of a recovery in window fashions are stirring as Vision 10: IWCE opens in Atlanta

Springs Window Fashions introduces a 2-inch pleat in its pleated shades collections created to be appropriately proportioned to larger windows in newer homes.
Helser Brothers’ Compositions decorative hardware system uses building blocks of different colors, shapes and materials enabling designers to create unique finial combinations.

As the Vision 10: International Window Coverings Expo (IWCE) takes place in Atlanta from May 13 to 15, 2010, business for the industry appears to be strengthening, according to leading suppliers.

One company president put it this way: “The economy and the window covering business seem to have stabilized and many of my dealers and other customers have gotten past the panic and depression they felt during most of 2009. We definitely don’t expect to see more declines for the balance of 2010.”

A consistent comment heard throughout the industry is that in today’s drastically changed economic climate progress should not be measured against the “good old days of 2005-2008.” As Tom Robinson of Lafayette Interior Fashions put it, “It’s a different world and you’ve got to respond to it differently.”

One reality the industry has to deal with is the pressure on prices from retailers due to consumer resistance. George Egon of Springs Window Fashions (SWF) points out, “If the product is not in a perceived sale, consumers won’t buy it.”

One official stresses, “The overall market for window coverings is not growing. Any gains will have to come from the market share of your competition.”

And for those consumers in the market, lower-price or opening price-point products continue to dominate sales at many stores. This includes faux wood blinds and even aluminum horizontal blinds, which seems to be enjoying a bit of resurgence, especially in stock-size programs, because of their lower price ticket.

A few companies also report seeing a renewed interest in pleated shades, attributed to their lower price tags, as compared to cellular shades. SWF has updated its pleated shade line, adding a 2-inch pleat more proportional to the larger windows found in newer homes.

Hunter Douglas uses a new cord ladder to make the operating cords of Roman shades less accessible to children.

Comfortex is also expanding its PERSONA program to include its pleated and honeycomb shades, offering consumers a choice of 900 colors and patterns, which had been available only in its roller and Roman shades. Tom Marusak of Comfortex feels the “no-holes” feature in its pleated shades is an edge in the market.

Honeycomb shades are enjoying a resurgence at several companies, such as Hunter Douglas, SWF, Levolor/Kirsch, Comfortex, Gulf Coast and Lafayette. This had been a strong category in the industry for many years, but showed a sharp decline starting in 2008.

Executives at these companies attribute the bounce-back to consumers’ increased interest in the energy savings offered by these cellular products.

Jim Mathews of Hunter Douglas credits the Federal Tax Credit for its Duette Architella honeycomb-within-a-honeycomb as playing a big role in the sharp rise of sales. Expected to give a further boost to the category is the introduction of a new sample book for Applause, Hunter Douglas’ lower-priced honeycomb brand, featuring new fabrics, including a Vintage group made from recycled plastic bottles.

However, fabricators and retailers report that most premium-priced window fashions continue to take a hit. These include sheer window shadings, upscale wood shutters and natural wood blinds.

Roller shades, the one category showing continued strength, include the new Highland Flaxen style from B & W Manufacturing’s Shades of Elegance Collection.
A strong segment for B & W Manufacturing is its Horizons Soft Treatments, which include these gathered tab-top drapery panels over a ribbed pleat fabric Roman shade.

In shutters, sales continue to shift to the synthetics. ITA has tripled the production space for its top-selling Mirasol Premiere and Everyday synthetic shutters.

One very bright spot is the roller shade category, especially solar screen shades, which continue to show significant growth even through this economic downturn. Just about every industry executive contacted concurs with Marusak of Comfortex who notes that roller shades can no longer be considered a niche product. Robinson of Lafayette says, “They are definitely mainstream today.”

Benefitting from this boom are suppliers of fabrics for roller shades. Bill Strickland reports continued gains for Phifer’s SheerWeave fiberglass line, as does Len Siegel of ITA for its Meritec selections of fabrics. Phifer is offering a new lighter-weight version of its Infinity solar screen fabric, making it more pliable and softer.

Bill O’Connor of B & W Manufacturing states that the soft end of his line, which includes the most expensive products, such as roller shades and drapery panels, is doing well. However, O’Connor acknowledged that the industry is seriously affected by the recent recall of Roman shades of fabric and woven woods by the Consumer Product Safety Council due to the concern over the strangulation of young children from the operating cords.

Several suppliers are offering solutions to minimize or eliminate the risk of strangulation. The patent-pending Safe-T-Shade™, introduced by custom window fashions manufacturer Stevenson Vestal, enables all styles of shades to function smoothly and freely without the entangling lift cords, control cords and rings currently in use. Safe-T-Shade lifts and lowers by gently pulling a fabric tab handle manufactured on the back side just underneath the shade’s bottom rail. That also protects the front of the shade from being touched by hands and soiling.

When the drop is pulled down it releases the shade until it reaches the desired position. The shade position is controlled by pulling against the direction in which the shade is moving, as with a spring roller shade.

Stevenson Vestal plans to market the made-in-the-U.S. system to fabricators and major retail operations that fabricate their own product lines.

Texton’s AudraGuard Roman shade lift system uses Safety Lifting Tapes instead of cords on the backs of shades. Lutron’s CERUS™ system utilizes a fine mesh panel in place of cords and Hunter Douglas’ new cord ladder involves the use of rings to eliminate long free-floating cords. (See sidebar for more information on the Roman shade recall.)

New Window Covering Options

Hunter Douglas Stops
Sales Through Internet

Hunter Douglas will no longer allow Hunter Douglas brand window coverings to be sold through the internet in the U.S. or Canada, effective June 1, 2010. In making the announcement, Marvin B. Hopkins, president of the company, acknowledges that though Hunter Douglas will lose some business in the near term, “We believe the American consumer is best served by purchasing from well-trained and fully merchandised dealers who understand our custom products and consistently provide full support to their customers.”

SWF is debuting Aurora, a competitively-priced composite shutter with concealed hinges and tilt bars, a small top and bottom rail for a clearer opening and a built-in frame for quicker and easier installation. Also new from SWF are a cordless system for its wood blinds that both tilts and lifts the slats, a new sheer fabric in its cellulars and an expansion of its wood cornice line.

In addition to its new Applause honeycomb sampling, Hunter Douglas is offering a new sample book for Nantucket window shadings, including a Sunscreen privacy shading consisting of a back sheer screen fabric, printed fabric vanes and a colored front sheet. Also new is the Epic hardware system for its aluminum, wood and faux wood blinds that operates smoothly and installs easily.

Comfortex is adding a panel track to its PERSONA 900 color roller-shade collection. Also new is its Custom Graphics program enabling a company or retailer to put its own logo on a roller shade for promotion purposes.

Sunland is launching wood and faux wood blinds to coordinate with its shutters. Levolor and Krisch are updating their cellular shades.

Lafayette is updating Allure transitional shades and Genesis roller shades with new fabric offerings, including new “screen and green” fabrics of recycled yarns. B & W Manufacturing is expanding soft fabric lines, including a rippled pleat, a rippled fold and a dual shade. Vertifold, a vertical accordion-fold window covering and room-divider is doing well for Oxford House.

Drapery Hardware

Springs Window Fashions offers a new sheer fabric in its cellular shades.

Several drapery hardware executives report higher-end custom collections aimed at the designer market are selling. Others note that doing “fairly well” are container-load opening price-point sets targeted to the big box and discount retail chains. Mid-priced packaged sets are described as “having a hard time.” 

One key trend noted is the expansion of hardware with built-in traverse tracks or offering the option of adding these tracks.

Kay Blair of Orion KBlair Finials says business has been picking up with the addition of some new accounts. New styles include SleekFascia, a traversing track with square rings in ten flat fascia designs on the track in 31 finishes, and Clip-A-Crown, a decorative valance in an embossed metallic material designed as a top treatment for blinds and shades.

New from Levolor Kirsch is a revised Wood Trends line. Forest Group USA reports that its Zabala wood collection continues to be active.

WCMA Product Awards

Winners of the 2010 Window Covering Manufacturers Association (WCMA) Product Awards are honored at a reception during the VISION10 Expo in Atlanta, GA, on May 12, 2010. Photos of winners are featured on the WCMA website at wcmanet.org.

Lutron Electronics Co., Inc. captured the top prize of Product of the Year for its Kirbé™ Vertical Drapery System. Kirbé smoothly pulls drapery up and out of the way rather than moving it from side-to-side as do traditional systems.

The judging took place in New York in April with products evaluated on technical innovation and enhancement, style concept and overall design. The more than 75 entries were reviewed by judges Debra Haire, senior buyer, JC Penney; Susan Hirsh, North American manager for decorative programs, Benjamin Moore & Co.; Susan Huckvale Arann, interior designer and president, American & International Designs, Inc.; and Leonard Mozer, window fashions editor, LDB Interior Textiles.

Here are the remaining winners, some of which are featured in this article:

Judges Awards: PERSONA™ Roller and Roman Shades, Comfortex Window Fashions, and Roman shades with CERUS™ Safety Technology, Lutron Electronics Co., Inc.

Cellular Shades: Best Technical Innovation—Mirage Cellular Shade, PHASE II; Best Technical Innovation, Honorable Mention—Duette® and Applause® PowerRise® 2.0 with Platinum™ Technology, Hunter Douglas

Drapery Hardware: Best New Style Concept—SleekFascia Traversing, Orion Ornamental Iron; Best New Style Concept, Honorable Mention—1-Inch Metal Collection by Paris Texas Hardware, Hunter Douglas; Most Innovative Overall Design—Clip-A-Crown, Orion Ornamental Iron

“Green” Products—Sustainability: Best Utilization of Sustainable Materials—EcoVeil Naturals Shadecloth 8050 Series, MechoShade Home Systems, Inc.; Best Utilization of Recyclable Materials—Vintage™ fabric for Applause® honeycomb shades, Hunter Douglas

“Green” Products—Health and Environmental Safety: Best Technical Innovation—Hunter Douglas Roman-style Shades with New Cord Ladder, Hunter Douglas; Best Technical Innovation, Honorable Mention—Ribbon Weights and Dumplings, Theatrical and Drapery Supply; Best New Style Concept—Vignette® Tiered™ Modern Roman Shades with UltraGlide®, Hunter Douglas; Most Innovative Overall Design—HiTech Ultimate RomanShade, DSC Window Fashions

“Green” Products—Energy Efficiency: Best Technical Innovation—SunDialer® System, MechoShade Home Systems, Inc.; Best New Style Enhancement—3/8-inch Duette® Architella® Classic fabric, Hunter Douglas

Horizontal Blinds: Best Technical Innovation—EPIC™ Operating System, Hunter Douglas; Best New Style Enhancement—RUSTIC, Plastibec; Most Innovative Overall Design—One Touch Cordless 1-inch aluminum blind, PHASE II

Motorization: Best Technical Innovation—Tumo® Xcel™ Eco-line™, BTX Window Automation, Inc.; Best Technical Enhancement—PowerRise® 2.0 with Platinum™ Technology, Hunter Douglas; Best New Style Enhancement—DecoFlex WireFree™ RTS Table Top Control, Somfy Systems Inc.; Most Innovative Overall Design—Kirbé™ Vertical Drapery System, Lutron Electronics Co.Inc.

.....Roman, Roller and Pleated Shades: Best Technical Innovation—Roman shades with CERUS™ safety technology, Lutron Electronics Co., Inc.; Best Technical Innovation, Honorable Mention—PERSONA™ Custom Graphics, Comfortex Window Fashions; Best New Style Enhancement—Enhancements to Provenance® Woven Wood Shades, Hunter Douglas; Most Innovative Overall Roller Shade Design—PERSONA™ Roller and Roman Shades, Comfortex Window Fashions

Shadings and Sheers: Best Technical Enhancement—Enhancements to Pirouette® window shadings, Hunter Douglas; Best New Style Concept—Luminette® Modern Draperies Dual Panel, Hunter Douglas; Best New Style Concept, Honorable Mention—Nantucket™ Sunscreen privacy shadings, Hunter Douglas

Shutters: Best Technical Enhancement—Reinvigorated/Refreshed Palm Beach™ polysatin shutters, Hunter Douglas; Best New Style Concept—Masterpiece Shutters™, Masterpiece Shutters; Best New Style Concept, Honorable Mention—EcoMaxx Wood™ Designer Shutters (San Marco Collection™), Maxxmar™ Window Fashions; Most Innovative Overall Design—Bali® EuroVue™ Shutters, Springs Window Fashions LLC

Specialty Applications: Best Technical Enhancement—Supreme Performance™ Combi Specialty Shapes and Arches, Maxxmar™ Window Fashions; Best New Style Enhancement—Pirouette® window shadings Specialty Shapes, Hunter Douglas; Best Overall Design—Harmony Program™, Hunter Douglas

Vertical and Panel Tracks: Best New Style Enhancement—Enhancements to Skyline™ Gliding Window Panels, Hunter Douglas

Miscellaneous Products: Best Technical Innovation—CamilyWand, Camily, LLC; Best New Style Enhancement, Honorable Mention—Designer Metallic Hardware for Cellular, Pleated, Roller and Roman Programs, Comfortex Window Fashions

Merchandising Awards: Best Online Trade Technology—My Hunter Douglas, Hunter Douglas; Best Online Trade Technology, Honorable Mention—Composer, Helser Brothers, Inc.; Best Online Consumer Technology—Hunter Douglas iMagine™ Design Center Upload Your Own photo feature, Hunter Douglas; Best Point of Sale Merchandising, First Place—2010 Nantucket™ Sample Book, Hunter Douglas; Best Point of Sale Merchandising, Second Place—Hunter Douglas Design Studio™ Roman Shades; Best Point of Sale Merchandising, Third Place—Persona™ Custom Graphics Book, Comfortex Window Fashions; Best Point-of-Sale Display, First Place—Architella™ Energy Efficiency Demonstration Kit, Hunter Douglas; Best Point of Sale Display, Second Place—2009 Hunter Douglas Promotional Programs, Hunter Douglas; Best Integrated Marketing Campaign—Duette® Architella® Federal Tax Credit Opportunity Integrated Marketing, Hunter Douglas; Best Education Programs 2010—E-learning Product Courses, WebEx seminars and Custom Shutter Collection Environmental Brochure, Hunter Douglas.

Kerri Green relates that business for Paris Texas Hardware has been stable with her custom hardware collections doing better. In addition to the program in which Paris will custom color its hardware in any Benjamin Moore colors, the company is also offering a choice of 24 hand-painted custom finishes. The three Quick-Ship collections, that previously came in limited color choices, are now also available in 24 hand-painted finishes plus any of the Benjamin Moore finishes.

Industry Addresses Recalls On
Roman, Woven Wood Shades

The window covering industry is working closely with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Council (CPSC) on developing new standards for Roman fabric and woven wood shades, according to Ralph Vasami, executive director, Window Covering Manufacturers Association (WCMA).

The need to establish new standards followed the recall announced in December for these products by the CPSC concerned about the risk of possible strangulation of young children resulting from getting their heads caught in the shade cords. This recall specifically involved the operating cords located on the backs of Roman shades.

Vasami reports that the WCMA committee participating in this issue is “pretty far along” in working with the CPSC to help establish the new safety standards.

Meanwhile, individual manufacturers know what the safety risks are and, he explains, “They are trying to develop products that will minimize the risks and will meet these standards when they are finalized. If the standards make further requirements, they will adapt them accordingly.”

The safety issue became quite serious very quickly for the industry. Shortly following the recall notice by the CPSC, it was reported that a number of major retailers withdrew the Roman shade products involved from their stores.

As indicated by Vasami, a number of suppliers have come up with a variety of solutions designed to minimize the risk of strangulation pending the final standards.

To make cords less accessible to children, some of the products being offered to rectify the situation include the new Safe-T-Shade from Stevenson Vestal, Lutron’s Cerus cord-eliminating Roman uptake system, Texton’s AudraGuard, Hunter Douglas’ cord ladder and a number of cordless systems as well as shades with backing fabrics.

Joe Jankoski, a vice-president of Hunter Douglas and president of the WCMA, emphasizes, “I am proud that the industry has responded to this challenge.”

Business in Canada continues to hold up better than its stateside sales for Alhambra Hardware, which is headquartered in Toronto. Bernard Snitman concurs that the mid-price segment is hurting. The decline in home construction is a major factor, he says, noting “we got a lot of business from model homes.” The increasing strength of the Canadian vs. the U.S. dollar also boosts the cost of his products in the U.S. market.

Tom Cassidy says Cassidy West has increased its sales by changing focus from the big-box stores to the designer trade and smaller retailers, including a drop-ship service on single orders. For this growing distribution channel to the trade, his company will be introducing this summer, a traverse track option for its rods along with a new lower-cost motorized system.

Motorization

Suppliers of motorization systems note that orders from commercial clients, especially the hospitality market, are picking up.

David Weinstein of Lutron says, “We’re writing up some respectable commercial jobs, and on the higher-end side of the residential business there are signs that some of the business that froze in 2008 and 2009 is starting to thaw. Our big focus now is on the renovation business where we see a lot of opportunity, as we have many products that are easily retrofitted.”

New from Lutron is a wireless system for control of both lighting and shades called Radio Rod H, plus advancements in its Sivoia QS quiet wireless technology.

Al Hinchman of Somfy relates that the company is revamping its training programs and point-of-sale displays. “We’re working aggressively to offer a broad range of interfaces for all of our products,” he says, including its battery powered and wired systems. New for Somfy is an accessory for its DecoFlex wall switch that converts the switch to a hand-held device and can sit on a night table using its radio-frequency technology to control the window coverings.

Hunter Douglas is launching PowerRise 2.0 with Platinum Technology that enables the battery powered system to quietly raise and lower shades and control vane tilt for a number of the company’s window fashions. It integrates with most home automation systems and uses a more powerful motor to control larger-sized shades.

Forest Group USA’s new motorized hardware is called the Blind Contract System (BCS). It features touch-and-pulse technology enabling the user to open or close panels by touch, with an emergency control for manual operation during power failure. Its modular Forest Shuttle motor offers radio frequency, infrared, Z-wave and other control options.

As for the balance of 2010, most executives are optimistic, believing the recovery of the window covering industry will be gradual. Comfortex’ Marusek concludes, “Companies have to make their own good times. We can’t wait for them to roll to us.”

Resources

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