Norman Shutter Factory Review
What I saw at the Norman Window Fashion (NWF) Factory in China.
FYI I also own Shutter Nation Of Orange County.
I wrote this because I thought you’d like to know what really happens in a window covering factory. I’m not a writer so please excuse any errors.
Last September (2015) I was invited by my Norman Window Fashions (NWF) rep on a trip to Hong Kong and China. It was an amazing, 5-day trip.
Background: I would be traveling with 30 other dealers from all over America. For the past 16 years, my sales reps have told me about how wonderful the factory is: how wonderful the company treats the employees and how dedicated they are to quality. Not knowing what to expect, I went with an open mind.
I took notes on what I saw the whole time I was there. The other members of my group kept looking at me like I was nuts for taking notes, but I did it anyway.
Day 1: When we arrived at the first factory, it was so very large.
NWF has nine factories worldwide that occupy over 4.5 million sq. ft. This reduces their down time with regional holiday schedules and spikes in demands. The factories are large and well appointed.
We started in the corporate offices, which look like any other office building. There is a 15 foot by 15-foot model of the factory grounds in the lobby. This place is HUGE.
Next was the testing lab, where they test everything, including the cardboard, finishes, wood and employee skills. They age the Polypropylene, the paints and stains for color fastness. They test hinges for strength and finish, and they even test the packaging.
Then we went into the massive factory of over 2.4 million Sq. Ft., which is housed in several buildings.
You’d be wrong if you think they have people with whips and chains forcing the employees to work. Employees work from 7-11 am and take a 2-hour lunch. They return at 1 pm and are off at 5 pm. They get a 10-minute break for every hour worked. Fun Fact: I was chatting with one of the young guys in management who said that in this town, if you wear your Norman shirt into a bar, all the girls know you make 2X as much as the average employee in the town. It’s kind of like wearing your Porsche shirt into a bar in America. The employees are provided free food, housing, clothing and health care by NWF.
I’m reviewing my notes as I write this, and one of the things I wrote was, employees seem so happy and seem to work at a normal pace. They all work together.
The first building we went to was the wood storage. NWF owns their own island off Fuji, so they can harvest their own wood. Why would they do this? Typically, from tree to shutter, there is 75% waste; using the NWF system, there is only 25% waste, then the waste is used to heat the factories, employee housing and offices.
We saw nine kilns; they’re so big that NWF had to build them in-house; apparently, you can’t buy kilns this big off-the-shelf.
The wood is dried per temperate zones from around the world. This helps with warpage.
The wood is hand sorted by wood specialists to ensure only the best is used. I have never seen so much wood being stored and ready to use.
Next, we went to the Wood Lore factory. This is a very busy place, millions of sq. ft. of shutters being made by thousands of employees. I have always wanted to see how the Wood Lore is made and the Polypropylene is applied. (it’s my favorite product to sell) The wood is cut and glued together, milled, heated and put into a 12-inch box as uncovered and comes out as coated frame material. Crazy fast! The technology we saw was state-of-the-art; they measure twice and cut once. They even photograph every shutter at every step to look for ways to be more efficient. Your shutters are pre-assembled and tested before they ship them to you.
As we walked through the factory, we arrived at the specialty shapes department. The employees in this department are the highest-paid factory employees. They are tested to some sort of woodworking standards, thus making them master craftsmen. I was impressed (I have negative woodworking skills). Fun Fact: I tell my clients, “I may not be able to change the oil in your car, but I can make your house look awesome.”
Day 2: We took a 30-minute bus ride to the Cellular/Fabric factory. By the way, the city is very nice. I was impressed by the roads and the shopping areas.
First we went into the offices, and I commented that it looked like a Merrill Lynch office building here in America. Customer service: We saw all the girls who send you the emails for clarity on issues. They are required to be between Levels 6-8 proficient in English and have a college degree to work in this department. I was anxious to see who it is that sends me those pesky emails. It looked like an office in NYC with people in cubicles. I did comment that if you were a single guy, this would be the department to work in. Directly access the hall was the IT department with 31 employees.
Then we went upstairs to what I would consider the most impressive part of the tour. Have you ever seen how cell fabric is made? It starts as a very large roll of single-sheet fabric, which NWF dyes and tests in-house to ensure the highest quality product. Next, it’s strung through huge rollers all around the factory and somehow comes out as cell shade fabric.
Next we saw the weaving room. NWF developed a new design for 2-inch blinds. The rout hole would be in the rear of the slat, which allows for a much tighter close of the blinds. If you’ve ever see the blind block the light, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s very impressive. NWF asked the ladder string manufacturer if they would make this change for their ladders; the supplier said no, so NWF purchased 300+ machines to make their own ladder strings now running 24/7. They have 300+ machines making their own cord and 85 machines weaving their own tapes. It starts from tiny little threads and is weaved into cords.
The next stop was the training room. This is where we met Ramjan, the president of NWF based out of Southern California, and Morgan, one of the NFW owners, and several other staff members.
They could not have been nicer. During one of the presentations, Morgan interrupted the presenter to share with us the reason he is so committed to the safety of blinds. In his country of Taiwan several years ago, a child was killed by the cords (not a NWF product), and he decided that that was the last time. He took it personally and changed the way they make products; he said they could sell twice as many, but they’d have to switch to a less safe design and that would not be happening. He was fueled by finding new ways to manufacture products to a higher standard. He is a very impressive man.
When asked why NWF doesn’t make grass shades, he said they opened a plant and tested it for two years. He was appalled by the pollution that the grass shades product makes and said, “I don’t want to pollute my country,” so he shut it down. Now that’s honest.
We were hosted by Oliver–this guy is a walking NWF encyclopedia–and his side-kick KC, who is a “get it done” kind of guy. These guys were great hosts.
I must conclude this long post with the #1 reason I love NWF. While on the bus returning to Hong Kong, one of the members received some devastating personal news. Within seconds I saw the NWF employees on the phone arranging for him to be on the next plane back to LAX first class and with an escort, no questions asked. He was on a plane in two hours. I have no idea how much this cost, but after meeting Ramjan and Morgan, I knew they had the authorization to do this with no questions asked. This is the kind of company I want to do business with.
If you ever get a chance to take this trip, do it. The accommodations are first class, the people are tremendous, and Hong Kong is amazing. They treat you far better than you’d ever expect. The food was great, too.
I know many people in this industry say to buy American. I don’t have a problem with that. There is a difference between a company that was US-based and moved their manufacturing to a foreign country and a company that was founded in a foreign country and broke into the US market. NWF sells all over the world. They didn’t move to China to reduce cost, they were founded in China and use the savings to make better products. This is a very big difference in my personal opinion.