P/Kaufmann Expands Reach in 50th Year

Retail Editor 3, Carole Sloan, March 26, 2007

Unlike many of its competitors from the mid-20th century in the decorative fabric converting business that are no longer around, P/Kaufmann is building its business on a structure of diversification — a move than now includes the acquisition of the Waverly decorative fabrics license.

On April 1, the company celebrates its 50th anniversary and is a far different company from the one founded by the late Peter Kaufmann. "Things are moving so fast for us, I feel very good that we have diversified significantly. We're no longer dependent on our core converting business," said Ron Kaufmann, ceo and one of the second-generation family members involved in the business.

Besides its core P/Kaufmann and Braemore converting businesses, the company embraces the full reach of the home furnishings market with Clarence House, an upscale interior designer fabrics showroom network at the top.

Clarence House, founded by the late Robin Roberts, has been undergoing a transformation "It had been very challenging, but it has been a very good six months," Kaufmann related. "I feel very confident about having made the investment. We changed showrooms in a number of key cities."

The core P/Kaufmann fabrics are broad-based in both prints and wovens, while Breamore is more upscale in design and price points. While prints were the biggest piece of the converting line 10 years ago, Kaufmann observed, "The print market is really tough. It's about 10% of the decorative fabric market generally. And here we're 20% to 30% prints. When you have a good print, it sells nicely." And an important factor, he added, "is that most of our best selling patterns are higher priced and more imaginative than most."

Andy Kaufmann, Ron's brother, is woven product designer.

Prints, Kaufmann related, "had their last peak in the mid-'90s. Wovens were on allocation. The fashion was right; the prints were priced right, and there was a default production and supply factor."

Looking ahead, Kaufmann noted, "We hear from the people at Clarence House that there is more interest in prints," — a situation that could well move down the price points to P/Kaufmann and Braemore.

Folia, which is run by Howard Tooter, Ron Kaufmann's brother-in-law, holds the license for the Ralph Lauren Home decorative fabrics that are sold through all Ralph Lauren showroom distribution, the dedicated Ralph Lauren interior designer showroom here, and where applicable, through Henredon, the furniture licensee.

Bloomcraft Home evolved from the acquisition of Howard Kaplan Fabrics, and now is two divisions — one dedicated to the furniture industry, the other to major retailers of home textile products.

The furniture group "is very focused under Lee Kabat, Ronnie Gold, and Joel Ostrow. It's still in the growing stages," Kaufmann related. "They take a different approach than P/Kaufmann and Braemore, which tend to develop product broadly. Lee is strictly focused."

As for Bloomcraft Home in home textiles, which has had a strong growth, Kaufmann said, "Michael is doing a wonderful job."

The hospitality segment of the contract market is another big star for the company, Kaufmann noted. "We invested heavily in it with more space and inventory."

As for the soon-to-be newest member of the P/Kaufmann family — the Waverly brand for decorative fabrics — Kaufmann said: "We're looking at it reactively and proactively. We want to see what can be done differently, and create new opportunities."

The Waverly brand is in transition, Kaufmann said, with completion of the physical transfer of goods, people and facilities scheduled to be within about 90 days. The company has taken about 4,000 square feet on the 28th floor of 3 Park Avenue, a few floors down from company headquarters, to house the Waverly group's studio and showroom. The senior management will be on the company's headquarters floor.

Currently, Tom Leahy, vp, sales, and about 75% of the Waverly fabrics sales force now are P/Kaufmann employees, as well as some of the converting department. Pamela Maffei-Toolan, who was Waverly's vp, design, will join P/Kaufmann after the transition but is already working as product design director. Sue Krukonis and Lynne Hopkins are now heading print and woven design, respectively. Dan Bonini, currently president and general manager at Waverly, is scheduled to move over to P/Kaufmann as the president of the new Waverly division.

"Their approaches to design are very different from what we do, and very effective," Kaufmann stated. "Their design studio is very talented and we're a design business."

Some of the Waverly distribution differs from Kaufmann's as well. Waverly has begun to sell into the Chinese market under its brand for fabrics, he said. "I think it's great; it's a twist on playing to a China-to-China opportunity."

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