Setting the Table for Value
By David Gill
With so many much larger home-textiles manufacturers, including several of the major mills, having evaporated over the years, John Matouk & Co. has survived and thrived--and is looking ahead to double-digit annual sales growth in the years to come.
Matouk is one of the few textiles companies with a manufacturing presence here in the United States. It has lasted for 82 years, and through three family generations of leadership, by remaining true to its core values: innovation and delivering products that are true to its heritage and that consumers want. "And," added George Matouk Jr., the company's current president, "we treat quality as a religion."
This philosophy has garnered recognition for Massachusetts-based Matouk from its peers in New England. In May, the company was honored with a New England Innovation Award by the Smaller Business Association of New England (SBANE). The company "has combined cutting-edge technology and processes to implement a world-class marketing strategy," according to an SBANE statement.
According to George Matouk Sr., son of founder John Matouk and the company's former president, the culture that has produced this world-class strategy stemmed from his father. A native of Damascus, Syria, John Matouk emigrated to Italy in 1919 and began his career by selling handmade lace to fine linen stores in Europe. He moved again to the United States in 1929 and founded the company that bears his name, selling luxury table linens and decorative pieces that he imported from the manufacturers he had worked for in Italy.
World War II, in which Italy was one of the Axis powers, cut off Matouk's import sources. "That's when my father decided to be a manufacturer," Matouk Sr. said. "He started making table linens in New York. Later, he enhanced the table-linens offerings by going into machine embroideries. He was very good at keeping the standards up for his employees and making sure the products met those standards."
George Matouk Sr. joined the company in 1963 when he left the Navy. He became president in 1966 when John Matouk passed away, and he decided that the company could go beyond table linens. "My father branched out into bed linens and then into bath linens," Matouk Jr. said. "The home-run products in the '70s were satin sheets. When I joke with my dad today about those sheets, he says, 'Those satin sheets put you through college!'"
It was in this time frame that Matouk expanded by acquisition. George Sr. joined forces with Paul Hooker, his brother-in-law, to purchase Sferra, the Italian high-end bedding manufacturer. Hooker ran this operation from day one, and he bought Matouk's shares in the business in 2006, becoming Sferra's sole owner.
When Matouk decided to enter the decorative-towel market in the mid-1980s, the company moved its manufacturing from the New York metropolitan area to New Bedford, Mass., where it could perform hand-guided embroideries on towels it purchased from Fieldcrest and Martex. "This led us to the business we are associated with now: monogramming, customization, bespoke products," Matouk Jr. said.
George Matouk Jr. joined the family business in 1997. "I had a whole head full of ideas," he said. One of his first moves was to lead the company to rationalize its manufacturing, which led it to a decision not many other vendors were making at that time.
"Both of our facilities in New Bedford and Puerto Rico were out of date," Matouk Jr. said. "We received advice to move all of our manufacturing overseas, but we identified a competitive advantage by manufacturing high-end products here. With a higher material content and a lower labor content, the more profitable our products would be." Thus, when so many other textiles vendors were moving their manufacturing overseas, Matouk stayed put in the U.S.
George Jr. became president in 2002. In 2005, Matouk moved its U.S. manufacturing from New Bedford to nearby Fall River, Mass. Along with this facility, the company produces its solid-color towels in Portugal, and has a workroom for highly decorative bedding in the Philippines.
"This arrangement is flexible enough for us to target overseas retailers," Matouk Jr. said. Currently, the company's customer base includes (along with high-end U.S. retailers) independent specialty stores in the Caribbean region and Latin America, with opportunities to expand into the Far East.
From annual sales of $3 million in 1997, Matouk is projecting sales this year to top $15 million. "We feel pretty comfortable we can grow on an ongoing basis of 12 to 15 percent annually," Matouk Jr. said.
Matouk Sr. praises his son for his "feeling of dedication to the business, to the company, to his heritage and to the customers. He's also brought good taste and a lot of confidence."
Matouk Jr. does indeed exude confidence when he speaks of the company's future. "We feel like our marketing strategy is strong," he said. "Even if the economy isn't growing, we feel we can drive growth through the Matouk brand."
That strategy goes back to Matouk's heritage and culture, which both center on quality and "delivering unique solutions for consumers that will enable us to gain market share without sacrificing our pricing," Matouk Jr. said. "We aim to appeal to people's emotional desires to feel comfortable and luxurious in their homes."