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Fleetwood Fixtures designs, develops, engineers, manufactures and installs flagship environments that promote in-store branding and enhance customer experiences. These include floor and perimeter fixtures, branding point-of-purchase displays, décor fixtures, seating and furnishing, dressing room systems, signage and graphics, window displays, mannequins and other visual elements. While its customers include hospitality and workplace businesses, retail is a core market segment. Given all the talk these days about store closings and the decline of traditional retail, should Fleetwood Fixtures be more than a little worried?
Actually, no. To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of brick and mortar stores are greatly exaggerated.
“It’s hard to avoid talk of the impending retail apocalypse,” Kalle Grube, Fleetwood’s senior vice president of sales. concedes. “But the fact is that lease rates for retail spaces are up, and that there are actually an increasing number of brands setting up stores in new markets. Now, it is true that certain established retail brands are consolidating and closing locations. This is usually attributed to their struggle to compete with on-line retailers. However, in most cases the store closings are more the result of over expansion and brand overexposure than the growth of e-commerce.”
And, in fact, web-based businesses are actually contributing to the growth of brick and mortar stores, what’s sometimes called “click to brick.” According to Jason Owens, director of marketing, “An e-commerce business obtains a lot of valuable customer data. They get an understanding of their customers and what exactly they are looking for, and where their key markets are. With that data they can augment their on-line business by strategically opening brick and mortar stores in those zip codes where they generate most of their business. Unlike, in the days before the Internet, when retailers just opened up stores because a new mall was going up somewhere; in many cases, those are the stores that are currently closing.”
Most importantly, Grube adds, there are certain things that you just can’t do on the web that you can in an actual store. “Sure, if you’re a certain standard size, you can order clothes on-line that are likely to fit. But if you’re not, you need to try things on. Paint colors don’t look the same on-line as actual paint chips you can hold up to the light. Same with cosmetics and home goods, you really want to touch and feel the product and see for yourself if that shade of blue is actually the one you want. On-line offers convenience, and that’s certainly an advantage, but brick and mortar stores offer experiences you just don’t get on-line.”
Helping to provide those experiences is why a range of global brands—including Calvin Klein, Restoration Hardware, T-Mobile, The Gap, Anthropologie, J.C. Penney, H&M and Macy’s, to name just a few—partner with Fleetwood.
What makes Fleetwood unique is its ability to provide end-to-end solutions, as well as to step in at any point in the process as a partner to provide any one or multiple services. “There are a lot of variables that have to be managed,” Grube notes. Any fixture installation starts with design, which includes the development of concept drawings, materials sample, presentation renderings, approval drawings, prototype mockups and production drawings. But that’s only the start. Turning ideas into reality begins with engineering a functional product that meets both budget and design objectives. Then manufacturing the product, which involves managing a local and worldwide supply chain of qualified providers. Finally, the distribution logistics that lead to installation in one or multiple locations in a timely manner. Needless to say, it’s a complicated endeavor and one that involves multiple entities that require careful and concise coordination. Perhaps Fleetwood’s biggest challenge is short time leads. All of which Fleetwood performs as a matter of routine, at all or any point of the process customers require.
“While Fleetwood started out as a design firm, we are equally strong at project management,” Grube explains. “There’s a lot that goes into turning the customer’s vision into a branding solution that is delivered complete and on-time at a reasonable cost. Strictly as a designer, we anticipate the various logistical steps that go into materials sourcing, inventory control, supply chain management and final installation. But we can also manage any step of those logistics, even if we aren’t the designer.”
Which means that Fleetwood’s customer base includes other design firms, as well as end-users. “Whether we are the designer or someone else is, we can look at the production plan and suggest alternative materials or engineering changes to make the store installation more cost-effective and scalable for multiple locations, all the while achieving the desired brand image,” Grube says.
Fleetwood, which directly employs some 300 people, offers the additional ability to build as well as design fixtures, either at its 287,000 square foot facility in Leesport, Penn., at its sister company (acquired by Fleetwood in 2014) High Country Millwork’s 87,000 square foot plan in Longmont, Colo., or through various strategic partnerships in Asia as well the global facilities of a range supplier partners.
“Installations involve a variety of materials, including wood, metal, glass and Plexiglas, stone, composites and other solid surfaces. There’s also a lot of lighting and technology integration,” Grube notes. “We manufacture wood fixtures in-house. There is no such thing as ‘pull it off the shelf’—we build-to-order. We’re located in an area in Pennsylvania that is noted as a major furniture manufacturer, and we draw workers from an Amish community noted for its woodworking craftsmanship and attention to detail.”
She adds, “Our experience as a design-sensitive fixture manufacturer extends to our supplier partnerships. We share our best practices and maintain the high, exacting standards for social responsibility in addition to quality and cost-effectiveness. We work only with the best and most reliable suppliers, so our customers can be assured of the same standard of quality and service, regardless whether we produce the components ourselves or production is performed by a vetted Fleetwood Certified Provider.”
Grube emphasizes the importance of communication throughout not only the design process, but throughout the project to final delivery. “Change happens,” she says. “But change can’t be a surprise, it needs to be managed. We mitigate changes through effective communication, to ensure the customer as well as all of our teams understand what is going on and why at all times during all stages. It’s always a collaborative process. So when final inspection takes place, there won’t be any surprises.” The company takes pride in the expression that when it “quotes and apple, it delivers an apple, not an orange.”
Fixture installations are designed to last, but how long they last depends on a variety of factors. “Typically we try to build in a certain amount of modularity and flexibility to modify an installation and make it last longer. And with a design that can stand the test of time. A lot of our customers aren’t in a position to reinvest in something new for the sake of doing something new,” Grube notes. “At the same time, everyone is always looking at ways to refresh their branding. Because of our reputation to promote the highest level of personal responsibility and attention to detail that provides a quality product that is budget conscious, we’ve developed long-term relationships that go beyond a single project. When our customers are ready to develop a new brand expression, we’re here to help them.”
She adds, “Our competitive advantage is some 50 years of experience not only in design, but dedication to building value to achieve desired functionality within budget. We know how fixtures work, and how they don’t work. That’s why our customers choose us to work for them.”