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PITTSBURGH-American Textile Co. is never satisfied. Even after 75 years in business, after finally finding its niche, it keeps on tweaking -- through product innovation, strategic expansion and aggressive marketing.

"This is our business. We want to do what we do best," said Reid Ruttenberg, chairman of the company and the son of one of its founders.

During its first half-century, the company produced coverings for everything from ironing boards to appliances, but in the 1970s it decided to become very focused. Since becoming the exclusive manufacturer and distributor of allergen-barrier Aller-Ease mattress and pillow protectors made of 3M Propore Fabric, American has added 100 percent cotton covers to the collection. It expanded the category to include comforter covers and fashion colors. At this month's New York Home Textiles market, it will offer a full line of feather bedcovers and new dobby and jacquard weaves.

"We're providing not only a new look, but also an allergen-based comfort level," said Ruttenberg.

But beyond creating products, the company also manages the category for its retailers, which span channels of distribution from The Bon Marche to Wal-Mart.

"When we decided to stay with our core competency, we knew that most retailers that buy our product don't have a lot of time to buy it," said Ruttenberg. "So we decided to show them how to be successful." After American Textile consolidated and managed one retailer's program, he said, sales went from $100,000 to $2.5 million in two years.

The company recently introduced lifestyle packaging -- a unique approach in this niche -- after its research showed that consumers look for a package that provides information, while buyers look for presentation and appearance.

"We never lose sight of the fact that we're manufacturing a nonglamorous product," said Ruttenberg. "We must package it properly and inform the buyers so that consumers can buy accordingly."

Looking to extend its European distribution, American Textile, which already has a distribution center in Belgium, is about to sign a distribution agreement in the United Kingdom, said Ruttenberg. Even though the company has moved most of its manufacturing offshore to Central America and China, it has maintained its original Pittsburgh base and plans to expand its facility here by the end of 2001.
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Author:Musselman, Faye
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Date:Sep 4, 2000

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