From Home Furnishing Business
Take 5: Mike Shelton
Mike Shelton has been President & CEO of Valdese Weavers since 1996 and has guided the 104-year-old company through acquisitions, product evolution and other major changes during that time. He has seen the textile industry and his company evolve considerably. A year after its 100th birthday in 2015, Valdese Weavers became a 100 percent employee owned company.
Shelton holds bachelors and master’s degrees from Furman University, and began his professional career as an assistant football coach there. He joined the textile industry in 1977 in sales with LaFrance Industries, rising to management as vice president of sales and marketing. Following a two-year stint with Doblin, he joined Valdese Weavers in 1988 as vice president of sales and marketing. After serving as COO, Shelton became only the fourth president of the company since 1935.
Shelton is currently chairman of the Fabrics Committee of the National Council of Textile Organization (NCTO). He is on the board of the American Home Furnishings Hall of Fame is past chairman of the National Textiles Association (NTA) and is past chairman of the upholstery committee of the American Textiles Manufacturers Institute (ATMI).
Shelton recently spoke with Home Furnishings Business about Valdese Weaver’s product offerings, the company’s secret to longevity and issues facing the industry.
Home Furnishings Business: How is the rapid growth of outdoor furnishings and consumer’s desire for performance fabrics impacting your business and what has the reception been to your Inside/Out line?
Mike Shelton: We have been on the forefront in leading the move toward high performance fabrics, primarily for indoor use. We have an exclusive license with Crypton Home in the residential market and we have built that into the initial core of our performance offering to the knit market and high end. It’s the best applied process to generate the most flexible product types and achieve high performance characteristics the market wants using Crypton Home.
We acquired Dicey Fabrics in 2015 and integrated it into our operations. And we have used the yarn manufacturing platform that was part of the acquisition to develop a new product category for our company that we named Sustain Performance Fabrics. That was the primary benefit along with the established business that Dicey had at that time. We were able to take the yarns that Dicey manufactured, and now that we manufacture, and develop this new proprietary yarn system that is the basis behind Sustain Fabrics.
We also have developed yarn systems since the Dicey acquisition that have allowed us to put added attributes into a yarn that we are branding fabrics by the name of Inside/Out performance fabrics. The additional benefit of this yarn system is that it has high UV resistance properties and is engineered and built for high use indoor applications, as well as appropriate for outdoor settings because of the UV properties. We consider it to be the best all-in-one performance story in the marketplace. The reception for the Inside/Out line has been fantastic. I can’t describe it in any more glowing terms. We’ve had tremendous launch the first year into the product. We have secured market placement with certain manufacturers and furniture retail and fabric distributors who are now putting this product in fully curated merchandise programs into the marketplace. Our relaunch of the product at December showtime and the upcoming High Point market in April will have a major impact.
HFB: How is the threat of increasing tariffs affecting your product development?
- It really isn’t. We have a blended strategy of domestic manufactured products as well as fabrics from all over the world, primarily products that we don’t have the capability to make or that we decide not to make. A lot of what we develop offshore in Asia utilizes chenille, which has not been impacted by the tariffs. And we are working with customers and suppliers on other products to minimize the damage caused by tariffs. We see our customers buying more new products from domestic manufacturers as they go forward to minimize the risk.
HFB: What are you seeing internationally in terms of product demand, style, and directions? Are you seeing trends start there first?
- The international marketplace has changed dramatically over the past 15 years. Goods manufactured in Asia, and in Turkey have changed the paradigm for most products. The net result has been a homogenization of sorts in style and color around the world. We are not really seeing as much dramatic difference from a stylistic and color standpoint that used to exist in different markets around the world. Our style and sense of fashion appeals to a very broad segment of the world. The conventional wisdom is that trends start internationally, however I don’t think it is altogether true as it might have once been. Some of the finest Italian fashions come from descendants of Italian companies that have located in the states such as Valdese Weavers. We work collaboratively with our customers to develop new fashion and style trends. Quite frankly, those concepts and ideas come from everywhere in the environment and not just geographically oriented perspective.
- What should we look for from Valdese Weavers in the coming markets?
- Our story in all of our residential categories is 100 percent built around performance. We have three performance brands, Crypton Home, Inside Out and Sustain. They have very different characteristics. The definition of f performance varies by manufacturers and the markets they serve. We have been on the forefront of this. The differentiator for the Inside Out fabric is that it was built for what we know is superior indoor every-day use, but it also has the unique ability to have high UV resistance as opposed to other brands that are really made for outdoor use and not for heavy, indoor everyday use that requires abrasion and pill resistant characteristics that all of our fabrics have built into them.
- What has been the biggest change you have observed in the fabric manufacturing sector since you joined the industry and what are your biggest challenges today?
- We are going through some of the biggest changes I have experienced in my 30 years right now. The definition of luxury products and the retail distribution of luxury products has changed dramatically. How you appeal to an upper end buyer has changed. The move toward performance characteristics and the sustainability factors has been a big change. The customers we appeal to have changed dramatically over the years. The natural fundamental of creative destruction has allowed some companies the opportunity to succeed and other have seen their demise. Those things have been accelerating during the past 10 years. The primary change has been tied to globalization. We have been able to survive and thrive in that environment. The challenges we met and how we attacked them has been the difference for us. We are as strong as we have ever been with record sales last year. We are extremely proud of the fact that we have been able to do that in a global environment.
The challenge with all industries for several years has been the supply and being able to attract and retain enough qualified people to run our operations. The unemployment rate in our area is extremely low. We spend a lot of our time and effort attracting labor to build upon the highly skilled artisans that we have. That’s the biggest issue we all face along with the uncertainty of the are always looking at the long-term viability of our markets and the value our products offer. Simultaneously, we are developing products and processes to become more efficient and effective so we can appeal to a broader segment of the market. We have been very successful in helping our customers differentiate themselves. That’s been the core of our strength and one that we have enhanced over the last 30 years.