By Warren Shoulberg
NEW YORK–Twenty years ago this month, Rich Roman started a company called Revman Industries that for a lack of a better term, was the “anti-mill.”
It owned no manufacturing, instead using the then-nearly-unheard-of strategy of sourcing all its production out to third parties and limiting itself strictly to marketing and sales of its stable of high-profile designer brands.
The competition was not impressed.
Now, two decades later, the Revman International business model is the business model for the home textiles industry and the competition … well, the competition is mostly out of business.
And today Revman, majority owned by the big Mexican textiles company Grupo Kaltex, is considered the premier purveyor of upscale brands to the better market with a roster that runs from the Tommys—Hilfiger and Bahama—to Marimekko and right on through to its original flagship, Laura Ashley.
Along the way, it helped pioneer the concept of dedicated branding for individual retail customers, a marketing strategy that is now a given in the industry.
Roman, the always-nattily dressed and personable president and principal in Revman, didn’t set out to reinvent the home textiles business, but has spent the past 20 years bobbing and weaving with the changing dynamics of the industry, much like the looms he first chose to rent rather than own back in the day.
“I love the business and being able to bring these lifestyles to the market,” he told HFN recently, sitting in his corner office in the New York City office tower that has been the company’s home since its founding. His hair may be grayer, but his blue eyes still have the twinkle that has served him well all these years.
Roman’s initial business model of sourcing out manufacturing and focusing on sales and marketing of upscale brands was the result of both circumstances and situations.
“I had a good job; I was named president of Burlington’s home textiles business when I was 30 years old,” he said, recalling his earlier career. Burlington’s home unit was sold to J.P. Stevens and Roman went along with it, but soon Stevens was also in play, the target of a takeover by WestPoint Pepperell.
“It became clear to me at the time that the mills were focused on the big mass merchants and not the department stores. At the same time, you could see all the apparel business going to imports. And you said, ‘Why can’t that happen to us?’ ”
Roman decided then and there to go out on his own and Revman—a contraction of his name and fellow principal Peter Revers—was born. “I left on a Friday afternoon and showed up Monday at our new office,” located on what was then Mill Row on Sixth Avenue.
“I was scared. Even in the corporate set-up, I had an entrepreneurial bent, but fear is a great motivator.
Roman said Revman’s philosophy was never to own equipment and, “that was while our competitors were adding capacity all the time.”
That first line that debuted the following spring included brands like Marimekko—the only label to be with Revman throughout its entire history—interior designer Mario Buatta and Josie Natori, who subsequently returned to the home business a few years back.
“The competitors said we wouldn’t last a year,” recalls Roman. “How ironic that six or seven years into our plan, the big mills started to talk about emulating us.”
Today, most of those mills are out of business and the ones that remain have shifted all production offshore or to third parties.
Marimekko bedding became the first product shipped, to Crate & Barrel, a harbinger of things to come in that the designs were exclusive to the retailer.
That model eventually became a backbone of the Revman strategy. “You used to be able to do a lot of business on one pattern back then,” Roman said, remembering that the company had 57 different buying offices come in to its first market.
As the retail customer base started to consolidate, they began asking for more exclusivity and Revman’s answer was to develop specific brands for specific customers. “You had the ability to sell a national brand to several stores, but now you’re selling one brand to one store.”
The Nicole Miller program for Bed Bath & Beyond was an early example of that. But today, Revman sports a wide variety of labels, some offered exclusively, some not.
Again, it’s a strategy competitors have copied, though few if any on the scale Revman has established.
One change in the business that does not sit well with Roman is the price devaluation that plagues the home textiles business, as well as many consumer product classifications.
“The number-one marketing plan in textiles is to lower prices, and that has served the industry badly,” he said. “You can’t possibly sell enough units to make up for the lost volume.”
Revman’s answer: brands. “Our strategy has been to come up with good brands at competitive prices in the better end of the market.”
Roman also despairs about the diminished quality of products today. “This industry used to have higher standards; there’s a lot of junk out there now. It’s not healthy for the industry.”
He recommends some sort of industry standards labeling, maybe under the auspices of the Home Fashion Products Association. “I’m not sure if it would mean anything but even if it just helps a little, it will mean something.”
Roman says Revman, despite sometimes down-speccing product to get business—“We’re not holier than thou”—has stuck to its guns more so than others. “We’ve held to a higher standard and as a result I think our business held up better than our competitors’.”
Roman continues to believe in the power of brands and his company’s ability to find the right ones. “You have to have an eye for what will work. The best brand for us is one that has a good business in apparel.”
Any brands in the market he currently covets? “There’s nothing out there in the market right now that I wish I had, but Coach is one I’d be interested in.”
Roman says anything Revman does is a team effort. Some executives are new to the company, some, like vice president of creative services Diane Piemonte, have been with him since the beginning. “I’m very proud of our people. It’s never just one guy. We have a great group here.”
A group that Roman, 59, expects to be part of for some time to come. Although an avid golfer and skier who has been known to very much enjoy his vacations, he says even if he isn’t visible “I’m involved behind the scenes.
“I’m still having fun, although it was a lot more fun when you used to have the excitement of market weeks. There’s not a whole lot of heavy lifting going on at markets anymore.”
But he remembers the founding of the company and that’s what continues to drive him. “Back then, I had a bit of an inferiority complex because they (the mills) had plants and I didn’t. Maybe that’s why I worked a little harder.
“My wife says I’m never satisfied. I think I might be the type that dies with his boots on.”