By David Gill
While the move in the textiles community has been increasingly toward sourcing offshore for the past decade, it still makes sense for some U.S. manufacturers to do the lion’s share of their production here.
In particular, manufacturers of down comforters and basic bedding have found that finishing their products is still more economical when done on these shores. It’s true that they do import the shells of comforters, pillows and mattress pads from manufacturers abroad, but the filling of these products with down, feathers and fiberfill still takes place here, mostly.
Cost is one chief reason. Comforters, pillows and pads “are big bags of air,” said Fritz Kruger, senior vice president of marketing for Pacific Coast Feather, “and to ship them around the world is expensive with freight costs and inventory costs. With each item, we look for the lowest-cost solution and determine where we will source them. Obviously, to make these items here is less expensive.”
Another reason stems from the nature of these products. “In order to get a pillow or down comforter to a store, you have to compress it,” said Jeff Hollander, chief executive officer of Hollander Home Fashions. “If you bring them in finished from offshore, they become flat and don’t bounce back. You can lose a lot of the quality of these products that way.”
Time is another element in the equation. “There are many times that we need to have the ability to ship replenishment goods within 30 days or less, and this dictates domestic flexibility,” said Stefan Hunter, director of marketing for Downlite. “You’d be surprised how many calls we get from clients saying their importer cannot deliver on time—can you help us out?” Faster lead times and vertical-manufacturing quality control thus give Downlite—and other basic-bedding manufacturers—a competitive advantage over imported goods.
Quality is yet another reason. “U.S. vendors have gone to China to get quotes on importing [comforters and pillows], but there are relaxed quality controls there,” said Bob Hickman, senior vice president of sales and marketing at United Feather & Down. “Filling shells and closing them up here still makes more sense where you have private-label programs with complicated SKUs in terms of sizes and colors. It’s more sensible to do it here from the quality standpoint.”
One manufacturer of cut-and-sew bedding products, CDS Ensembles, has also found that maintaining its U.S. manufacturing gives it a competitive leg up. CDS, CEO David Krieger explained, is a contract manufacturer and, as such, offers several advantages to its customers. “One, you can send us [comforter] shells and we’ll store them for you,” Krieger said. “It’s less expensive for our customers that way. Two, we’re fully EDI-compliant, so we can deal directly with the retailers. We work with the retailers’ traffic control to schedule trucks for deliveries.”
Krieger also said CDS offers a benefit to customers who are leery of the quality of textiles products coming from abroad. “Manufacturing abroad is cool; everybody’s doing it,” he said. “But those who want to source from overseas don’t always ask the tough questions of the manufacturers over there, and then they find that it costs them more than they thought it would.”
For this reason, he believes that at some point, more textiles manufacturing could come back to the United States. “The model with us as a contract manufacturer is still viable,” Krieger said. “We’re scaled to grow in the years ahead.”
Returning to comforters and basic bedding products, the cost elements will keep much of that manufacturing here, according to Hollander. “It’s my belief that most bed pillows and down comforters should be filled in the U.S. because of the considerations of freight costs and freshness,” he said. “But I think where you have greater labor involved, such as in bedspreads and mattress pads, there will continue to be an increase in imported goods.”
“It’s all about economics,” Downlite’s Hunter said. “It’s about providing the best quality product and the price the consumer is willing to pay. The marketplace and the item being manufactured dictates the geographic manufacturing requirements.”