Drapery Hardware and Window Blinds and Shades

SIC 2591

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This category covers establishments primarily engaged in the manufacture of curtain and drapery rods, poles, and fixtures; Venetian blinds; horizontal mini-blinds; and vertical blinds in all materials except canvas. Establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing canvas window shades and awnings are classified in SIC 2394: Canvas and Related Products.

Industry Snapshot

Companies engaged in the manufacture of drapery hardware and window coverings experienced an astounding demand for their wares in the last two decades of the twentieth century and introduced many new types of products to satisfy consumer needs. However, U.S. manufacturers in this category faced stiff competition from overseas companies that produced cheap imitations of higher-priced products for the consumer market. The trade gap for this industry was amongst the highest of all industries. In 2007, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 479 companies in the United States manufactured window blinds and shades.

The value of shipments generated by this industry increased steadily during the late 1990s and 2000s, from $2.4 billion in 1997 to $2.9 billion in 2005. By 2007 this figure had fallen to $2.7 billion. The industry employed 29,536 workers in 1997, but by 2007 the number of workers was down to 19,089. Production workers accounted for approximately 66 percent of employees.

Organization and Structure

Many of the U.S. firms that manufacture and sell drapery hardware and window blinds are private companies, but some are subsidiaries of much larger publicly traded home furnishings conglomerates. Like other manufacturers, they are comprised of several specific divisions. One of the industry's largest concerns is in providing consumers with up-to-date and contemporary styles. For this reason, research and development departments play an important role for companies engaged in manufacturing drapery hardware and window blinds. This division keeps an eye on general trends in consumer lifestyle patterns, home furnishing expenditures, and overall color and pattern changes in the interior design industry. Design analysts in the research and development departments look for certain color groups and textures that they believe will appeal to the broadest range of consumers. For instance, in the 1980s, dramatic changes in the U.S. lifestyle and consumer spending patterns fueled by the burgeoning emphasis on high-tech products refashioned the home environment. A new edginess to interior design was manifested in sharp angles and artificial colors, such as mauve. Additionally, a downturn in the economy in the late 1980s, combined with a growing awareness of the concept of the global village, brought a new palette of colors to the window coverings industry and encouraged the introduction of the wood mini-blind.

In the interior furnishings industry, window blinds fall under the category of home textiles, although they are not specifically textiles. Previously, curtains and drapes geared to match furniture and bedspreads were the dominant force in the category, but they were replaced by the popular mini-blinds beginning in the 1980s and continuing through the 2000s. Consumers switched from buying pinch-pleated draperies and curtains to mini-blinds accessorized with a "top treatment," which was a swath of fabric that matched some other component of the room. In the industry, mini-blinds, vertical blinds, and pleated shades were first known as "alternative window treatments" to differentiate them from fabric-based draperies and curtains. By the 2000s, mini-blinds had become a standard in home furnishings. The lower-cost mini-blinds, available at discount and chain retailers, became a booming segment within the industry as a whole.

Manufacturers of mini-blind products are divided between the two segments of the market, vinyl and aluminum. Vinyl blinds cost less to manufacture, do not rattle in the wind, and will not develop bend marks. However, vinyl blinds can become discolored, let in a good deal of light even when completely closed, have a tendency to lose shape over time, and can be susceptible to flapping on particularly windy days. They are popular with consumers, however, because of their low cost, range of standard sizes, relative ease of installation, and ultimate disposability. On the other hand, aluminum blinds are perceived as a much more durable investment. Heavier than vinyl, aluminum blinds do not flap in the breeze, keep out light more effectively, and have colors and finishes that last longer than plastic. Aluminum blinds may scratch a window, however, and can incur surface dents and creases. Major manufacturers such as Hunter Douglas and Levolor concentrate primarily on the custom-made aluminum blind market and have left the vinyl blind market primarily to overseas manufacturers. However, some companies offer stock aluminum blinds in retail outlets and may sell custom-made vinyl blinds as well.

Another large segment of the window coverings industry is geared to pleated shades. Pleated shades owe their development in part to new manufacturing processes that produce versatile fabrics in lightweight weaves to allow a great deal of light through yet also possess insulating properties. A variety of textures have also been introduced because of these processes. A leading brand in this segment of the industry is Duette, manufactured by Hunter Douglas. The product was introduced in 1985 and was popular with consumers, in part because the pull cord could be hidden. The company has also introduced a version of the pleated shade under the brand name Silhouette. Wood blinds, with their natural appearance, also hold a growing segment of the window covering market.

In the field of drapery hardware and window coverings, department stores are the primary consumer retail outlets, led by the entrenched home-decorating departments of national chains such as JCPenney and Sears. However, the larger stores are facing challenges in the home-furnishings market by specialty retailers such as Bed Bath and Beyond. These smaller national outlets provide consumers with either in-stock or custom-made window coverings in a large variety of styles, along with accompanying hardware.

Background and Development

Prior to the mini-blind-dominated era in interior window coverings, there was a relatively limited range of styles and options for consumers. Drapery hardware was relatively standardized and available in a narrow range of styles. Venetian blinds were originally made of wood, but later an aluminum version became popular. The companies that produced Venetian blinds initially sold them to institutions such as schools and offices. Most interior window treatments in kitchens, bathrooms, and bedrooms consisted of curtains made of a lightweight fabric with a pull-down vinyl shade spanning the window. Despite their popularity in office settings, Venetian blinds were found in residential environments with increasing frequency. It was not uncommon for people to hang blinds in their living rooms and bedrooms and shades in the kitchen and bathrooms. In living rooms, heavy pinch-pleated draperies were the most popular window accessories, often paired with blinds or shades.

The popularity of the aluminum mini-blind helped fuel the tremendous growth of this sector of the U.S. consumer home-furnishings industry. Later, vertical blinds and window shades developed from stronger, light-emitting materials were also introduced. However, in the late 1970s, Taiwan restructured its polyvinylchloride (PVC) manufacturing industry to mass-produce and import mini-blinds. The U.S. market was flooded with cheap, plastic versions of aluminum mini-blinds as a result. Manufacturers responded by diversifying their aluminum lines into a greater selection of colors and finishes, producing a competing line of more affordable vinyl blinds while keeping a strong foothold in the custom-made aluminum mini-blind market. This has proven to be a popular segment of the window coverings industry. Consumers can take their window measurements to a retail outlet, sift through catalogs of styles, and in a few weeks have custom-crafted aluminum blinds installed throughout their home. These custom-made products accounted for 80 percent of the domestic mini-blind market in the early 1990s. Many mini-blind manufacturers (aluminum as well as vinyl) offer enough sizes that custom-made blinds are not the only option. Shades can generally be cut to fit any size window.

The drapery hardware segment of the industry has made a concerted effort to come out from behind the scenes. When long, heavy, pinch-pleated draperies were in vogue, the accompanying hardware was designed to stay hidden. The poles, rods, and tieback elements served a functional need and were correspondingly utilitarian in design. However, the emerging popularity of top treatments for windows, which were swaths of fabric that added a decorative element to the mini-blind or pleat-shade covered window below, paved the way for a new emphasis on drapery hardware. These products are generally manufactured from a variety of metals, including steel, bronze, and brass, but some companies offer poles and rods in a variety of wood finishes. Drapery hardware products are available in traditional and contemporary styles, and many have removable decorative elements, known as finials, that give them a greater versatility.

In 1996, reports of unsafe mini-blinds, particularly those manufactured overseas, led to a massive recall. The mini-blinds were found to contain lead and thus deemed unsafe for home use, especially those homes with small children. Every retailer took part in the recall by pulling the affected mini-blinds from the shelves and giving customers refunds.

The economic boom of the late 1990s boosted the drapery hardware and window coverings industry to record shipments of $2.92 billion in 1999. When the economy softened in 2000, consumers began to spend less, and shipments dropped in value to $2.66 billion that year.

The industry also experienced changes in its overall corporate structure through acquisitions and mergers during the mid- and late 1990s. Companies struggled to hold on to their segment of the consumer-durables market while expanding into new niches. In addition, in response to increased consumer spending in the late 1990s, industry leaders began to introduce more upscale products and broaden their product lines to include more specialty products.

By 2002, the industry's sales were back to $2.8 billion. However, like many other U.S. industries, the drapery hardware and window blinds and shades industry faced the challenges of competition from imports and outsourcing jobs overseas where labor is cheaper. In 2003, the Levolor-Kirsch factory in Ogden, Utah, closed and moved its operations to Mexico, resulting in a significant loss of jobs in that area. Newell Rubbermaid, which owns Levolor and Kirsch, announced plans to close one-third of its 80 U.S. factories by 2008, resulting in a loss of approximately 5,000 jobs.

The drapery hardware and window blinds and shades industry continued to be squeezed by foreign competition in the mid-2000s. Imports, particularly from China, flooded the U.S. market with low-cost products, driving down prices of products manufactured domestically. Producers in the United States were faced with two options: compete with imports in the low-end market by offering trendy products or focus on higher-end products that appeal to consumers who are will to pay more for something unique and customized.

In 2006, domestic manufacturers received some aid in this arena from the U.S. government. On January 1, Chinese-made fabric window shades and blinds, along with approximately 30 other types of goods, were subject to quotas. The agreement between China and the United States limited the quantity of window blinds and shades arriving from China to 964,014 kilograms in 2006; this limit was allowed to increase by 12.5 percent in 2007 and 17 percent in 2008.

Current Conditions

According to Dun and Bradstreet's 2009 Industry Reports, total annual sales for the drapery hardware and blinds and shades industry were just over $902 million in the late 2000s. Florida was home to the greatest number of establishments in the industry and accounted for the largest percentage of sale in 2008s, with $147.6 million. California was second in both areas, reporting sales of $135 million. Rounding out the top five states in terms of revenue were Texas ($123.3 million), Connecticut ($43.7 million), and Maryland ($42 million).

By keeping an eye on trends taking place in other interior design segments, manufacturers rose the crest of burgeoning fashions in window treatments and accessories. Roller blinds with attractive fabrics, as well as such materials as leather, stone, and acrylic, were introduced in the late 2000s. Motorized shades and blinds were also gaining popularity, as consumers were drawn to treatments that could open and close electronically. Some models contained motion and light sensors, and others could be programmed to coordinate with lighting.

In mid-2009 the spotlight was on the safety of window blinds and shades, as the Consumer Product Safety Commission and six manufacturers recalled 5.6 million products after three children died from being caught in the cords of roll-up blinds and roman shades. Firms issuing recalls included top names such as Pottery Barn Kids and IKEA. Although the incident was seen as bad press for the window shade and blind industry, it also encouraged manufacturers to pay special attention to safety as they developed new products for the industry.

Industry Leaders

In the late 2000s, many of the top U.S. companies engaged in the manufacture of drapery hardware and window coverings were major corporations. One of the largest was Hunter Douglas Inc. of Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. This subsidiary of Hunter Douglas NV, headquartered in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, produced blinds and shades under brands that included Country Woods, Silhouette, Jubilance, Duette, and PowerRise. Annual sales figures were $1.4 billion in the mid-2000s, and the company had more than 8,840 employees.

Another corporate giant was Newell Rubbermaid Inc., a major housewares conglomerate that sells window shades and drapery hardware. Based in Atlanta, Georgia, the company traces its roots to 1903. In 1993, Newell acquired the Levolor Corporation, whose name has become nearly synonymous with the mini-blind. At its peak, Levolor's annual sales neared $300 million and it held a 40 percent share of the market. Newell also acquired drapery hardware and window coverings giant Kirsch. In 2008, Newell Rubbermaid reported revenues of $6.4 billion for all of its corporate holdings, including cookware, Rubbermaid storage products, hand tools, children's products, hair care products, and office products. The firm employed 20,400 workers in 2008.

Springs Window Fashions Manufacturing Co. of Middleton, Wisconsin, produced the Bali brand of shades and blinds, the Graber brand of shades and drapery hardware, and the Nanik brand of custom-made wood blinds. Decorator Industries Inc., headquartered in Pembroke Pines, Florida, made blinds and other window treatments for the manufactured housing, recreational vehicle, and hospitality markets.

America and the World

The relative ease with which window coverings can be manufactured by overseas companies, primarily in China and Taiwan, and exported into the U.S. market has negatively impacted the window coverings segment of this industry. The domestic drapery hardware business, meanwhile, has been invaded by a leading German manufacturer, Blome, which entered the U.S. market in 1991. The company has mainly distributed its custom-made products through intermediary outlets as well as upscale department stores.

Research and Technology

During the 2000s, companies continued to introduce products to satisfy consumer demand for ease of use, such as between-the-glass shades and blinds, which are enveloped between the two glass panes of a door and window and thus need infrequent cleaning. In addition, companies like Levolor addressed the safety issue of pull cords by introducing cordless blinds so customers could raise or lower a blind with the push of a button. Other, less expensive alternatives to cordless battery-powered blinds were also developed, including lift shades, which can be lifted pushing up on the shade, and cordless top-down bottom-up shades, which can be lifted and lowered from the top or the bottom.

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