Expanding with purpose
For more than 80 years, American Textile was primarily a private label supplier of utility bedding products, such as pillow and mattress protectors.
Today, it also sells sheets, pillows, mattress pads, comforters, blankets, throws and accessories, as private label and branded goods, both through retailers and e-commerce. It supplies hotels and motels, and contracts with noncompetitors for things like filling pet beds, stuffed toys or decorative pillows. The company has relationships with Sealy and Tempur-Pedic, and it produces its own brands, AllerEaseÒ and MyTempä.
“The average consumer might not know, necessarily, that they came from American Textile, but hopefully that didn’t impact the decision to buy or not. It’s the product itself and the things that go with the buying experience,” Lance says.
In fact, he says the company takes pride in having a relatively low profile.
The need to diversify, however, came from the consolidation of retail.
“We had to adjust accordingly, and part of that adjustment was knowing that there were fewer customers that we are going to be able to sell to and we had to be really important to those ones that were left,” Lance says.
That sentiment goes both ways because the retailers that remain desire to be more strategically aligned with their suppliers.
American Textile was an expert in a small category, mattress covers and pillow covers, and that became the most profitable four feet in the bedding area in many of the company’s retail partners, Blake says. By being focused, it was able to, over time, draw market share from larger companies and become the dominant player.
When American Textile expanded beyond pillow and mattress covers, it moved from commodity-based items to using innovation and technology to build a portfolio of products that solved a problem.
“We didn’t just go in with a commodity item into those other categories. We had a story to tell, and we had a need to address,” he says.
Do it right
American Textile created a line of allergen barrier products to protect against dust mites and a line of temperature balancing products for people who sleep too hot or cold. The AllerEaseÒ brand, for example, started with allergen barrier pillow and mattress protectors, which were built out into bed pillows, mattress pads and comforters.
“We started using technology as a tool and as a mechanism to really broaden our share within those categories,” Blake says.
Ideas like these come from understanding trends and spending time talking to consumers and suppliers.
“Our objective is to be on the front end of innovation, and to have unique technologies that are proprietary that have strong claims that can be supported by real science,” Blake says.
American Textile makes sure it validates any data itself, even if the technology was created by someone else. It often develops new products with a strategic partner.
American Textile also does a lot of product research and fact-based selling, which increases success.
“In the ’90s, we just used to say, ‘This looks like a good idea,’” he says.
Today, every six months, Blake says the company uses trends across its seven product categories to create ideas, and then validates the ideas through focus groups, concept evaluation, and market research and analysis.
“We’ll typically start with about 12 concepts for one of our market launches every March and every September. We’ll end up with about six. So, we’ll kick out half of the ideas that we have, that we’ve built up,” he says.
When you’re diversifying into new products, Blake says be careful, responsible and have a point of view that’s different from what’s being done in the market.
“I love to say that we like to watch things that are disruptive in the marketplace,” he says.
Retailers know that American Textile has done its homework with unique technology that serves a need, and that reputation and track record is why customers give the company new opportunities.
If you take something to market without doing the research, when it doesn’t sell, the retailer is upset because it has to mark the product down, which costs them money, Blake says. You also have to get rid of the excess inventory, which costs you money.
“Nobody’s happy. So, there’s an old saying, ‘Do it right the first time,’” he says.