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  • Warren Shoulberg

80 Years and Going Strong

Bruce Heyman’s three-store Fabricland and Metropolitan Window Fashions operation marks a big anniversary with big plans

Bruce Heyman,Bruce Heyman, third generation running the family business, says he told his kids: “Go do something else and then if you want to come back, that’s OK.”
Running an independent, family-owned retail store is hard enough. Try running three of them … in two different states … with three different formats and names.

What could be a recipe for failure is instead the formula for success for Bruce Heyman, whose window covering business in the New York metropolitan area celebrates its 80th anniversary this year with all signs indicating there’s plenty more to go.

Heyman’s flagship is Fabricland in North Plainfield, N.J., a 22,000-square-feet anchor known as much for its fabrics by the yard and vast trimming selection as it is for window coverings.

A second New Jersey store in the shopping mecca of Paramus was added in 1999 when Heyman bought Nassaus, the local legend well known for its custom and ready-made window businesses. The 2,700- square-foot store is on Route 17, a main thoroughfare in perhaps the most store-centric location in America.

And then just to make things interesting, in 2004 he opened a smaller 700-square-foot boutique location on Manhattan’s Upper West Side under the Metropolitan Window Fashions banner focusing on the custom business.

“Each market is different, so we have to run each store differently,” Heyman told H&TT at the New York City location recently.

The third generation in a business that began as Chain Decorators in Plainfield, N.J., Heyman was in the travel business and, as he puts it, “I had absolutely no interest in it – and the thought of selling fabric and curtains had very little appeal.”

Metropolitan Window FashionsMetropolitan Window Fashions on New York City’s Upper West Side is the operation’s newest unit.
That is, until, he received a visit from two longtime managers of the main store, telling him that was “where I was supposed to be and that my place was running my grandfather’s store.”

Heyman said it took a little while for that to sink in, but once it did, he never looked back. Not that it’s been easy, mind you. The emergence of big-box textiles chains over the past several decades caused the retailer to remake its business. “When the big boxes first came along, we were mostly all ready-mades. But then we said: ‘How are we going to be different?’

“Why are we in the custom business so big?” he asked, noting that it now represents 70% of the company’s overall business.

“Because the big stores can’t do it. We knew we couldn’t compete with them.”

Fabrics now make up 20% of business, with ready-mades picking up the rest. Overall, the three stores combined do between $5 million and $10 million, he said.

Over the years, Heyman has employed many of the techniques other independents have used to co-exist with the big stores: big community outreach programs, a full schedule of special events, unique local products, including crafts from New Jersey at the main store and a heavy emphasis on shop-at-home services. Between the three stores, there are 60 employees, among them eight decorators and three installers.

Custom curtainsCustom curtains dominate the business, with fabrics and ready-made window fashions accounting for the other 30%.
Those promotions will continue for the 80th anniversary celebrations this year. There will be celebrity in-store appearances, including one from TV star Monica Pederson, who is doing a new line for Softline, as well as an $8000 room makeover contest. And the customer who supplies the oldest store receipt will get an $800 gift certificate.

But 80 years is only a point in time, Heyman said. There are two kids in the next generation, though, “I told them to go do something else, and then if you want to come back, that’s OK.”

And while Heyman at one time operated two additional stores beyond the three now in business, he said more stores are not necessarily the plan. “So much of our business is shop at home now,” he said, meaning physical stores are not as key as they used to be. “Right now we’re just focused on growing our existing business.”

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