A commitment to reinvesting in the development of proprietary technology has fueled Tietex International Ltd.’s ability to produce innovative stitchbonded fabrics for the bedding industry for nearly four decades.
Over time, the company has expanded its reach and now sells into several other markets, but the mattress industry leads sales and plays an important role in Tietex’s global expansion strategy.
“The mattress industry is a key segment for us and accounts for about 50% of our business,” says Reed Cunningham, Tietex president and chief operating officer.
Other Tietex fabrics are used in office panels, upholstery, window blinds and wall coverings. The Spartanburg, S.C.–based company also manufactures performance fabrics that are used in roofing, filtration, automotive and industrial applications.
Where it started
Tietex’s roots go back to Cosmopolitan Textiles Ltd., a British company that was founded in 1968 by Arno Wildeman and Cha Chi Ming, his Chinese investment partner. The company was an early pioneer in commercializing stitchbonding, a fabric formation that increases the versatility of nonwoven materials by introducing yarn into the production process.
Wildeman moved to the United States in 1972 to open the North American market for Cosmopolitan Textiles. Two years later, he bought out his partner’s share of the U.S. operation and established Tietex as an independent company. After his death in 1987, his son, Martin, became the company’s sole owner. Martin Wildeman now serves as chairman and chief executive officer.
“Tietex was initially a greige mill that produced white fabric to sell to converters, who then made fabric for the mattress trade,” Wildeman says. “In the early 1980s, we began selling directly to mattress manufacturers. Today, we remain the only domestic producer of stitchbonded product.”
Tietex has grown and thrived in a global business environment that has defeated many North American textile mills. In addition to 770,000 square feet of manufacturing space, its more than 1 million–square–foot Spartanburg facility houses the company’s corporate offices and a 250,000–square–foot distribution center.
About 300 people work in the headquarters facility, which turns out products for the North American and Central American markets.
Tietex has a 350,000–square–foot manufacturing facility in Thailand, as well as a sales and marketing office in the Netherlands. Together, those locations employ about 200 people. The company’s textile capabilities
include fabric formation, printing, dyeing, finishing and converting.
“The textile industry has gone through a massive global change,” Wildeman says. “Asian producers, in particular China, have impacted the business significantly and the market focus has changed as a result. That’s part of the reason that we opened the Thailand facility, which is a carbon copy of what we have in Spartanburg. Although it was originally geared toward footwear, we are now diversifying production, particularly toward the mattress industry.”
Having a factory in Thailand since 1996 has allowed Tietex to respond directly to the needs of emerging Asian markets. As the middle class in China, India and other countries in Southeast Asia grows, consumer expectations rise accordingly and U.S. brands are increasingly sought, Tietex executives say.
“Asian mattress manufacturing is really growing,” says Wade Wallace, a Tietex vice president. “Some of that growth is coming from Asian licensees of U.S. brands.”
Sales outside of North America account for only about 1% of Tietex’s total annual mattress industry sales. Growth is steady, however, and Wallace expects to see that rise to 5% in five years.
Wallace’s full title—vice president of mattress solutions, emphasis on “solutions”—reflects Tietex’s commitment to innovative partnerships with its customers. It also underscores a central tenet of the company culture.
“We are a product development–driven company,” Wallace says. “We devote a lot of money to product development, but it’s about more than just money. Product development is ingrained in everyone here and is a fundamental aspect of absolutely everyone’s job.”
At Tietex, new products might be customer–initiated, market–driven or come through an internal development process. Regardless, “we always push our technology to its limits,” Wallace says.
Wildeman points to Tietex’s response to open–flame mattress standards that took effect in the United States in 2007 as emblematic of the company’s solutions–oriented culture.
“The need to respond to flammability standards allowed us to leverage our capabilities and work hand in hand with our customers,” Wildeman says. “It was a powerful combination and we were able to develop new products that satisfied urgent and critical needs.” Tietex created a range of FR products it markets under its Sleepfree brand.
Clings, a new topical fabric treatment designed to prevent sheets and bed skirts from slipping, gives mattress manufacturers more options when it comes to their own product development.
“We can now take a basic fabric and add a textural layer to one side to give greater nonskid characteristics to mattresses or foundations,” Wallace says.
Tietex recently reorganized its business units, making upholstery fabrics part of the mattress group and putting it under Wallace’s management. He has begun offering upholstery fabrics to mattress manufacturers and is pleased with the interest thus far.
“There is a much higher fashion component to upholstery fabric and its heavier weight makes it more durable,” Wallace says. “We’re seeing real interest among high–end mattress companies in using this type of fabric.”
Supply chain solutions
Tietex executives say the company’s philosophy, which emphasizes aiding customers with supply chain issues and not just selling them a product, distinguishes Tietex from competitors.
“We may not always have the lowest priced product, but we have the best product value,” Wallace says. “We’re selling a system to our customers, which includes flexibility and a high continuity of supply. We can deliver in–stock product in a day and special orders within two weeks. We’ll sell a roll or a truckload. There isn’t that kind of flexibility with a long supply chain and the mattress industry is a high–variability business.”
Recent increases in raw materials prices have prompted Tietex executives to look for ways to reduce the impact of rising costs on their customers.
“Every part of a mattress is sensitive to raw materials costs,” Wildeman says. “We work hard to make sure that we are plugged into the right sources for cost, quality and availability. We see scarcities ahead and we’re leveraging every aspect of our Asian operations to maintain sourcing and continuity.”
Much of the company’s R&D efforts are focused on finding ways to help mattress manufacturers do more with less.
“We’re looking for areas within mattress construction where the use of one fabric could replace two or where other fabrics we currently make or could make can be used,” Cunningham says.
Tietex is counting on recent introductions, pipeline products, flexible service and expansion into emerging markets to bolster sales and guarantee continued growth.
The privately held company doesn’t publish financial information, but Wildeman says that, with the exception of 2009, Tietex’s sales to the mattress industry during the past five years grew by about 10% annually. The company’s total annual sales in all categories exceed $100 million, he says.
Tietex executives say they continually look to the future and both Cunningham and Wildeman offer a clear vision of what the company will look like a decade from now.
“We’ll still be here in 10 years,” Cunningham says. “It’s a tough industry and many of our competitors are gone. We will always continue to look for highly engineered niche products and have an even broader mix of products.”
Wildeman’s outlook: “I envision us remaining privately held and continuing in the same markets, particularly mattresses, where I see growth potential. We’ll have more plant facilities in other parts of the world. I’m excited about new growth opportunities. We always have our eyes wide open and are vigilant. Sometimes the best opportunities simply appear.”
Tietex International Ltd.
Stitchbonded nonwoven fabrics
Manufacturing plant in Thailand and a marketing/sales office in the Netherlands
Originally part of Cosmopolitan Textiles Ltd., founded in England in 1968
‘A relentless spirit of innovation’