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Richloom weaves in synergies

Converter's growth reliant on all businesses

Although the August acquisition of the $30-million-a-year John Wolf business bumped Richloom to the head of the long-running three-horse race among converters, president Jim Richman sees plenty of room for growth.

"As a weaver, we're mid-size and growing," he said.

"Our growth is still dependent on the synergies of each piece of the business. It gives us a lot of latitude."

The focus in recent months has been on defining the proper roll for those pieces.

There is the company's fledgling import program, which is "growing nicely, one step at a time," Richman said.

The Berkshire Weaving business, he said, "will allow us to become a better converter and manufacturer."

For both the converting and weaving sides of the business, the acquisition earlier this year of the John Wolf converting unit of Cone Decorative Fabrics expanded the company's design reach. The acquisition also brought the company within reach of the $300 million sales mark.

Richloom Classics is the mainstream piece of the product offering and focuses on the company's coordination capabilities. "I think we have the best coordinated fabric packages in the industry," Richman said.

Platinum, the upper-end, highly decorative, design-driven line headed by Louise Cullen Robinson, represents the top of the line. Richman noted "there will be more expansion on the Platinum side."

And the third element, the new John Wolf signature, is more playful, younger and quite different from the others, offering prints and coordinating wovens.

Each label offers wovens and prints.

In terms of design, Richman said, "We play to each market." And he noted that heat transfer prints are still strong. "Prints are holding, and at some time they will cycle back. I see a need for more pattern." Chenilles, jacquards, wovens, and suedes also are top product players, he said.

Richman called the company's growth strategy "a long, slow master plan. Each business is run as its own business. And product is brought out the best one, at the best time, by item."

As a converter/weaver Richloom sells to every textile distribution channel — from home textiles manufacturers to retailers, jobbers, contract, furniture and export.

At the same time, it is an "up-and-coming ready-made manufacturer," Richman said. And while the two sides of the business could cause a conflict, he is quick to point out that many key customers get to see new fabrics before his division heads see them.

"We use our judgement and have been above board over the years," he said. The company's objective is to "feed off what we make," and then the manufactured product groups head overseas to find what they need.

Imports are producing a "nice bed-in-a-bag business. We're using the countries we source from for their specific strengths," Richman said. And as a home textiles weaving source, Berkshire Weaving installed wide-width looms last year to accommodate this segment, Richman said.

The one distribution channel that is not viewed as a growth segment is export. But Richman emphasized, "We'll continue to pursue it, even though it is slowly going down."

Besides the competitive forces from Asia and other areas, Richman sees the buying habits of export customers are changing. The company will not be showing at Heimtextil in Frankfurt next month but will make appointments at the nearby Marriott Hotel.

Richman sees the company continuing in the export arena because of the "the mix of product we have — the weaving capability, the merchandising programs and our coordinated packages."

As for business, Richman said, "We'll end the year up okay. It's not as bad as people would have thought."

And with regard to the future, he mused, "It will come back differently. There will be a lot of absorption of firms." "We are working hard, and our people are making it happen."

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