Although his family has played a key role in the U.S. textile industry for more than a century, Derick Close, chief executive officer of Springs Creative Products Group LLC, is convinced that the industry’s future should look nothing like its past. The future, he believes, belongs to companies that are intellectually and structurally limber enough to apply innovations from other industries and that refuse to become encumbered by fixed assets or fixed ideas.
Close’s company, which is headquartered in Rock Hill, S.C., is the result of acquisitions, mergers and re-inventions that have long shaped the textile industry. His great-grandfather, Leroy Springs, took control of Fort Mill Mfg. Co., a cotton mill founded in 1886, shortly after the death of Samuel Elliot White, the company’s founder and Springs’ father-in-law. Although the company’s name was changed to Springs Mills, then to Springs Industries and finally to Springs Global, it was run mostly by Close’s family until it was sold to a Brazilian company in 2007.
‘An idea company’
When Close became president of the company’s Retail and Specialty Fabrics Division in 2001, he renamed it the Creative Products Group to better reflect the business unit’s innovative spirit and products. In 2007, when his family sold its interest in Springs Global to Coteminas in Brazil, Close purchased the Creative Products Group, creating an independently owned and operated fabrics, crafts and specialty products business.
“I saw an opportunity to create a 21st-century textile company that would be far different from the one we grew up in,” he says.
Springs Creative Products Group has two main divisions, the Retail Division and the Specialty Products Group.
The Retail Division offers fabric by the yard, packaged craft kits, and proprietary and licensed fabric products directly to retailers. The Specialty Products Group markets woven and knit greige and finished fabrics, in addition to custom fabrics. The group also offers a rapidly growing collection of chemical treatments that are used in a variety of industries, including sleep products, home furnishings, transportation and apparel.
The Specialty Products Group is, however, first and foremost, “an idea company.”
“It’s fueled by imagination, innovation and a commitment to meeting the needs of our customers,” Close says.
Kenny Parrish, Specialty Products Group division vice president, adds: “We don’t try to force existing products on customers. Our first meeting with any company centers on what they need and where they want to go. We are an idea company that brings new products to market.”
The way that Springs Creative brings those products to market also sets it apart. Its tag line—“What’s Next. Now.™”—encapsulates the spirited intellectual energy that propels the company toward innovation. In fact, company executives use the phrase so often and with such conviction, it’s clear that “What’s Next. Now.” is much more than a catchy marketing phrase. Part mission statement and part mantra, it’s the guiding principle behind all of the company’s efforts.
The “What’s Next. Now.” mindset is reflected in the way Scott Frisch, Specialty Products Group president, has structured his eight-person staff.
“They all have different roles and really diverse backgrounds,” he says. “We leverage this to find products that are currently being used in one area of the industry and apply them to another.
“Nobody reports to anybody else,” he adds. “We all report to each other and rely on each other to make decisions. My role is to be a coach. Derick, in turn, allows us the time to look throughout the world for ideas and the leverage to create new products.”
Frisch acknowledges the approach is unorthodox for the mattress industry but points out that innovation at Springs Creative is not a helter-skelter activity.
“I’ve spent months developing a strategic plan for next year,” he says. “We have more ideas than we can look at. Our success will be based on what we decide not to do.”
The result, Frisch believes, is a culture of creativity that puts customers first.
“Internally, we have an atmosphere where you’re not held to someone else’s definition of what you should be and how you should act,” he says. “Externally, the customer is everything.”
‘The world is our factory’
Springs Creative moved into its headquarters at the Cotton Factory in downtown Rock Hill four years ago. The mill, built in 1808, was given a $3.5 million renovation and now, Frisch says, is “an ultramodern design center” that includes a “ ‘collaboratory’ where customers can come to work on new ideas.”
The company owns three distribution centers, all in South Carolina. Together, they encompass about 1.3 million square feet. Springs Creative also operates a full-service lab facility that offers a range of industry standard tests to both internal and external customers.
In addition, Springs Creative has begun a partnership with Sandlapper, a quick response manufacturing facility located in Inman, S.C.
“The Specialty Products Group was initially challenged by not having a lot of fixed assets, but now champions not being tied down by them,” Close says.
“The world is our factory,” Frisch adds. “We are currently working with 15 different factories and each one is the right one to make a specific product. This business model gives you the opportunity to change on a dime.”
John Wirth, director of global supply chain and quality assurance, is responsible for sourcing manufacturing facilities and assuring that the products that come from them meet the company’s standards. Currently, facilities in the United States, China, Pakistan and Thailand manufacture the bulk of the Specialty Products Group’s offerings.
“When the world is your supply chain, the biggest challenge is to make sure that relationships with these factories are what they need to be,” Wirth says.
The company manages these complexities through Springs Creative Shanghai, a 19-person sourcing office in China.
“The people in Shanghai know how to manage inside that culture and inside our culture, as well,” Wirth says. “As we develop new products, they try to find the appropriate manufacturer, oversee quality and shipping, and work with the factories to bring them into compliance with social and environmental regulations. We need to have a global perspective, however, and try not to be China-centric. Our biggest challenge is predicting where the supply chain is going, staying at the front end of it and managing it effectively for our customers.”
What it brings to bedding
Springs Creative currently offers five lines of specialty fabrics to the mattress industry and has several others in development. Its Firegard® line of FR products marked the company’s entry into the mattress industry.
“We have six major Firegard products, some of which are customer specific,” Parrish says. “With the diversification of mattress types, we’ve had to customize the fabric to the need.”
SleepSkin® is a line of stretch performance fabrics designed to maximize the feel of foam mattresses. The material can be digitally printed and is popular among manufacturers as “a way of beefing up their product line,” Parrish says.
He has high expectations for the future of this line.
“I think that you’re going to see many more mattresses be performance driven,” Parrish says. “It’s easy to do, and even lower-end manufacturers are keying up to that.”
The company’s AirSkin® line of spacer fabrics is a classic example of crossover technology.
“The technology originated in the tennis shoe industry, and Scott Frisch adapted it and introduced it to the mattress industry three years ago,” Parrish says. The fabric, which incorporates an air chamber to draw heat and moisture away from the body, also can be printed and colorized.
Springs Creative developed its Thermic® and eSCENTial® lines in partnership with Devan Chemicals, a company based in Ronse, Belgium, that produces specialty chemicals and processes for the textile industry. The Thermic line uses phase-change materials to create a system that helps control the environment around a sleeping body. eSCENTial is the brand name for a line with microencapsulation technology that allows manufacturers to add scents or natural lotions to mattresses, fillers and top-of-bed products. The aromatherapy and skincare collections, Parrish says, promotes health and well-being; three scent collections promote relaxation.
Springs Creative has three new advancements in development. Frisch is particularly enthusiastic about a self-cleaning technology that, he says, is “about a year away from being really commercial.” The company is using fiber optics and ultraviolet light in experiments on self-cleaning pillows, with the goal of developing a self-cleaning mattress.
Parrish sees multiple opportunities for adapting smart textiles to the bedding industry.
“There are already companies out there using conductive fabrics to adjust the bed based on pressure-point sensing,” he says. “I think we’re going to see a big emergence of electronic textiles in the mattress industry.”
Sales from the Specialty Products Group contribute about 40% to Springs Creative’s overall annual sales.
“We’ve doubled our business in the last three years and plan to double it again in the next three,” Frisch says.
Selling is as much of a team effort as product development, Parrish says.
“We have three commissioned sales reps, but our internal sales force is everyone who is on salary,” he says. “We all produce, manage and sell.”
In August, the Specialty Products Group beefed up that effort by hiring Jimmy Fleming, a 20-year textile industry veteran, as its first technical sales representative.
Company executives are optimistic about the Specialty Products Group’s continued strong growth.
“New proprietary products, fibers and finishes give us great cause for optimism,” Close says. “We are well-positioned today from both a financial and a physical resource perspective. Our constraints consist mainly of reducing the product development cycle and speeding up the pace of new product into the marketplace.”