Which is the best mirror manufacturer of them all? Lorie Russo has the answer.
There are three stories involving Carolina Mirror. The first centers on new owner Sun Capital Partners of Boca Raton, Fla., which bought the company last year, seeing a wealth of growth potential on the horizon. The second involves the many ways in which Carolina Mirror, founded in 1936, maintains its prestigious spot among the top mirror manufacturers in the country. The third focuses on the company’s relationship with the Versailles Foundation, sponsor of the Court of Versailles licensing program, and the Biltmore Estate, built by George Vanderbilt in Ashville, N.C.
“We’ve received permission for use of their original pieces (mirrors) as inspiration for our own interpretation of modern-day applications of those styles,” says Richard Crandall, Carolina Mirror’s vice president of decorative products, referring to the third of these three stories. The culmination of that work – the Biltmore Estate and Court of Versailles mirror collections – brings back both the grandeur of America’s Gilded Age and the supreme majesty of France’s Sun King, Louis XIV, and his successors to the French throne.
“We created a collection of their style with modifications to fit into modern day use,” Crandall adds. But the work took time. Since nothing could be taken off-grounds, all styling and molding work had to be done on-site. “We even took molding work from the walls to come up with a concept for a particular mirror. Then we worked with a carver who hand-carved the mirrors from wood,” Crandall says. Mirrors in both collections come with a tag describing the history and in which room it hung. Licensed exclusively through Carolina Mirror, both collections were shown for the first time last October and were “generously received,” Crandall adds. “A lot of licensing opportunities exist in the wall decorating industry,” he says. “There’s a perceived value especially in decorative, traditional arts. The Biltmore Estate and Court of Versailles collections are based on archival material. As we fine-tune our marketing approach, we are inspired to create decorative accessories.” The mirror collections, he added, also go hand-in-hand with a new wave of interest in French-inspired designs. “The collections have been great vehicles for us and have given us the opportunity to move upward,” Crandall adds.
A Reflection of the Home
Moving upward has been the company standard since its founding in 1936. “In those days, they built mostly sheet mirrors for furniture cases, shelving and glass fronts for china cabinets,” says John Matthews, vice president of industrial products. “They didn’t start doing (mirror) frames until 1945.” At that time, the country’s building boom demanded home accessories with a little more style, he says. In today’s market, he explains, mirrors are an important feature, expanding the space in a small room or bringing the outdoors inside. “We think of mirrors as a piece of wall covering, like wallpaper,” Matthews says. “They’re an important part of the home.”
Carolina Mirror is now the largest independent supplier of mirrors to the wholesale distributor’s market. “We sell to the wholesaler who sells to the glass shops,” Matthews says. “We also sell to large fabricators who will take our mirror and shape, bevel it and cut it to custom sizes for their customers.” In addition to the home furnishings market, the company also sells a great deal to the hotel and motel contract market. In becoming successful, Carolina Mirror has had to recognize several things, Matthews explains. Among them: There’s just more mirrors being produced than people to buy them. “We’re in an overcapacity market,” Matthews says. “We operate from the standpoint that we have a brand name that keeps us in the market. We’re not a commodity manufacturer. We’re recognized as a leader in the industry.” That recognition comes with producing top-quality products. In its 250,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in North Wilksboro, N.C., Carolina Mirror’s employees – some with more than 30 years experience with the company – are constantly pushing the envelope on quality and craftsmanship. Among the more innovative results of their collective brainstorming: PolyGlaze™, a polyurethane coating very durable in preventing mirror scratches. Applied with a roller and cured with ultraviolet light, PolyGlaze™ is the last coating put on the mirror, Matthews says. The company also backs its product with “unsurpassed service, quality assurance and convenient delivery.” Carolina Mirror’s line of fabricated specialty goods includes:
• Vinyl-backed mirrors available in a variety of sizes
• Glue chip and frosted glass
• Convex reflectors to provide a wide field of vision wherever unobstructed observation is required
• Edgework, using both semi-automatic and fully automatic equipment for high-quality beveled glass and mirrors in a variety of configurations
• Tints — bronze, gray, peach, blue, green and graylite 14
• Transparent mirrors or specialty mirrors used in interior applications
• Tempered mirrors to meet safety standards
In addition to frames and mirrors, Carolina Mirror produces an extraordinary product line of images, including Crown Fine Arts prints and reproductions of works by well-known artists such as Renoir and Monet.
As the company seeks to offer more of a lifestyle product than a commodity, it has continuously thought of new ways to present both mirrors and prints to the public. A few years ago, says President Frank Busam, mirrors were exhibited on one side of a showroom and prints on the other, making each look more like a commodity than a lifestyle choice. “Now the mirrors and artwork are grouped together,” Busam says. “It’s a much better marketing concept, and it gives the customer a better idea of how mirrors and art can work together in the home.”
The company currently sells to top names in the furniture industry: Thomasville, Broyhill, Bernhardt, American Drew and Ashley Furniture, to name a few. With 80 sales reps calling on customers in the industrial/ commercial, retail and contract markets throughout the United States, Carolina Mirror has become known everywhere for its handsome lines of contemporary and traditional mirrors. As a feather in its cap, in 1994, North Carolina recognized it as one of state’s 100 largest private companies.
A New Beginning
Owned by the Cherokee Indian Nation for 10 years, Carolina Mirror recently was purchased by Sun Capital Partners. “They simply saw it as a good investment,” Busam explains. “They were looking for companies with a strong track record of good performance, brand name equity, earnings and opportunities to improve upon the operation.”
So far, Sun Capital has invested heavily in its new venture, pouring close to $1 million into the purchase of new equipment. It has also formulated plans for more factory equipment and new manufacturing software in the future.
“We believe we have the best quality product in the industry,” says Busam. “We believe we have an excellent brand name as well as a reputation for service and quality, and we intend to make gains in improving on our manufacturing efficiency.
“Caroline Mirror offers a tremendous selection of products that allow our customers to meet almost every application demand, satisfy almost any decorating taste and please a wide range of consumers. With Carolina Mirror, our customers can offer a wide range of mirror products and artwork. Realize that all these factors — value-added quality, partnership, selection and merchandising — add up to make Carolina Mirror the best choice in today’s marketplace…and our customers’ best choice in mirror products.”