Taking Pride in Design
Treasting customers like family
Cinde W Ingram -- Casual Living, 8/1/2013 2:00:00 AM
Pride family brands stays a step ahead of the design curve. With a focus on design for the past decade, Pride continuously explores new directions while maintaining a strict product development timeline.
"In order to be a fashion leader, you have to keep moving beyond your past success as these successes are going to start showing up in other places," said Steve Lowsky, president, Pride Family Brands. "We need to keep moving forward and that's been our goal for about a decade and it's served us very well."
Over the course of the past 10 months, Pride has conceived and developed five full collections. The process culminated last month, when in a short 10-day period, everything was moved and merchandised in its new permanent showroom in Chicago's Merchandise Mart.
"Twice a year, we manufacturers learn what it is like for retailers with regard to setting their floors," Lowsky said. "As we get a showroom ready, we work to have it perfect. We realize a true appreciation for what retailers do 365 days a year."
From designs to retailer appreciation, the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based manufacturer strives to maintain leadership throughout its corporate and representative teams. For the first time last month, Pride brought all of its sales force together for a two-day national sales meeting in its new Chicago showroom. Held two weeks before the Preview Show, the meeting was an investment the company looks to repeat annually, Lowsky said.
The reasoning behind Pride's decision to hold the new format sales meeting was multifaceted. "The first reason is: This year we developed a tremendous amount of product," Lowsky said. "We felt there was just not enough time in the day before the Preview Show (where the sales reps are stretched between multiple sales meetings) to adequately go through all the new product, designs and enhanced marketing materials.
"With the amount of information to cover for this season, we felt it would be great to gather where there was no pressure, no e-mails, no phone calls and no meetings before or after. Providing a format for all not only to absorb product and promotional information but also interact with manufacturing experts," he added.
Q: WHAT ELSE HAVE YOU DONE DIFFERENTLY TO PREPARE FOR THE 2014 SEASON?
Design has become synonymous with Pride. From post-Casual show 2013, (October 2012) until the end of February, we focus on designs for four to five new collections, each consisting of about 20 items. We do not look for inspiration out in the industry. We look inward at our capabilities including show observations and customer suggestions. We feel the need to stay ahead of the curve and always bring fresh and exciting new looks. We hear retailers tell us: ‘You are very innovative and very fresh and it's a pleasure to come and see what you are offering. We can find the same ole', same ole' everywhere, but to find something new and exciting, we're going to Pride.'
Q: WHY DO YOU FEEL IT'S IMPORTANT TO BRING OUT FULL OFFERINGS EACH SEASON?
We're a full-line furniture company. When we develop a collection, we develop a full collection. We're jigged and tooled and ready to go. There are no prototypes in our showroom. If you write an order for a collection in July, we're ready to produce and ship it immediately for August delivery.
In order to do that, we have developed a very strict and disciplined timeline. Our product development never stops, but it starts in earnest right after the Casual Show. By February we've already focused on what the collections are and we're making the final tweaks to form, fit and function. By March, we're making the tooling. By April, we are shooting the catalog and in May the product is shipped to its permanent home in Chicago.
Q: HOW MANY OF YOUR EMPLOYEES ARE INVOLVED IN THE DESIGN PROCESS?
More than 25 are involved in the design process and everybody has their own responsibility. We're all very focused and passionate. From management to sales, from engineering to fabrication, all understand these designs are going to be in the line for years and they want them to be successful.
Q: HOW HAS THAT CHANGED THROUGH THE YEARS?
For the last four or five years, we've had a core group of about 350 team members. In 2007, we had close to 600 in the factory. But, as so many did, we had to adjust when the economy slowed. We now have a very dedicated group that is focused on what is important to Pride: creating fine furniture.
Q: WHEN DID YOU FEEL THE DIRECTION OF THE COMPANY HAD CHANGED? WAS THERE ANYTHING SPECIFIC THAT LED TO THAT?
We have a long history of being in the furniture business. Ten years ago, we made a conscious decision to become a design leader. Prior to 2003, we were basically making product that others were as well. With a lot of energy and investment and a complete change in mindset, we focused efforts on design and a leadership position.
For us to become very fashion-forward was a big challenge, however, this was made easier because we are a completely vertical company with an in-house foundry, fabrication facility, paint facility and cushioning facility. We make everything within our own factory. We buy aluminum in its rawest form, create all of our own match plates and casting plates as well as develop all of our fabrics, with the help of Glen Raven and other great fabric companies.
Product is the lifeline of the company and the product development cycle is critical. Strictly adhering to this process enables us to continuously develop new and unique product. Customers are going to gravitate to those who they see are delivering what best suits their needs and whoever best helps them be successful. We always listen to retailer suggestions. Just as the product life cycle is critical to our development, so are our retailers, the two go hand-in-hand.
Q: WHY DOES PRIDE PATENT EVERYTHING? HOW IMPORTANT IS INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY?
Creating new product involves considerable effort, emotion, time and investment. We patent everything we create because we want the industry to know that we value these designs tremendously. We want to make sure that they exist as an exclusive design and are originals by Pride Family Brands. We invest in our designs by obtaining a patent after the development stage and before we've even sold a chair. For this season's collections, design applications already have been filed. We want everyone to know that the designs are special enough for us to put our name on them, not only in sight and mind but in the U.S. Patent Office. We also are committed to protecting these patents once obtained and pursue infringements vigorously.
Q: WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES YOU HAVE FACED? WHAT DOES PRIDE DO TO OVERCOME THOSE?
There is a burden to maintain our position as one of the design leaders in the industry. Retailers are always looking to you to see what the next greatest look is. We answer the ongoing challenge of giving the industry designs that will be received well by consumers. We love to manufacture and retailers love to sell, but we all come to work every day to make money. In order to do that, we have to have good products that retail well.
Q: HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR BEST BUSINESS MOVE?
Our best business move has been our overall ability to be responsive to the industry and to the workings of family-owned businesses. We're a family business making beautiful furniture and we're serving an industry of predominantly family-owned retail businesses. I think we should never forget that. We all have to work together to be successful. I get calls on the weekends and I take every call. Along with the entire Pride team, I stay connected to our retailers because without them there's no reason for our existence.
Pride Family Brands' interest in and dedication to making the retailer successful is one factor that makes this manufacturer an outstanding source, said long-time retail customer Petey Fleischut, owner of Hockessin, Del.-based Casual Marketplace.
"No. 1, I think the strongest asset that Pride offers is that they are a family-owned, family-run business seven days a week," she said. "Because of the involvement of the family and of the ownership, we get excellent customer service, quality and almost always on time or early delivery.
"When you offer Castelle furniture on your floor, you feel like you are offering custom made, hand-forged furniture," Fleischut said. "It comes in perfect floor condition and almost never in a given season will you ever have to touch up a piece of Pride furniture. Their designs are unique and, in most instances, extremely sellable on your floor."
Pride's designs suit many of the discerning customers at HEA Living's 6,500-sq.-ft . showroom in an upper-end, new shopping plaza in Williamsburg, Va., according to Barry Joseph, showroom manager. Many of those customers have reached retirement age or are semi-retired and have a second home.
"Our customers are very discriminating in a positive way," Joseph said. "They are stepping up their demands on outdoor and patio furniture. Castelle/Pride offers the best. Their fabrics are second to none. Their craftsmanship on their frames is second to none. Their finishes on their frames are stellar. People come in and get the ‘wow' effect from the beautiful styles, and then they say, ‘Can I really leave this outside?' So we find ourselves educating our consumers about the quality of Sunbrella fabrics and the quality of Pride's frames. At the end of the day, it's not for everybody but for those who want to buy the best, it's a very nice comfortable sale for us to make here."
Several factors combine to provide salespeople with that high level of comfort. "We've had a fantastic season with Pride, in fact Steve was telling me the other day that our growth is up over 300% from the prior year," Joseph said. "We're not worried about boxes showing up with the wrong color in them. We not worried about things showing up with dents because the Pride team ta kes a tremendous amount of pride, no pun intended, in how they ship products. Their furniture is so well-protected in the cartons during its transit that we never have damages. It just doesn't happen."
In addition to the quality of the fabrics, frames and finishes, Joseph noted some of the specialty things Pride does, including shipping cushions in a waterproof wrap. "Products arrive when expected, which is another wonderful thing compared with some of the other manufacturers we've done business with in the past," he said. "We find ourselves fine-tuning the manufacturers we represent because we want to be aligned with the best."
Lowsky's team literally takes pride in keeping that reputation. "For Pride Family Brands to maintain our role as fashion house of the industry, we have to continue to maintain our strict total quality processes as well as communicate consistently and frequently with our retail partners to address the continuing dynamics of the industry we serve," he said. "The feedback we receive from the retail community is priceless and the partnerships are critical to the long-term viability of our brand."
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