Softline Eyeing New Frontiers at 10th Anniversary
October 20, 2011,
The Carr brothers: Rodney (l) and Jason
In fact, speak to them for a few minutes and their energy is contagious. The distributors of ready-made curtains, decorative pillows, and fabrics continues to thrive despite weathering some intense economic storms. And, they have big plans for the next 10 years and beyond.
They are no strangers to adversity. Case in point: starting the business in the midst of 9/11 chaos that made it difficult for then Toronto-based Rodney to get a Visa to work with Jason in Los Angeles. And, when the U.S. economy imploded in 2009, Softline's response: expand into Montreal, Canada with a showroom and full distribution center.
Today, Softline's products are distributed not only to major retailers domestically and in Canada but also exported to customers in Puerto Rico, Mexico, South America, New Zealand and Australia. The company operates showrooms in Los Angeles, as well as in New York, Atlanta and Montreal.
"The reason we've been successful in these adverse times is that we always followed our business plan and our vision," said Jason. "We were not greedy. We always put money back into the company."
That included continuing to advertise and make smart use of new media even during a crunch. Softline created an industry buzz with a short film about the company in 2007, and has a well-followed Facebook page, a blog and an active website, which is being revamped. "We want our customers to have as many sales tools as possible," said Jason. "The photography you see on the website is not just panels next to a chair and lamp; it's a real lifestyle approach."
The tenacity at the beginning - Rodney on the road 300 nights out of the year and a presence at 40 trade shows a year during the company's infancy - paid off with a large order from Jo-Anne Fabric for decorative fabrics. In 2004, the company began marketing ready-made panels, a move that opened up its customer base to the big national chains. Decorative pillows came next.
According to Rodney, Softline's focus on "affordable elegance" and its use of polyester fabrics designed to look like silk gave the company a specialty niche that was a hit with customers.
Now the plan is to continue to innovate in product development and in how it services customers. The company recently announced an exclusive partnership deal with GuardIn Natural Fabric Protection, which uses all-natural technology to make fabric anti-bacterial and flameresistant as well as stain- and water-repellant.
Bedding is the newest venture, with a modern product line of coverlets to be shown at the upcoming New York Home Fashions Market. And down the road, the brothers have an eye on a brand prize. "We're doing our homework right now, looking at designers and corporate brands. We're a strong brand and recognize the advantages of having both brands and private labels," said Jason.
What has changed over the last 10 years? "We have retailers taking our calls quicker," noted Jason. Added Rodney: "Retailers don't give you 1,000-store orders any more. There is a lot more testing of programs for 100 to 150 stores," he said.
One other remarkable thing about the Carrs: how well they get along. The brothers are close and have forged a productive working relationship with seemingly little familial conflict. "We know our strengths and respect each other's talents," noted Rodney. While Jason is the buying and operations guy, Rodney has always been more of the sales guy.
The easy sibling camaraderie is evident in their relationship. Asked to name milestones, Rodney doesn't hesitate: "When the company was profitable enough that I could afford to move out of Jason's L.A. apartment."
For Jason, it was finishing the Los Angeles marathon with his brother in order to get Rodney to stop smoking. Both accomplished their goal. The family camaraderie is also pivotal in how it treats its employees. The company provides full health care coverage, profit incentives and even English classes for non-native speakers, and prides itself on the low turnover since the company began.
A 2004 HTT article had this to say: "Softline wants to become a leader in design and styling, stay aggressive in product development, increase its importance to existing customers and offer products that retailers haven't seen, added the brothers."
That, at least, hasn't changed. "That's exactly what we still live by," they both agreed.