By Mark Brock
The acquisition of Sunbury Textile Mills by Glen Raven Custom Fabrics this past fall was a milestone event with positive long-term implications for both companies, and for the casual furniture industry as a whole. For Sunbury, the acquisition by Glen Raven ensures that it will have the resources it needs to thrive as a leader in jacquard-woven textiles long revered by the most discriminating of decorative jobbers, interior designers, and upscale homeowners.
For Glen Raven, its purchase of Sunbury will enable the makers of Sunbrella fabrics to become an even more expansive and innovative resource for casual furniture manufacturers and specialty retailers who rely on uniquely designed fabrics within coordinated collections. The casual industry as a whole also stands to benefit from the creative synergies resulting from Sunbury and Glen Raven uniting as a single company.
Photo: ©2018 Dan Routh Photography. www.danrouth.com.
“The strengths of Glen Raven and Sunbury are highly complementary, and our coming together as one company has made us an even stronger resource for the casual industry,” said Dave Swers, president of Glen Raven Custom Fabrics. “Sunbury is unsurpassed in its ability to weave highly decorative fabrics in single rolls, while Glen Raven has the financial, operational, design, and technical resources that are essential for breadth of offerings, growth and innovation. Our combined teams are focusing on how we can enhance our ability to create exclusive fabric collections that support the brand personalities of casual furniture manufacturers and that help differentiate specialty retailers.”
24 Years of Collaboration
It was 1994 when Randy Trull, a design consultant for Glen Raven at the time, and Mark Grigalunas, then serving as design director for Sunbury Textile Mills, had a radical idea. Why not apply jacquard weaving to Sunbrella fibers to create beautiful performance fabrics that could be marketed to high-end decorative jobbers?
“When we first presented the idea to our respective companies, everyone thought we were crazy; the design was a complete departure from what people were used to seeing,” Grigalunas said. “These fabrics became a best seller, however, and the rest of the market followed.”
The jacquard weaving expertise of Sunbury combined with the brand recognition of Sunbrella resulted in fabric collections for the upper reaches of the decorative market that are as beautiful as they are durable, fade resistant, and bleach cleanable. Decorative jobbers, such as Kravet and Donghia, were early adopters of the new fabrics and helped propel the Sunbrella brand into the position it enjoys today as a leader in merging design with performance for casual fabrics.
Glen Raven and Sunbury have continued to collaborate for 24 years in offering jacquard-woven fabrics made from Sunbrella yarns. Even after Glen Raven installed its own jacquard weaving capabilities at its Sunbrella plant in Anderson, South Carolina, added novelty yarn capabilities in Anderson, and launched shorter-run yarn spinning capability at its mill in Burlington, North Carolina, Sunbury continued in its leadership role of creating exclusive fabrics in single rolls in demand by decorative jobbers and furniture makers.
“Our strong relationship with Sunbury has allowed us to create beautiful performance fabrics unlike anything available before,” Swers said. “We have the Sunbrella brand, our own design story, and the performance fibers technology, and Sunbury has expertise in design and jacquard weaving, and long-standing and trusted relationships with decorative jobbers. Both companies have brought value to the table for many years.”
Hank Truslow, Jr.
While the working relationship between Sunbury and Glen Raven served both companies and their respective customers very well for more than two decades, there were periodic conversations over the years concerning uniting the two companies as one. During 2017, those conversations became more intense as management of the two companies envisioned how a combination of the two would result in significant advantages for both organizations, for their customers, and for the industries they served.
Sunbury would secure additional resources for growth and innovation, Glen Raven would expand its product offerings, and both companies would benefit from closer collaborations among their respective experts in design, manufacturing, marketing, sales, customer service, and logistics.
“By working together for so many years, Sunbury and Glen Raven were already closely aligned,” said Hank Truslow, president of Sunbury who joined the company in 1985 and has since retired. “Our two companies shared many of the same values, and from design to sales, our teams had become closely interwoven over the years, so the merger process has been smooth. It just made so much sense to bring our companies together as one to take everything we do to the next level.”
As part of the integration process following the acquisition, Glen Raven brought design, marketing, sales, and manufacturing managers from all around the world together in Burlington to explore how to achieve the greatest benefits from the combination of Sunbury and Glen Raven. The goal of this meeting and the entire integration process has been to explore how design, marketing, and manufacturing expertise that spans the U.S., Europe and Asia can be leveraged for the benefit of customers. Glen Raven anticipates that the integration of the two companies should be completed by this fall.
Wendy Snyder working in the Technical Design Product Development department.
Advantages of One Organization
One of the greatest advantages for customers from the combined companies is the comprehensive range of fabric options now available from a single source and all under one roof, according to Tom Notaro, director of Jobber and Indoor Markets for Glen Raven.
“We are a much more valuable resource to our customers now because we can bring them more expansive collections, including solids, decorative jacquards, Sunbrella branded fabrics, and exclusive fabrics from Sunbury,” Notaro said. “With all of the resources of Glen Raven and Sunbury available to us, we can make the lives of the buyers and the designers we serve so much easier because our team is presenting complementary fabric selections that support their brand positions.”
Another of the important advantages from the combined companies is expanded resources and expertise for innovation. It was this shared focus on innovation that gave Allen E. Gant, Jr., chairman of Glen Raven, added confidence in moving forward with the acquisition of Sunbury.
“Sunbury and Glen Raven both view innovation as our most important contribution in making customers more competitive,” Gant said. “As a single company, we are committed to long-term investments in people and in technology to deliver better performance and better designs to the marketplace. Sunbury brings tremendous innovation to the table, which makes us excited about the future.”
Allen E. Gant, Jr.
Photo: ©2018 Dan Routh Photography. www.danrouth.com.
Also adding excitement for the future of the combined organizations is a shared focus on serving decorative and contract jobbers, and the makers of residential interior and exterior furnishings. Glen Raven is focused on growth within these market segments, which are also top priorities for Sunbury.
“Sunbury has strong positions in markets where we believe the Sunbrella brand can add significant value,” said Hal Hunnicutt, vice president of Marketing for Glen Raven. “Through its sales and design office in New York, for example, Sunbury has developed deep relationships within the design community that we can better serve as a combined organization. Sunbury is also a trusted resource for interior residential furnishings and contract jobbers serving hospitality and other commercial markets. Our combined resources will make us an even more important resource to each of these segments.”
Another of the unique advantages of Glen Raven’s acquisition of Sunbury is its design library that contains more than 50,000 patterns. Glen Raven envisions this extensive collection as an invaluable resource for future design inspirations.
Sunbrella's Artistry Indigo fabric from the Makers Collection being woven on the loom.
Sunbury Future Secured
Sunbury Textile Mills traces its history to 1892 when it was founded as Susquehanna Silk Mills in recognition of the nearby Susquehanna River in northern Pennsylvania. In 1954, the mill was acquired by two textile entrepreneurs from North Carolina who renamed it Sunbury Textile Mills.
Throughout its long history, Sunbury has had a variety of ownership groups, while consistently serving as an important part of the local community, which, according to the 2010 Census, has a population of 9,900. At the time of its acquisition, Sunbury Textile Mills was owned by an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) that was created in 2004 and allowed employees to make retirement investments in the plan. The mill, with 200 employees, retains a family feeling with associates chalking up many years of multi-generational service.
“The strength of manufacturing at Sunbury comes from the performance of our associates, with high attendance rates and low turnover,” said Brian Burke, a 30-year Sunbury employee and director of Operations since 2000. “Our culture is based on training and promoting from within. The average tenure with the company in manufacturing is more than 20 years, and many of our associates have had four to six different jobs as they’ve moved up in the company.”
Experience and commitment by its associates are essential to Sunbury because of its niche of providing weave-to-order fabrics in relatively short runs for decorative jobbers who demand exceptional quality and consistency. Sunbury offers decorative jobbers and contract distributors the option of purchasing the same pattern in single roll quantities over a five-year period with a guarantee that the fabrics purchased in year one will be an exact match to fabrics purchased in year five.
The mill’s long-term relationship with the Sunbrella brand has been an essential element in Sunbury’s manufacturing excellence, and its purchase by Glen Raven was greeted with optimism.
“There is a feeling of confidence at Sunbury that we’ll remain a stable local employer and have a bright future as part of a much larger company with a strong focus on the wellbeing of its people,” Burke said. “Our becoming a part of the Glen Raven family is the ultimate conclusion of a successful long-term relationship. It’s like we had been dating for more than 20 years and then decided to get married.”