Innofa meets growing demand for specialty knits

Innofa Job and Rogier Droge
In the family–Job (left) and Rogier Dröge took over Innofa from their father, Rolf Dröge.

With three manufacturing facilities in Europe, the United States and Mexico, textile producer Innofa has positioned itself to bring its specialty knits to a broader slice of the mattress manufacturing market. Through investments in new equipment and by leveraging the capabilities of each of its facilities, the company has begun implementing a strategic decision to become a one-stop-shop for all of a mattress manufacturer’s fabric needs and to do that at a full range of price points.

Innofa is headquartered in Tilburg, the Netherlands. It was founded in 1980 by Rolf Dröge, the father of its current owners, Job and Rogier Dröge. The brothers, who took Innofa’s helm in 1991, serve jointly as chief executive officers and are the company’s sole owners.

“When we took over the company, we had to write to our father and explain what we wanted to do,” Job Dröge says. “I became responsible for sales and marketing and Rogier manages operations. We work very closely and easily together.”

Tradition meets innovation

Innofa showroom Tilburg Holland
Thoroughly modern–The showroom at Innofa headquarters in Tilburg, the Netherlands

Innofa, which Job Dröge says has “a tradition of adapting itself to markets, while introducing innovations,” evolved from N.V. Wollenstoffenfabriek, a traditional wool weaving company that his grandfather, George Dröge, founded in 1922. It was at N.V. Wollenstoffenfabriek that Rolf Dröge began experimenting with terrycloth and stretch technical textiles. The experimental fabrics led to the development of a knitted stretch mattress ticking for Dutch bedding manufacturer Auping, marking the textile company’s entry into the mattress industry.

“Since we started to run circular knitting machines, we always have followed the strategy that we want to create, develop and innovate all kinds of knitted products, which has led to a high-end range of upholstery fabrics, automotive fabrics and technical fabrics for fencing and speed skating,” Job Dröge says. “Developments for one industry increased our know-how and allowed for cross-pollination to develop fabrics in others.”

It was the bedding industry, however, that eventually became the company’s primary focus. Today, 95% of the textiles Innofa produces worldwide are sold to mattress manufacturers. But mattress ticking accounts for only about 70% of the textiles manufactured at the company’s Tilburg facility.

“We know that our growth won’t come from Europe, so in Holland we don’t put all of our eggs in one basket,” Job Dröge says.

Although Innofa began producing knitted ticking in the 1970s, growth “wasn’t fast moving” until the advent of specialty bedding in the 1990s, according to Job Dröge. With specialty bedding “pushing the fashion envelope,” he says, ticking “went from relatively boring to a fashion statement.”

The company eventually decided it could best meet the higher demand for knit ticking from a manufacturing base in North America. In 2003, Innofa opened a factory in Reidsville, N.C. Three years later, it moved production to a 100,000-square-foot facility in nearby Eden, N.C.

And last year, it opened a 40,000-square-foot facility in Puebla, Mexico. The company’s 10-year-old plant in Tilburg covers 130,000 square feet.

Sustainable practices

Innofa textural stretch knitJob Dröge takes great pride in the Tilburg facility, where rainwater is captured and used to process fabrics and energy is recycled to be used again in the finishing process.

“We think about how to be sustainable all of the time and participate in the Sustainable Sleep Association and Cradle to Cradle,” he says.

The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, he explains, supports a holistic economic, industrial and social framework that seeks to create systems that are not only efficient, but also essentially waste free. The SSA is a group of suppliers of mattress components that develop constructions, materials and processes that meet the cradle-to-cradle philosophy.

The textile producer extended its commitment to sustainability to its plants in the United States and Mexico.

“By recycling, we reduced Innofa’s landfill load by 90%,” says Johan Cleyman, managing director for Innofa USA. “This industry doesn’t have to be landfill loaded; you can gain from recycling.”

He continues: “We invested in Mexico specifically for that market, but the fact that we have three plants caught the interest of big suppliers, who see an advantage in that.”

Cleyman explains that the company can control costs for manufacturers with promotional lines of bedding by “producing it all the way in Mexico or by doing the cut and sew there.”

The Mexican plant, Job Dröge says, currently runs 2 million yards a year.

“With 100 million people in Mexico and with serving our big customers, our hands are full there,” he says. “Our goal for 2013, however, is to begin serving Central and South America.”

The company serves all of the United States and Canada from its plant in North Carolina.

Although it includes the top 10 manufacturers on its customer roster, Cleyman and Job Dröge believe that Innofa has a special strength with midtier companies.

“We pay close attention to these companies and work hard to meet their needs,” Cleyman says. “We have a very high-quality design team that is able to work quickly to translate a customer’s design desire into reality. Because we are a medium-size company, we have great flexibility to change our production to meet the needs of our customers.”

A one-stop shop

Innofa headquarters in Tilburg, the Netherlands
Worldwide operations–Innofa has its headquarters in Tilburg, the Netherlands, (shown here), but also has facilities in Eden, N.C., and Puebla, Mexico.

Innofa’s goal of a becoming a one-stop shop is fueled by its commitment to meeting customer needs.

“We’ve just made a strong investment in woven border fabrics so that our customers can match their borders to the ticking perfectly,” Cleyman says.

The company produces from 8 million to 10 million yards of fabric annually, three-quarters of which are “standard double-knit constructions,” Job Dröge says. The innovative, specialty knits for which Innofa has become known make up the balance of its production.

“Our biggest success has been with our AirVent fabric, which increases the breathability of the ticking by close to 100%,” Cleyman says. “The open grids of the fabric echo the structure of the foam, allowing air to move freely.”

Innofa’s ability to produce high-elasticity, four-way stretch fabrics in widths up to 100 inches also has been popular with foam bedding manufacturers, who want ticking that doesn’t block their products’ properties and fabrics that can be “waterfalled” on both ends of the cover.

The company recently became the first textile manufacturer to offer a gel-finished ticking, Cleyman says. The material, called Thermo-Gel, “is based on a food-grade product that cools on demand. Tests showed a significant temperature reduction in minutes,” he explains.

BRIEFLY
Company Innofa
Location Tilburg, the Netherlands
Specialty A global textile producer of specialty knit fabrics and technical fabrics
Founded Started by Rolf Dröge in 1980
Ownership Privately held by Rolf Dröge’s sons Job and Rogier
Learn more Innofa website

Specialty textiles like AirVent and Thermo-Gel drive the company’s profitability, Job Dröge says. Innofa posted about $35 million in worldwide annual sales in 2012—about 45% of those sales in Europe, 35% in the United States and Canada, and 20% from sales in Mexico.

Job Dröge is optimistic about the company’s future growth. He predicts that sales in Mexico will triple in the next three years, while sales in the United States and Canada will grow by 20% in the next couple of years. He expects sales in Europe to increase more slowly, perhaps at a rate of 5%.

The continuing consolidation of bedding manufacturers and price-driven marketing are obstacles to growth, but he is confident that Innofa can meet the challenge: “We will maintain volume and profitability by continuing to introduce innovative, new constructions and may even open another plant.”