Sattler Corp. is a family business focused on strengthening its awning, marine and casual furniture industry positions.
By Jim Kaufmann, Contributing Editor
The term family business is often embellished or misused in today’s business climate. However, when one refers to the Sattler Group, a global manufacturer of technical and performance textiles, the term family business is definitely spot on. Sattler, originally founded in 1875 as a trading company, has evolved greatly over its 145-year-history and yet remains the epitome of a family owned business. Headquartered in Austria, Sattler is now led by the fifth generation of the founding family and a family mentality is pervasive throughout the various branches of its organization.
“Sattler is family run and family oriented from the top down,” said Uli Tombuelt, CEO of Sattler Corp., who joined the company in 2019. “It’s really important to the ownership that this remain a family business and a good place to work,” he said. “A lot of our employees throughout the organization are second, third or higher generation. Thirty to 40 years working here is common for many employees. You hear family business a lot at many places, but we actually in fact live it here and remain true to the Sattler family’s heritage.”
Sattler Corp., (Sattler-USA) — the U.S. division of the Sattler Group — is located in the original Hudson Cotton Mills building in Hudson, N.C. In 1968, the Shuford family purchased Hudson Cotton Mills Corp. and renamed it Shuford Mills. Given the lengthy and strong relationship already established between Hudson Cotton Mills, which was founded in 1904 and the town of Hudson, the Shuford family decided to maintain and invest further in the Hudson manufacturing location. Through the late 1990s, Shuford transitioned its focus towards man-made fiber fabrics and away from cottons for outdoor uses. This led the company to specialize in solution-dyed acrylics for awnings, marine and casual furniture applications, and the Outdura® brand was born. Shuford’s strategic change in product focus and the growing success of the Outdura brand as a line of performance fabrics helped to ensure the continued operation of the Hudson location throughout the textile industry’s more turbulent years.
Fast forward to the late 2000s when the Shuford family began fielding and evaluating opportunities specific to the future of the Outdura brand and its Hudson manufacturing facility. The Shuford family was introduced to members of the Sattler Group with its family business mentality. A synergy was found, and in 2010, Sattler purchased the Shuford Mills operations and its Outdura brand.
According to Tombuelt, it was a perfect match. Both organizations “cared strongly about family, resulting in one of the stipulations of the sale stating that the Hudson plant would continue to operate in its current location so that employee lives would not be interrupted and the town of Hudson would not be negatively impacted,” Tombuelt said. “Since the acquisition, Sattler has kept that promise by establishing Hudson as the group’s U.S. headquarters, making numerous investments in the facility while expanding the Outdura brand and creating other product offerings.
“This building is 116-years-old and registered with the National Register of Historic Places,” noted Tombuelt. “Given the company’s long relationship with the town of Hudson, we’ve been able to acquire the additional space we needed to grow. We now have 170,000-square-feet of space on campus here in Hudson, with room to grow further and accommodate any future needs.
The Outdura brand now constitutes a family of upholstery fabrics made from 100-percent solution-dyed acrylic — all of which are “Made in the USA.” This is significant to Tombuelt because: “roughly 80 percent of our outdoor customers still manufacture in the United States.” The acrylic fiber used for Sattler-USA’s Outdura fabric is sourced exclusively from Europe. The fiber is then spun into yarn and woven into Outdura fabrics at Sattler-USA’s Hudson facility.
Solution-dyed acrylic fabrics were originally developed as a replacement for cotton awning fabrics because of their higher levels of functionality and durability. According to Tombuelt, Outdura’s applications have expanded to include marine and casual furniture applications as well because of their similar performance and quality requirements. Solution-dyed acrylics are well suited for each of these markets because of their design capabilities, variety of colors, consistency, clean look and inherent performance characteristics.
“Outdura has become a well-known brand, with unsurpassed quality in the United States and our fabrics meet Oeko-Tex® Standard 100 requirements,” Tombuelt said. “We’re ISO 9001-2015 and ISO 14001 certified, and our quality systems allow for traceability and reliability. Our customers like the fact that they can buy a roll of a particular fabric SKU [stock keeping unit] today, another in six months, a year or more from now, and it will look and feel the same. The consistency is there. Our consistency of quality and color between lots is very high.
“We believe there’s room to grow in these markets,” Tombuelt added. “So, we want to focus on and strengthen our brands as well as Sattler-USA’s position through our product offerings, quality and customer responsiveness. And, while we don’t have any immediate plans to open other locations in the United States, we do plan to implement additional enhanced services intended to increase our presence throughout the industry.”
Though a few select distributors are employed in strategic markets, Sattler also sells directly to its customers because, according to Tombuelt, “going through too many distributors can be a disadvantage.” He feels that selling direct to customers provides Sattler the opportunity to provide customers better overall service by eliminating any added layers of communication.
“The outdoor furniture industry is well connected and like a big family,” Tombuelt said. “We all know each other pretty well. Events tend to take on a family reunion-like atmosphere. When you go to a show, you see lots of familiar faces. We use these opportunities to build stronger customer relationships that improve communication channels at all levels. We want that direct, immediate feedback because of its accuracy and timeliness. Even if we don’t like what we hear, it helps us to improve our business and create even more relevant product offerings.”
Cut Program Offers Flexibility
Original equipment manufacturers, cushion manufacturers, upholstery and canvas shops, as well as jobbers, are viewed as Sattler-USA’s prime targets — where there are good opportunities according to Tombuelt. “We do believe our future success is directly tied to under-appreciated segments and we are improving our business model to make Sattler-USA more viable and a value-add for them,” Tombuelt said. As a result, Sattler-USA is increasing its customer service focus and improving its “Cut Program” offerings which are also based out of the Hudson location.
Using the Cut Program, a customer may purchase practically any fabric directly from Sattler’s roughly 450 SKUs. This enables big and small customers alike to get samples and/or purchase amounts varying from 1 yard up to a full roll of fabric directly from the manufacturer. “This is a crucial part of our business going forward,” Tombuelt offered. “We can send the customer 5 or 10 yards as needed for a particular application, or of course, we can also send a truckload tomorrow.”
In addition, Sattler-USA recently became a brand partner on Material Bank — an online marketplace for the architecture and design industry. Material Bank recently completed uploading all of Sattler’s cut program SKUs to its website. “So, a designer can now go to Material Bank’s website, search for Sattler fabrics, select one or more and get a sample delivered in 24 hours,” Tombuelt noted.
It’s rare and refreshing to find this type and level of service directly from a manufacturer, but as Tombuelt indicated: “We do believe that responsiveness is certainly one element that separates Sattler-USA from other companies. In addition to the current SKUs in our cut program, if a project requires a specific design, an order of 60 yards, our standard roll length, we can make that happen in a short period of time!”
In-House Design Capabilities Offer Fresh Design Options
Having an inside design team, as well as more than 140 colors and styles of yarn to choose from with more options arriving all the time, is beneficial to Sattler-USA and its customers. In addition, close partnerships with yarn suppliers allows Sattler-USA to not only react quickly to market trends, but also create new trends themselves.
“All of our designs are done in-house,” Tombuelt said. “We have yearly lines, but generally, a three to four-year lifecycle on a design or product line is common, maybe six to seven years on a really good one. Our customers don’t really want to see the same designs year after year, over and over. So, one of our biggest strengths is that with our modern equipment and an integrated design team, we can react quickly and turn custom or new designs into fabric. For us, this is rather simple and easily done. Currently, roughly 90 percent of our product offerings are from stock, the remainder being custom orders, but we’re beginning to see shorter product design life cycles that mimic fashion industry cycle trends and we will be prepared for that as well.”
Tombuelt sees changes in the industry as being incremental, but acknowledges that customers are expecting greater and greater levels of performance. “Take the outdoor furniture market for example,” he said. “The designs originally created for outdoor markets, historically dominated by solution-dyed acrylics, are now being used for inside markets. And there is a trend to create a second living room outside with the desire that the space to be functional for all seasons — so there’s lots of movement both ways. Companies traditionally focused on the ‘inside world’ are pushing into the ‘outside world’ and vice versa. New manufacturers are entering the industry as well. Sattler is looking at these trends as opportunities, but our customers will ultimately dictate our future direction.”
Increased Performance Expectations
New technologies based on polyester and olefins are beginning to push into the space as performance expectations continue to increase. “There is a natural push for performance stories throughout this industry,” commented Tombuelt, “And Sattler is in a strong position to provide the story lines.” In addition to the inherent desirable properties of the solution-dyed acrylic, Sattler-USA has formed a partnership with Crypton LLC, a company with manufacturing in Kings Mountain, N.C., to apply technical backings and enhancements to the fabrics. Treatments include odor and stain release properties, water repellency and if necessary, flame retardancy. Crypton’s proprietary chemistries also can meet the International Maritime Organization’s requirements with a focus on performance and sustainability without compromising the look, touch and physical performance of the base fabric.
Sattler-USA offers several product lines and technologies in addition to the Outdura brand. The Sattler 745 Evolution product line — a flame retardant, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) coated fabric — specifically designed for North American commercial grade awnings, canopies and passageway markets, was introduced at the IFAI Expo 2019. According to Tombuelt: “The fabric is produced in Austria in our state-of-the-art facilities and will be distributed exclusively by three distribution partners — Keystone, Bainbridge and Veteran. We plan to build on the success of this novel product and introduce more PVC coated products here in the United States.”
The Outdura Ovation 3 line remains a strong brand for Sattler. A new line to be introduced soon, Modern Textures, incorporates, for example, a domestically produced bouclé yarn to create a unique look and texture. “We’re always looking for new lines, new designs and looking forward,” Tombuelt stated. “As a whole, the industry is pretty strong and we need to continue taking advantage of fiber, yarn and manufacturing developments to create differentiated and diverse lines going forward so we don’t get caught always producing the same fabric designs or just solids with some structure. This approach will help us to continue improving our responsiveness and customer service, while focusing on strengthening our positions in the awning, marine and casual furnishings markets.”
Tombuelt assures Sattler will improve its responsiveness to strengthen its position while remaining true to its well-established and genuine family business values.