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Company ending online blinds sales

HACKENSACK, N.J. – Hunter Douglas Inc., the manufacturer and marketer of high-end, customized blinds, on Monday announced a plan some might consider heresy: It will stop online selling.

The Upper Saddle River, N.J.-based company said as of June 1 it will no longer sell merchandise through the Internet in the U.S. or Canada.

The company said an expected short-term loss in sales will be outweighed by the long-term benefits of channeling sales through the company’s network of 7,000 retailers, who can offer quality service and advice.

“It was just our desire to maintain and grow our brand integrity,” said Joe Jankoski, vice president of corporate merchandising. He declined to say how much business the company would lose by shutting down the online outlet. But he said the move affects a relatively small part of company business – the sale of more standardized wood and metal blinds and pleated shades.

The company does not sell its more up-market, distinctive brands – such as Architella, Duette and Silhouette online, to ensure customers fully understand the products and get comprehensive guidance and service from a dealer, Jankoski said.

Hunter Douglas on March 11 reported a 21 percent decline in U.S. sales to $912 million in its 2009 fiscal year.

Bob Phibbs, a California-based retail consultant, called the move by Hunter Douglas “huge,” given that many businesses are going in the other direction and placing Web sales at the center of their strategy.

“Hunter Douglas says, ‘Our brand is the skill of our dealers,’ ” he said. “All we are hearing about is global technology is coming. Everybody will be shopping on their PDAs. And here is a huge consumer products company saying we are going to control our brand.”

Britt Beemer, chairman and founder of America’s Research Group, a South Carolina market research company, said he wasn’t surprised at Hunter Douglas’ move. He said online retailers report that home furnishings have the highest amount of returns of any product for online sales, which boosts costs.