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Rapid changes for the longer term

The new owners of The Robert Allen Group see the multi-faceted home furnishings supplier hitting the billion dollar mark in the next decade — a four-time gain over its current quarter-billion dollar revenues.

The owners — in place just over a year —Ron Cordover, ceo, and his son, Jeff, president, are taking a long-term view of the company. They are already dramatically expanding and enhancing the company's merchandise offering in home textiles for its Robert Allen/Beacon Hill designer showroom network as well as creating new upscale collections in decorative fabrics and accessories for its 18-unit corporate showroom network. They're also putting new emphasis on the more mainstream Robert Allen@Home and Ametex fabric lines for retailers, home textiles suppliers and furniture manufacturers.

In an interview with the Cordovers and Terry Weber, senior vp, marketing and communications, and Andy Pacuk, senior vp, product development, the foursome emphasized their concentration not just on product enhancement but "the need to broaden and deepen the company's management. We have many very competent people, but the company became thin, especially in the face of our strategic growth," Ron Cordover said.

As more designer showrooms that once were focused primarily on decorative fabrics now move to becoming total home furnishings sources, those showrooms become even more important, the executives believe.

And in terms of product development and merchandising, a new team has been assembled headed by Pacuk, including home furnishings veterans Suzanne Kelly, Steve Avitable and Jennie Wilde.

Using the strengths of its product development and merchandising team, the company has hundreds of suppliers that create exclusive designs for them, Ron Cordover said.

The results of these new efforts are showcased in the company's Dallas showroom that recently opened, Pacuk said. "It's a whole different statement of integrated product design throughout, rather than just a lot of furniture, a lot of fabrics, and so on."

Among the changes in merchandising approach, Pacuk added, "is recognizing that our customers are frequent shoppers. We need to surprise them with new things, expanded product lines and a new way of presenting the merchandise. We suggest collections of products and let the designers do their jobs and create rooms."

A big piece of the product expansion is the Robert Allen Soft Home program now in development, Pacuk said. "We're looking to find national resources for made to measure, and we're developing a lot of proprietary product in top of the bed, window coverings, headboards, decorative pillows and table linens.

One surprise is the collection of some 50 or 60 pieces of Murano glass made exclusively for the showrooms, Ron Cordover said.

Differentiating Robert Allen and Beacon Hill within the same showroom environment is as much a marketing action as well as a merchandising effort, according to Weber. Robert Allen is for all designers, while Beacon Hill is aspirational with exceptionally unique product, such as the recently launched Artisans decorative fabric collection that features unique weaves and surface applications.

"We are working to separate the brands in marketing and identify them with these different points of view," Weber said.

Looking to the Robert Allen@Home and Ametex businesses, Pacuk said, "Our Susan Sargent licensed fabric collection is clearly focused in the furniture market with Lexington and with major retailers. We'll be introducing her fabrics for outdoor furniture and sheers as well as a new print and woven collection this summer."

Ametex, Ron Cordover added, "has an important place in our plans. And primarily our basic furniture market activity going forward will revolve around the Ametex brand."

Ametex is a "whole different business from Robert Allen," Ron Cordover said. "It services a whole different customer and is more commercial, and we see it as an important introduction outlet."

The company, which had been part of the Lifestyle and Masco corporate families over the past 15 years, is "now a family business. But we're not running it as an egocentric business, but as a management team with a strategic plan," Jeff Cordover said.

As part of this change, about three-quarters of management is new. They include Greg Tarver, senior vp, manufacturing; Paul Sarazin, senior vp, sales; and Judy Fishman who joins the company on Aug. 4 as senior vp, human resources. She "will be an extraordinary part of our company and will join the company's executive committee," Jeff Cordover said. Fishman has been with Korn-Ferry International.

In other management changes, Peter Gallagher, who served as senior vp, sales until early this year, and David Klaristenfeld, general counsel, have left the firm.

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