Hearth & Home November 2017

Outduras’ jacquard looms.
Photo: ©2017 Eckard Photographic. www.eckardphotographic.com.

Outdura Steps Up

By Mark Brock

Investments in technology, people and design are taking the company to another level, but its roots remain in the small town of Hudson, North Carolina.

As casual furniture manufacturer OW Lee began to explore ways in which it could help specialty retailers stand out from mass merchants and Big Box stores, its focus quickly landed on fabrics. After all, fabrics complete the look for casual furniture, and it’s fabrics that consumers touch in the store and use to personalize their outdoor settings.

“Our goal was to become a resource for specialty retailers in accessing fabrics that consumers will not see in Big Box stores,” said Paul Rogers, director of Product Development and designer for OW Lee, one of the nation’s leading manufacturers of premium outdoor furniture and accessories. “A special fabrics offering can definitely set a specialty retailer apart from mass merchants.”

To achieve its objective of helping specialty retailers differentiate themselves through a unique fabric offering, Rogers enlisted the assistance of Victoria Dawson, West Coast Sales manager for Outdura fabrics. OW Lee had long respected the design aesthetic, performance and service levels of Outdura fabrics, and Dawson offered many years of experience in the casual furniture industry as a designer and buyer of casual fabrics.

Victoria Dawson, West Coast Sales manager.

“When we began to develop the fabric collection, Victoria was key in coming to our factory and working with me and Leisa McCollister, our Marketing director, in putting together a comprehensive selection that offered both good-selling staples as well as fabrics that definitely catch the eye,” Rogers said. “We looked at the offerings from Outdura over the last few years, and we knew that Victoria would work as a liaison with the mill to make sure that we both felt the partnership was mutually beneficial.”

The result of this collaboration was the creation of the “Generations Collection” of Outdura fabrics from OW Lee, which debuted during the July pre-market in Chicago. OW Lee describes the new collection as inspired by past generations, yet well positioned for the future:

“Generations Collection from OW Lee – At the heart of any good story you will find a vibrant history combined with cultural undertones. This fabric collection is inspired by the stories passed down through generations and how those stories, over time, transform into symbols and artwork.

The fabrics represented in this collection are rich with texture and interesting patterns and colors, inspiring the imagination. It is the perfect backdrop for the stories made today, to be told for Generations to come.”

Retailer reaction at pre-market was enthusiastic, according to Rogers. “Specialty retailers are really looking for something to differentiate themselves from mass retailer competition, and it’s hard to do that when the most visually prominent feature, the fabric, is exactly the same as at the Big Box retailer down the street,” he said. “We’ve known for several years now that our customers are really looking to get different looks than mass retailers, and they’re very excited to have this as an option from OW Lee.”

This latest collaboration between OW Lee and Outdura fabrics is an excellent example of how furniture manufacturers and fabric specialists can work together to support specialty retailers in the hyper-competitive world of casual furniture where the influence of the Internet and Big Box stores continues to grow. Making the OW Lee and Outdura fabrics collaboration even more significant is the fact that the fabrics featured in this new collection are woven within a factory that first opened in 1904.

While the Outdura manufacturing center located in the tiny hamlet of Hudson, North Carolina, retains many elements of its historic look on the outside, as evidenced by its registry as a national historic site, you’ll find inside the latest in weaving technology for solution-dyed acrylic fabrics. The story of the Outdura brand is a story of resilience and reinvestment that has accelerated dramatically in recent years as the result of new ownership.

Outdura Fabrics & Hudson Community Deeply Intertwined

It would be extremely difficult to find a manufacturing company and a town with shared histories more closely intertwined than those of Hudson, North Carolina, and Outdura fabrics. The Hudson community was formed in the foothills of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains in the 1880s as a logging community. As timber resources were depleted by the early 1900s, the question for Hudson was: What’s next? The community found its answer within the state’s growing textiles industry.

The Hudson Cotton Manufacturing Company was established in Hudson in 1904, giving the community an economic boost from the skilled workforce that the new mill attracted. Recognizing its newly acquired potential as a manufacturing center, Hudson was incorporated in 1905 with the articles of incorporation drafted by the mill superintendent. The precedent was set for a symbiotic relationship between the mill and the town.

Hudson’s first fire truck was purchased by the mill and housed in the plant’s basement until a fire station could be built on adjacent land donated by the mill. The mill was instrumental in the construction of a new school for the county and water for the city’s first water system came from a deep well and water tower at the plant. For many years, Santa and his reindeer were staged on the plant’s roof, accompanied by holiday music, attracting visitors from throughout the rural community.

The Hudson Cotton Manufacturing plant expanded steadily over the years, with additions made in the1920s, 1930s, 1950s and 1980s, with the last addition completed in 1992. Its future was further secured in 1969 when it was purchased by the Shuford family, early pioneers in North Carolina’s textile industry, and renamed a Shuford Mills plant. The Shufords continued to invest in the plant, assuring steady employment for generations of Hudson families.

One of the most important decisions by Shuford came in the late 1990s when the Hudson mill began weaving fabrics from solution-dyed acrylic yarns. The target markets were awning, marine and casual furniture applications that needed a fabric capable of withstanding the harsh elements of Mother Nature.

Over the years, the Outdura brand of performance fabrics gained a loyal following of customers who were attracted to its cotton-like appearance and its tenacity in the face of challenges from sun, wind and rain. Outdura fabrics helped to assure the continued operation of the Hudson plant as other textile mills closed throughout the 1990s due to foreign competition for commodity textiles. It was also Outdura fabrics and a specialization in solution-dyed acrylics that set the stage for a new owner with a global perspective.

Side view of the back side of the Outdura looms.
Photo: ©2017 Eckard Photographic. www.eckardphotographic.com.

Sattler AG Purchases Outdura Brand & Hudson Plant

Sattler AG, which was founded in Austria in 1875, is a world leader in solution-dyed acrylic fabrics. Owned by a fifth generation of the family, Sattler has multiple operations throughout Europe, and its name is closely allied with high-performance textiles for applications ranging from awning and marine to transportation and tensile structures. It was a confluence of ideally aligned interests that brought Sattler AG and Shuford Mills together.

By the early 2000s, the Shuford family was considering options for its Outdura brand and the Shuford Mills manufacturing center in Hudson. A prime objective for the family was that the Hudson plant continue to operate and provide jobs for Hudson families, many of whom had relied on the mill for two and three generations of employment.

At the same time, Sattler AG of Austria, which had exported products to the U.S. for more than 30 years, was focused on expanding the availability of its offerings in America and was open to a strategic acquisition in the States.

“Our acquisition of the Outdura brand has proven to be the perfect fit for Sattler as Outdura was also known for high quality and design in solution-dyed acrylics, just as we are,” said Manfred Heissenberger, CEO of Sattler AG of Austria. “In addition, the team at Outdura shares our passion for the highest quality products, superb service and cutting-edge design. The combination of cultures in Austria and North Carolina has created a solid organization.”

Sattler has invested steadily in the Hudson manufacturing center and the Outdura brand since its acquisition from Shuford in 2011. These investments have included modernized and expanded weaving equipment, implementation of SAP enterprise software, additional resources for brand and customer support, an internal fabrics design team, community civic contributions and the acquisition of additional land in Hudson for possible future expansion. Sattler AG has established the Hudson location as its U.S. headquarters where it warehouses a variety of its products for expedited availability in North America.

“As a worldwide organization, we pull from our resources around the globe to create the best possible solution-dyed acrylic products,” Heissenberger said. “Given its size, the Outdura organization lends itself to reacting quickly and efficiently to market requirements. This allows the Outdura brand to operate in front of trends instead of following trends.”

According to Charlie Church, chief financial officer of Sattler Corp., the U.S. subsidiary of Sattler AG, its parent company in Austria has not only provided financial resources needed for continual growth and improvement, but also technical expertise in areas that include manufacturing, operations, design and accounting. Sattler and Outdura employees in Austria and in the U.S. are in continual communication not only through electronic forms, but also through frequent site visits between the two organizations.

“The ownership by Sattler AG has truly reinvigorated the Outdura brand with more technical, financial, operational and brand resources,” Church said. “One of the greatest advantages is that Sattler is taking the long view with its investments in Outdura, enabling us to pursue a strategy that focuses on the production of flawless fabrics, efficient cost control, competitive pricing, personal service and outstanding design. We are in growth mode today. Everyone recognizes that Outdura must continue to grow in order to thrive.”

Every aspect of the Outdura fabrics organization has been strengthened as a result of the acquisition by Sattler AG, from manufacturing and customer service to branding and product design.

Gary DeVenny, Production and Scheduling manager.
David Rivers, vice president of Manufacturing.
Tamara Fulbright, director of Purchasing.
Lisa White, Product manager.
Becky Lane, senior Customer Service specialist.
Chris Duerk, senior vice president.
L to R: Gloria Tsocos, Design Leadership; David Meeks, director of Casual Furniture.
Leanna Graves, Marketing coordinator.

Manufacturing Expertise Core to Outdura Brand

The heart and soul of the Outdura brand can be found on the manufacturing floor of the Hudson plant. Thanks to investments from Sattler AG, weaving equipment is among the most modern in the world. Thanks to the commitment of its people, you’ll find Outdura employees who have worked on the brand since it was first launched in the late 1990s.

“The focus in my job is helping to assure that we weave first quality fabrics and that we ship them when we say we’re going to ship them,” said Gary DeVenny, Production and Scheduling manager who has more than 40 years of textiles experience and who was instrumental in the evolution of Outdura fabrics from plain weaves for boating to intricate jacquards for casual furniture.

“Our quality level today is 99% first quality, and our on-time shipping record is 97%,” said DeVenny. “Design, Sales, Customer Service and Manufacturing – we all work together as a team to assure that we manufacture the fabrics our customers want and need. The word ‘can’t’ is not in our vocabulary.”

Another member of Outdura management who has worked on the brand throughout its continual evolution is David Rivers, vice president of Manufacturing. Rivers joined the Shuford organization in 1992 and assumed responsibilities for manufacturing at the Hudson Plant in the late 1990s as the Outdura brand was in its earliest stages of production.

“One of our greatest strengths is the manufacturing talent we have to support the Outdura brand,” Rivers said. “The Outdura product offering is highly diverse, and we have people with tremendous experience who have been on the manufacturing floor since we first started working with solution-dyed acrylics. We can weave anything that our designers develop, and if business dictates immediate change, we are able to make adjustments very quickly.”

Assuring that the Outdura manufacturing team has all of the resources it needs, including solution-dyed acrylic fiber made in Germany, is Tamara Fulbright, director of Purchasing, who sources a vast array of materials from around the world. Her 38-year textiles career has spanned positions ranging from technical support to quality control.

“Purchasing for the Hudson plant is a challenge, and it’s something new every day,” she says. “There are a lot of bases to be touched to assure that every component is here on time,” she said. “The truly satisfying part of my job is when I can see the fabrics, especially all the new introductions, that are shipped to our customers and I know I was part of that. Working at the Hudson Plant is like a family; we’re a close-knit group and you can count on someone to do what they say they’ll do. Everyone pitches in to help you.”

Outdura Customer Service, Evolving, Expanding

While Sattler has invested in manufacturing equipment and processes to assure production of quality products that are delivered on time, it is also supporting a growing team of customer service and brand support specialists, both within the Hudson headquarters and across the U.S.

In addition to Victoria Dawson, the sales and marketing team includes David Meeks, a veteran of both residential and casual furnishing industries, who serves as director of Casual Furniture. Caroline Land is a national sales specialist who leads the company’s inside sales efforts focused on smaller customers, and Lisa White is a product manager who recently joined the company in a new position focused on providing technical support for the sales team.

“I began my career in textiles in 1979 as a weaver and have worked in all aspects of technical textiles design and development,” White said. “For Outdura, I work closely with Sales, Design and Manufacturing on technical questions and on new fabric introductions, including cost analysis. With my knowledge and experience, I’m good at troubleshooting and I’m quick to respond to questions when sales needs information for a customer.”

Sample and re-inspection department.
Photo: ©2017 Eckard Photographic. www.eckardphotographic.com.

Strategic Leadership for Sattler Corp.

Providing overall strategic leadership for Sattler Corp. in the U.S. is Chris Duerk, senior vice president, who joined the company 18 months ago and brings more than 20 years of experience to the position in performance textiles and related markets. According to Duerk, Outdura casual furniture fabrics are the second largest brand of solution-dyed acrylic fabrics in the U.S. and sold primarily through the specialty retail channel.

“We have continued to fine tune our sales, customer service and brand support organization,” Duerk said. “Through additional staff positions and through geographic realignments, our team is able to devote more meaningful face time with our customers. We’ve also created an inside sales team that’s focused on working with our smaller customers, including making outbound calls to learn more about their needs and how we can assist. Our cut yardage program has proven invaluable to all of our customers, from large manufacturers who want to order fabrics for accent pieces to upholstery shops that want to feature Outdura fabrics.”

In addition to its nationwide team of sales and marketing managers, the Outdura customer service team based in Hudson is expanding with additional staff members. Becky Lane, a senior Customer Service specialist who began her career in textiles as a weaving machine operator more than 20 years ago, says that even with growth, the focus remains on a personal touch in customer service, much like you would expect to find on Main Street in downtown Hudson.

“When you call us, you get a real live person on the line, and our customer service specialists create personal relationships with our customers,” Lane said. “They ask about each other’s kids when they make a call; it’s a personal call that everyone enjoys.”

Outdura Brand Support Accelerating

With substantial investments in place for plant, equipment, people and processes, the Outdura team is focused on increased support for the Outdura brand. Evidence of this increased emphasis on brand support is reflected in newly redesigned fabric swatch books and by the commitment of additional resources in 2018 for marketing and advertising programs.

“Our goal for the coming year is to convey our brand story more aggressively to the casual marketplace and to provide our OEM customers and specialty retailers with the materials and the support they need to tell the Outdura story,” Duerk said.

Helping to assure expanded brand support is Leanna Graves, who joined the Outdura team recently as Marketing coordinator. With more than 25 years of experience in traditional and digital marketing communications, Graves is serving as a resource for the development of sales and marketing tools to support the Outdura brand with OEMs and with specialty retailers.

“My goal is to provide the information and the point-of-sale materials that OEMs and specialty retailers need so they are better able to tell the Outdura story, which will help support their marketing and sales efforts,” she said. “Specialty retailers may not be familiar with the Outdura brand position, so we want to provide essential information and materials to support the sales efforts.”

Working on warper creel.
Photo: ©2017 Eckard Photographic. www.eckardphotographic.com.

In-House Design Team Created

Outdura brand fabrics have a long history of design excellence, having received 26 design awards since 2005, including five from the International Casual Furniture Association (ICFA) and 21 ADEX Awards (Awards for Design Excellence). The most recent design excellence recognition occurred during the Casual Market in September 2016.

Sattler recently increased its commitment to design leadership in casual furniture fabrics with the creation of an in-house design team led by Gloria Tsocos, who has more than 20 years of experience with engineered performance fabrics for contract and hospitality markets. She originally joined the Outdura team in sales, and transitioned to the design leadership role in early 2017.

The team Tsocos is heading includes staff members at the Hudson headquarters as well as Sattler designers in Austria. The primary objective in creating an in-house team is to draw upon resources from throughout the company in creating premium fabric offerings.

“Our in-house design team is increasing the collaboration among Design, Sales and Manufacturing all for the benefit of our customers,” Meeks said. “Design and sales teams provide input on the types of fabrics that will sell at retail, while manufacturing provides input into how we can create these fabrics efficiently and with the highest quality.”

The creation of an in-house design team recognizes the virtually unlimited range of creative opportunities available today for solution-dyed acrylic fabrics.

“The design direction for Outdura fabrics is evolving as we’ve incorporated new fabric constructions, new weaving techniques and specialty yarns that add sophistication to our collections,” Tsocos said. “We’re creating a different look for Outdura as we keep our offerings fresh each season. With each new collection, we’re creating performance fabrics for the outdoors that have the look and feel of interior fabrics.”

Meeks emphasizes that after years of investment by its Austrian parent, the Outdura brand has new energy and a renewed sense of mission.

“We are definitely stepping up our game in every area,” Meeks said. “Our goal is to be recognized as the premier supplier of solution-dyed acrylic fabrics for specialty retail. We’ll be raising a few eyebrows with our increased commitment to the Outdura brand in 2018, and with exciting new fabric collections under development for the 2019 season and beyond.”

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