By David Gill
MASON, Ohio–Downlite executives said that the appointment of James Lape as chief executive officer of the company is a signal that the down products manufacturer is gearing itself for significant growth and new opportunities.
Lape has assumed his new post after a 23-year career in various executive positions with Levi Strauss, and after several years of operating his own consulting business. Downlite has been registering double-digit growth rates for several years, according to the company, and Lape believes that accelerated trend can continue for a few more years.
“What attracted me to Downlite is the combination of a company that is growing consistently, but that is looking for a way to refine and get to the next level in terms of process and structure,” Lape said in an interview with HFN. “The owners have done an incredible job of building this business. It has grown substantially, and they wanted to bring in an outsider with a fresh view.”
Downlite has been owned for the past 24 years by the brothers Larry and Marvin Werthaiser and their longtime friend, Bob Altbaier. The three owners remain in their posts with Lape’s appointment: Larry Werthaiser is still Downlite’s president, while Marvin Werthaiser is secretary and treasurer, and Altbaier is vice president of sales.
Explaining the choice of Lape as CEO in an interview with HFN, Stefan Hunter, marketing director, said, “In general, we wanted someone who worked at a textiles powerhouse and who had experienced like issues as our industry. Those issues include retailers seeking exclusive product assortments and vicious foreign competition.”
Given these industry issues and the thinning retail base, it’s remarkable that Downlite has managed the strong growth it has registered these past few years. “In light of the shape of the industry, we feel good about that,” Lape said. “We want to grow profitably, and with the right kind of channels of distribution.” Hunter added that in spite of the tough market, Downlite has been able to add accounts in both its retail and hospitality customer bases.
Among the opportunities for further growth, according to Lape, are new channels of distribution and licensing. Downlite is already strong in the latter end, holding licenses with PrimaLoft (the synthetic down alternative), Croscill, Christy, Biltmore Estate, Frank Lloyd Wright and the Young Survival Coalition.
Increasing the licensed portion of the business is ongoing. Hunter said the company is on the verge of signing two additional brands, which he didn’t name. “We see no shortage of our customers having additional placements for such branded goods for their open-to-buy dollars,” he said.
Expanding the product line is another promising area. “Pillows are our second-biggest product line, and we think we can make it even stronger,” Lape said. “I think we can accomplish bigger market share in blankets, throws and featherbeds, too. We let our retailers know that we tailor to their [product] needs. If there’s an opportunity, we can help them”
Looking ahead “we don’t see anything yet that’ll stop us from maintaining double-digit growth,” Lape said. “We have the flexibility to do different things for our retail customers. The main thing from my standpoint is to prepare for any scenario that comes upon us.”