This category covers establishments primarily engaged in the manufacture of curtain and drapery rods, poles, and fixtures; venetian blinds; horizontal miniblinds; and vertical blinds in all materials except canvas. Establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing canvas window shades and awnings are classified in SIC 2394: Canvas and Related Products.
337920 (Blind and Shade Manufacturing)
Companies engaged in the manufacture of drapery hardware and window coverings have witnessed an astounding demand for their wares since the 1980s and have introduced many new types of products to satisfy consumer needs. However, U.S. manufacturers in this category face stiff competition from overseas companies that produce cheap imitations of higher-priced products for the consumer market. The trade gap for this industry is amongst the highest of all industries.
The value of shipments generated by this industry increased steadily throughout the 1990s, from $1.7 billion in 1991 to $2.6 billion in 2000, a clear indication of the growth in this industry. Correspondingly, the drapery hardware and window blinds industry employed 13,600 workers in 1977, but by 2000 the number of workers employed in the industry had increased to 22,060.
Many of the U.S. firms that manufacture and sell drapery hardware and window blinds are private companies, but some are subsidiaries of much larger publicly-traded home furnishings conglomerates. Like other manufacturers, they are comprised of many specific divisions, but one of the largest concerns is in providing consumers with up-to-date and contemporary styles. For this reason, research and development departments play an important role in companies engaged in manufacturing drapery hardware and window blinds. This division keeps an eye on general trends in consumer lifestyle patterns, home furnishing expenditures, and overall color and pattern changes in the interior design industry. Design analysts in the research and development departments look for certain color groups and textures that they believe will appeal to the broadest range of consumers. For instance, in the 1980s, dramatic changes in the American lifestyle and consumer spending patterns caused by the burgeoning emphasis on high-tech products refashioned the home environment. A new edginess to interior design was manifested in sharp angles and artificial colors, such as mauve. Additionally, a downturn in the economy in the late 1980s, combined with a growing awareness of the concept of the global village, brought a new palette of colors to the window coverings industry and encouraged the introduction of the wood miniblind.
In the interior furnishings industry, window blinds fall under the category of home textiles, although they are not specifically textiles. Previously, curtains and drapes geared to match furniture and bedspreads were the dominant force in the category, but they were replaced by the popularity of miniblinds beginning in the 1980s and continuing through 1997. Consumers switched from buying pinch-pleated draperies and curtains to miniblinds accessorized with a "top treatment"—a swath of fabric that matched some other component of the interior. In the industry, miniblinds, vertical blinds, and pleated shades were first known as "alternative window treatments" to differentiate them from fabric-based draperies and curtains. Today, miniblinds are ubiquitous; they have become a standard in home furnishings. The lower-cost miniblinds, available at discount and chain retailers, have become a booming segment within the industry as a whole.
Manufacturers of miniblind products are divided between the two segments of the market, vinyl and aluminum. Vinyl blinds cost less to manufacture, do not rattle in the wind, and won't develop bend marks. Yet, vinyl blinds are susceptible to flapping on windy days, let a good deal of light through even when completely closed, can become discolored, and have a tendency to lose shape over time. They are popular with consumers, however, because of their low cost, range of standard sizes, relative ease of installation, and ultimate disposability. On the other hand, aluminum blinds are perceived as a much more durable investment. Heavier than vinyl, aluminum blinds do not flap in the breeze, keep out light more effectively, and their colors and finishes will last longer than plastic. Aluminum blinds may scratch a window, however, and can fall victim to surface dents and creases. Major manufacturers such as Hunter Douglas and Levolor concentrate primarily on the custom-made aluminum blind market and have left the vinyl blind market primarily to overseas manufacturers. However, some companies offer stock aluminum blinds in retail outlets and may also sell custom-made vinyl blinds.
In 1996, reports of unsafe miniblinds—particularly those manufactured overseas—led to a massive recall. The miniblinds were found to contain lead and thus deemed unsafe for home usage, especially those homes with small children. Every retailer took part in the recall by pulling the affected miniblinds from the shelves and giving customers refunds.
Another large segment of the window coverings industry is newly geared to pleated shades to replace standard miniblinds and curtains. The pleated shades owe their development in part to new manufacturing processes that produce versatile fabrics in lightweight weaves to allow a great deal of light through, yet also possess insulating properties. The new processes have also introduced a variety of textures. A leading brand in this new segment of the industry is Duette, a brand manufactured by Hunter Douglas. The product was introduced in 1985 and proved popular with consumers, in part because the pull cord could be hidden. The company has also introduced another version of the pleated shade under the brand name Silhouette. Wood blinds, with their natural appearance, also occupy a growing segment of the window covering market.
In the field of drapery hardware and window coverings, department stores are the primary consumer retail outlets, led by the entrenched home-decorating departments of national chains such as J.C. Penney and Sears. However, the larger stores are being challenged in the home-furnishings market by such specialty retailers as Bed Bath and Beyond. These smaller national outlets provide consumers with either in-stock or custom-made window coverings in a large variety of styles, along with accompanying hardware.
Prior to the miniblind-dominated era in interior window coverings, there was a relatively limited range of styles and options for consumers. Drapery hardware was relatively standardized and available in a narrow range of styles. Venetian blinds were originally made of wood, but later an aluminum version became ubiquitous. The companies that produced venetian blinds primarily sold them to institutions such as schools and offices. Most interior window treatments in kitchens, bathrooms, and bedrooms consisted of curtains made of a lightweight fabric with a pull-down vinyl shade spanning the window. Despite their popularity in office settings, venetian blinds were in fact found in the home with increasing frequency. It was not uncommon for people to hang blinds in their living rooms and bedrooms, and shades in the kitchen and bathrooms. In living rooms, heavy pinch-pleated draperies were the most popular window accessories, often paired with blinds or shades.
The popularity of the aluminum miniblind helped fuel the tremendous growth of this sector of the U.S. consumer home-furnishings industry. Later, vertical blinds and window shades developed from stronger, light-emitting materials were also introduced. However, in the late 1970s, Taiwan restructured its polyvinylchloride (PVC) manufacturing industry to mass-produce and import miniblinds. This resulted in the flooding of the U.S. market with cheaper plastic versions of the aluminum miniblinds. Manufacturers responded by diversifying their aluminum lines into a greater selection of colors and finishes, producing a competing line of more affordable vinyl blinds and keeping a strong foothold in the custom-made aluminum miniblind market. This has proven to be a popular segment of the window coverings industry. Consumers can take their window measurements to a retail outlet, sift through catalogs of styles, and in a few weeks have custom-crafted aluminum blinds installed throughout their home. These custom-made products accounted for 80 percent of the domestic miniblind market in the early 1990s. Many miniblind manufacturers (aluminum as well as vinyl) offer enough sizes that custom-made blinds are not the only option. Shades can generally be cut to fit any size window.
The drapery hardware segment of the industry has made a concerted effort to come out from behind the scenes. When long, heavy, pinch-pleated draperies were in vogue for so many years, the accompanying hardware was designed to stay hidden. The poles, rods, and tieback elements served a functional need and were correspondingly utilitarian in design. However, the emerging popularity of top treatments for windows—swaths of fabric that added a decorative element to the miniblind or pleat-shade covered window below—paved the way for a new emphasis on drapery hardware. These products are generally manufactured from a variety of metals, including steel, bronze, and brass, but some companies offer poles and rods in numerous wood finishes. Consumers may purchase drapery hardware in a variety of novelty styles. Drapery hardware products are available in both traditional and contemporary styles, and many now have removable decorative elements that give them a greater versatility.
The economic boom of the late 1990s boosted the drapery hardware and window coverings industry to record shipments of $2.92 billion in 1999. When the economy softened in 2000, consumers began to spend less, and shipments dropped in value to $2.66 billion that year.
The industry was also witness to changes in its overall corporate structure through acquisitions and mergers that took place during the mid- and late 1990s. Companies struggled to hold on to their segment of the consumer-durables market while also introducing products to fill new niches. In addition, in response to increased consumer spending in the late 1990s, industry leaders began to introduce more upscale products and broaden their product lines to include more specialty products.
Many of the top U.S. companies engaged in the manufacture of drapery hardware and window coverings are major corporations. One of the largest is Hunter Douglas, Incorporated of Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. It is a private company founded in 1963 that employs approximately 5,000 workers in the United States. Annual sales figures in the mid-1990s were $600.0 million. It is a subsidiary of the Hunter Douglas Group, which is headquartered in Rotterdam, the Netherlands; the company had worldwide sales of $1.5 billion and 13,500 employees in 1998.
Another corporate giant is Newell Rubbermaid, a major housewares conglomerate that sells window shades and drapery hardware under the brand name Window Furnishings. Based in Freeport, Illinois, the company traces its roots back to 1903 and reported annual sales of $6.4 billion in 1999 (a figure that represents the total for all of its corporate holdings, which include Rubbermaid products glassware, cookware, and hardware companies). In 1993, Newell acquired the Levolor Corporation of San Jose, California. Levolor was founded by the Lorentzen family in 1911, but in recent years, its brand name became nearly synonymous with the miniblind. At its peak, Levolor's annual sales neared $300.0 million, and it held onto a 40 percent share of the market. But during the 1980s, the company was beset by internal squabbling and suffered as a result. Instead of cultivating and maintaining valuable accounts with industry distributors, it instead concentrated on selling directly to the consumer and subsequently lost some major distributor accounts to more aggressive competitors. Sales declined, and in 1988 the company was sold to an investment firm for only $135.0 million. Newell also acquired drapery hardware and window coverings giant Kirsch, which in the mid-1990s had sales of $250.0 million.
Other leading companies in the window coverings manufacturing industry include Springs Windows Fashions, a division of Springs Industries, based in Fort Mill, South Carolina, whose brands include Bali, Nanik, and Graber; and Home Fashions, Incorporated of Westminster, California, which sells its products under the Del Mar brand name. The company employed 1,000 workers and reported 1998 sales figures of $110 million.
The work force engaged in manufacturing drapery hardware and window coverings numbered 22,070 in 2000. Among these workers, 15,281 are in the production sectors.
The relative ease with which window coverings can be manufactured by overseas companies, primarily in Taiwan, and exported into the U.S. market has negatively impacted the window coverings segment of this industry. The domestic drapery hardware business, meanwhile, has been invaded by a leading German manufacturer, Blome, which entered the U.S. market in 1991. The company has mainly distributed its products through intermediary outlets but also planned to market its wares in upscale department stores.
Industry critics of vinyl blinds, which are primarily imported from Taiwan, have decried their saturation in the U.S. market and charge that the imported products are not subject to the same lead content restrictions as U.S. manufacturers. Critics charge that the Taiwanese vinyl blinds are ecologically unsound, since they will eventually wind up in American landfills and take decades to disintegrate.
Burmingham, Geoffrey B. "An Old Favorite Is Back As a Window Dressing." Orlando Sentinel, 25 September 1999.
Moody's Industrial Manual 1999. New York: Moody's Investors Service.
United States Census Bureau. "Statistics for Industries and Industry Groups: 2000." Annual Survey of Manufacturers. February 2002. Available from http://www.census.gov .