Cinde Ingram, Casual Living Magazine, August 2012
Windward design group, a family-owned outdoor furniture manufacturer, stays true to its Sarasota, Fla. roots as it grows in a sustainable manner to service its ever-expanding customer network. "This has already been a very busy year for us and from the response we received at premarket, it seems we're moving in the right direction ... but the work is far from over," Executive VP Carrie Morales said. "We're diversifying our product offering into new materials that complement our current aluminum category and we continue to strengthen our sales force," she said. "This has been a big project and includes new warehouse/factory space and equipment. The new materials include resin wicker and marine grade polymer - those collections, along with our new aluminum sling and deep seating collection will be shown at the Casual Market and available in fall 2012. We look at this endeavor as another way to solidify our relationships with current dealers and a reason for those who haven't tried us in the past to do so."
Her husband, Marc Morales, came onboard early this year as VP of business development. He brought more than 18 years of experience in increasingly responsible roles in the defense industry that include engineering, design, development and treasury department financial management, as well as domestic/international marketing and sales. Before joining Windward Design, Marc held the position of VP of business development for a $250 million company and was the top sales representative for the world's largest ammunition manufacturer.
Marc described Windward Design as "still a small company with big aspirations," then added, "I don't think we're going to outgrow what we are and what we have." Windward is a "best value" company that can handle custom orders with short lead times in order to strengthen its customers and reps, both Carrie and Marc said. The couple credits Carrie's father, Windward Design Group Owner and President David Peace, who brought previous experience working for another aluminum outdoor furniture company when he started his first business as a service company re-strapping and refinishing pool furniture for local hotels and condo communities in the Sarasota area during the early 1980s.
Peace's business evolved into manufacturing raw frames for other refinishers around Florida and led to distribution of completed products and the birth in 1990 of what is known now as Windward Design Group. At that time, he faced the same temptation as other U.S. manufacturers who went overseas in pursuit of cheaper labor. "We do exist in a global economy, but I try to keep as many jobs as I can here," Peace said. "When you make the product from beginning to end, you control it."
While evolving from a one-man service operation to a national company with more than 100 employees, the company has withstood many different challenges. "We didn't push to go national, we got pulled," Carrie said. "We were told, ‘There's a hole in the market and you can fill it.' "In 2007, we made a concerted effort to broaden our national customer base and sales representation," Carrie said. "That was, of course, on the cusp of our (national) economic slump. The specialty retailers we brought onboard through 2008 and 2009 were excited about our ‘Made in the USA' story, our quality, our value and our special-order lead time. One of my dealers said, ‘It just made sense to buy from Windward.' So, I guess you can say we were poised for the economic downturn by simply marketing who we are. By not changing who we were, we have enjoyed controlled, sustainable growth."
Peace said the Business increased by double digits each year during the downturn. The company now operates out of approximately 68,000 square feet of manufacturing and administrative space. Each season, the Windward Design staff makes adjustments to improve its relationships with retail partners. "When our economy began to slip in 2007, we developed our promotional program that allows our specialty retailers to purchase price point product at import prices," Carrie said. "Several retailers have told us through the last few years that our promotional products may have kept their doors open during very hard times. In addition, our niche is special orders - we don't force large early buy requirements on our retailers and there are no minimums. We listen to what has worked and more importantly, what hasn't... whether it's our fabric offering, sales materials, pricing, service, freight programs, etc."
In response to the slowly improving national economy, Windward Design has continued its promotional program pricing. Carrie said the company also "made some changes to allow the retailers to be more creative with buying so that they're not left with excess inventory at the end of the season, but are still able to provide a price point that competes against the big box stores." "Our marketing, fabric offering, product design and pricing is formulated specifically for the specialty market," she said. "This includes independent ‘mom and pop shops' to franchised dealers. However, we also sell through residential and hospitality designers as well as some contract products through online distributors."
Windward opened a separate facility to produce furniture made with marine grade polymer and to distribute wicker. "We'll continue the same no minimum approach with these products and are already hearing positive response from many of our retailers who attended the Casual Preview Show," Carrie said.
"We view the International Casual Furniture and Accessories Market as our primary tradeshow and after the nice response we received during the Preview Show this year, it looks as if we may be adding that show to our calendar again next year," Carrie said. "The Casual Market draws a concentrated group of buyers, manufacturers and industry suppliers and it's been extremely beneficial for us - not only from a sales aspect, but also networking. The relationships we've developed through this show and the supplier contacts we've made have proven to be pivotal to our national growth over the last five years."
When asked what made the difference for Windward Design Group and set it apart from its competitors, the Moraleses pointed to a never-say-no attitude as they built relationships with dealers. "We strive to be an easy company to work with," Carrie said. "No matter how nice the product or how ‘right' the price is, we know that in order to stay strong, service must be a number one priority."
Knowing relationships are integral to individual success, Carrie reminds others around her with a plaque over her desk that keeps growth of all things in perspective. The sign reads: "Never get too busy making a living that you forget to make a life." Continued growth isn't likely to pull Windward Design away from its core values or key relationships.
At Windward Design Group we pride ourselves on being American made and we work hard to ensure that all of the materials that go into our products come from domestic sources. 100% of our sling products, strap products and cushions are made in the USA – from material to end product. However, at times, there are a few products and components that we are forced to buy from oversea suppliers. These items account for less than 2% of our sales.
The few exceptions we have include:
- Our Glass table tops are imported. Windward manufactures the bases and finishes the tables here in the USA. Finishing includes painting and assembling.
- Umbrella frames are imported, the umbrella covers are made to order here in the USA.
- Wicker frames are imported, cushions are made to order here in the USA.