American Textile Co. develops new products, grows to new heights

A smart use of resources

But as you diversify, it’s important to keep to your core competencies. Lance says don’t lose your focus.

“I mean, we are a bedding company and there have been times when we dipped our toe in things that were non-bedding — (and) very quickly recognized that that was not something that we knew or understood, and we should walk that back,” Lance says.

When American Textile wanted to grow into supplying the hotel and motel space, it found a strategic partner to help make the introduction.

“It’s not like they’re introducing somebody who has no idea, you know, how to make a pillow,” he says. “Even though our pillows are sold to retail, we are very much capable of selling them to a hotel.”

Once somebody gives you an opportunity to develop a product specific to that channel, you can build upon it.

But not every new product worked out as well. One example was when American Textile looked to expand beyond from its core market of North America to Europe.

“Europe was a disaster,” Lance says. “We found that every European country had its own language, it had its own standard bed sizes, it had its own likes and dislikes. We wound up with tremendous SKU proliferation.”

When you pull back the curtain, you realize it’s a dozen smaller markets rather than one large European market. Consumer preferences varied, and insurance was sometimes utilized for specific kinds of bedding products in one country versus another.

“We, after we were there for a few years, recognized that maybe there was a better way for us to use our resources. It doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t love to be in Europe, and we would love a European partner, but it is a much different market or channel than the markets that we are in,” Lance says.

Protect the culture

As American Textile invested in itself, hired more people and built factories, it has had to learn to protect its culture.

Lance says if they made a hire that wasn’t a cultural fit, it could become problematic, sort of like a cancer to the culture.

“That was probably the biggest lesson along the way, as we grew, is to protect that culture above all things,” he says.

The culture has gotten more sophisticated in how it manages the employee base, such as holding people accountable, but it’s still about making American Textile a great place to work and build a career, Blake says.

“You could argue that when companies get bigger, they lose their culture. I would argue, as we got bigger, our culture got better because we made it important. It was a priority for us,” he says.

For example, the company didn’t used to have career pathing. Now, it is creating training, education and career pathways, so its employees know what they need to do to advance themselves.

To keep the culture consistent across multiple locations, the business follows some common strategies.

“There are all sorts of things that we do, up to things as simple as making sure that the painting and the carpeting and the physical appearance of the offices and factories resemble one another,” Lance says.

American Textile has companywide communications and award and recognition programs. The executives make an effort to ensure the other facilities feel like they are a part of what happens in Pittsburgh, including making regular visits.

And when a new hire doesn’t fit the culture, it’s usually obvious quickly, Lance says.

“We have hired senior executives that had a great resume that had a way they would manage people that was inconsistent with the way we would. It doesn’t mean their way was wrong or not effective; it just wasn’t the way we were comfortable with,” he says.

You can’t settle for less, because it doesn’t take but one bad person to disrupt everything you’ve spent all your time working for, Blake says.

“If you’re an incredibly talented individual, but you’re going to be disruptive to our culture, you’re not going to work at our company,” he says.

 

Takeaways:

  • Build a portfolio of products by solving a problem.
  • Put in the market research to do it right the first time.
  • Protect and strengthen your culture by focusing on it.