Victor Group Looks Ahead

Carole Sloan, December 7, 2009

With the quick assimilation of Craftex into its fold, the Victor Group now is looking forward to strengthening its position in the residential decorative fabrics market.

Victor, a 60 year plus Canadian mill, had specialized in contract and apparel markets. It acquired the assets of Quaker Fabrics, formerly one of the industry's largest decorative fabric mills, in 2007. With the Quaker and Craftex acquisitions, it now has the opportunity to become a major force in the United States residential fabric market, serving the decorative jobber and furniture communities as well as expanding into other markets, said Alain Duval, president and ceo.

Duval assumed this role in 2008 when as president and ceo of Victor Innovatex, he became the sole shareholder of the parent company, succeeding his brother Richard, who retired.

The Quaker acquisition included the design team, the sales force, "a good China partner," machinery and equipment, inventory, intellectual property and the design archive. With the Craftex deal, Victor acquired the brand, the catalog of designs and its archive of more than 30,000 fabrics created over the past hundred years of Craftex' operation.

When Victor established itself in Fall River, Mass., the home of Quaker, it moved from five buildings into one "and reshaped the management approach," Duval explained. Both the mill here and the one in Fall River are vertical in that "we have yarn making capability, warping, weaving, finishing and dyeing as well as back coating. We are minimizing our sourcing of basic needs."

With both acquisitions and its China partner, Duval feels ready to expand the company's reach into the residential market with products from good to better to best, with China at the good level, Victor at the better and Craftex now filling the void at the best.

"We now have both feet in the United States and while the time of the Craftex acquisition was not the best time, we're not looking to the residential market for the short term nor to fight China in the residential side."

As for the company's China partner, "there's no set goal for the percentage to total volume. Customers can buy for direct shipment or we can stock here. The keys are our strength in design and quality. We design and test here and make sure that it is made right for the market from raw materials to design and finishing. We control the entire chain."

One key element in Duval's strategy is the parent company's long-term commitment to the demanding needs of the contract market and translate those assets to the residential segment. Based on its contract experiences "we bring new creative value where we can explain the product story and the value behind it, as well as replicating the demands of the contract segment in lead time service."

Analyzing where the company now stands in terms of residential fabric performance, Duval said "on a scale of one to 10, we're at eight. We definitely need more innovation in materials."

Looking down the road, Duval commented, "We see some translation of contract product to residential." He also sees some residential side contract opportunities beyond hospitality into health care.

Victor is not without challenges in its business outlook, Duval acknowledged. Some 70% to 80% of its contract business has been in the United States. "Now we have a big plant to fill (in Fall River) and we have to grow it profitably."

For volume growth, furniture is the No. 1 target "and the higher end looks will be very important. But jobbers are very important; we want to be strong partners."

Duval sees 2010 "as another transitional year — but it will be a growth year with the first half a challenge." On the other hand, Canadian business is very strong, "and the economy is quite good even though there is a recession. We will continue to grow in Canada, but mostly in contract."

Farther down the road, Duval sees international growth "with our first goal as China to China both for internal consumption as well as export. Then the Middle East, Europe, England, Australia and eventually Brazil and Mexico."

The company also is one of those in the textiles field at the forefront of the development of environmentally friendly fabrics. It is a member of the Sustainable Furnishings Council as a Silver Corporate Exemplary Member. Within the company, Victor practices significant steps from conservation to renewability to fiber usage.

As for design and innovation, "we're mostly in house," but the company is opening a web site "reaching out to the world for ideas that can be translated."

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