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Crown's newest business in 'infancy'

The new Crown Crafts, what remains of what was once the nation's sixth-largest home fashions producer, is a $110 million company tightly focused on an infants' and juvenile products business that didn't even exist six years ago.

Moreover, and perhaps crucially, it's a company with little high-cost domestic manufacturing, said Randall Chestnut, new chairman and ceo of Crown Crafts and the man who first got Crown involved in the consistently profitable infants' operation.

The only manufacturing done in the United States is at the company's small Churchill Weavers facility in Berea, KY, a producer of high-priced, high-fashion, hand-woven throws and baby blankets. And the only other manufacturing facility is a low-cost operation in Mexico.

"Except for Churchill, which is a hand-crafted operation, I don't have any domestic bricks and mortar to worry about. I don't have any equipment to keep running. The only manufacturing we have is at Churchill and in Mexico. We're more of a marketing and service organization than anything else, and that's a lot less we have to worry about, let me tell you," said Chestnut.

The new Crown Crafts, said Chestnut, exists as a parent holding company that controls four separate subsidiary companies:

  • Crown Crafts infants' Products, CCIP, which operates three companies, Red Calliope, NoJo and Pillow Buddies;

  • Hamco, which operates two separate companies: Hamco, a dominant supplier of bibs with a market share in excess of 50 percent, and Pinky Baby;

  • Burgundy Inter Americana, a Mexican manufacturing subsidiary that produces product for Hamco and other Crown units;

  • Churchill Weavers, a producer of ultra-luxury hand-woven throws and baby blankets.

A crucial component of the new Crown Crafts, said Chestnut, is that virtually all of its far-flung operations are still managed by the people who founded the companies that Crown Crafts later acquired. "We have been able, in every single case, to hold on to the people who built these companies from scratch, and who know their businesses better than anyone else. It's a truly remarkable, totally committed team that knows its business better than anyone they compete against," said Chestnut.

"Nancy Freeman is still ceo of Red Calliope, and Lila and Richard Bellando are still running Churchill. Bob Hamilton is still president and ceo of Hamco, and Salvador Rodriguez is the founder, president and general manager of Burgundy."

Chestnut, who joined Crown Crafts in 1995, came to the company from Beacon Mfg., where he had been president of the blanket manufacturing company once owned by financier David Murdock and later sold to Pillowtex Corp.

Once installed at Crown Crafts, Chestnut rapidly built up a portfolio of infants' and juvenile products companies through a long string of acquisitions, starting with Red Calliope in October 1995. That was followed in December by Pillow Buddies, and just a month later came Churchill Weavers, in January 1996. In March 1997, Crown picked up Hamco, and in August bought NoJo. In January 1998, it bought both Pinky Baby and Burgundy.

And between them, the companies hold such valuable licenses as Beatrix Potter, Baby Guess, Classic Pooh, Precious Moments, Disney's Winnie the Pooh, Waverly Baby, Classic Collection Looney Tunes, Osh Kosh b'Gosh and Sesame Street.

"I can't tell you how good I feel about this," Chestnut told Home Textiles Today. "We've got the best managers in the business, nothing in the way of manufacturing to worry about and a debt level we can comfortably handle. That's better than it's been in a whole long time."

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