Family-run business Wright Global Graphics thrives on “thinking up fresh ways to do things”
BY GARY JAMES
When Wright of Thomasville opened its doors for business in 1961, the Thomasville, North Carolina-based company had one main mission: to provide home furnishings producers a reliable, affordable source of custom-printed fabric labels for bedding, floor coverings and upholstery.
“Our first customer was Capel Rugs,” says Don Wright, chair and chief strategy officer. “(Leon Capel Jr.) told my dad that he would give him a shot as a young businessman just starting out. Fifty-seven years later, we’re still working with Capel, as well as a number of bedding and upholstery companies that we got involved with early on.”
Don Wright’s father, Bill, and Bill’s brother Tom Wright founded Wright of Thomasville after completing their studies in printing at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York, and Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh, respectively. Back then, central North Carolina was a major hub for furniture and mattress manufacturing, and Wright of Thomasville quickly established ties with leading producers in the area, including mattress maker Kingsdown, based in Mebane, and the Grove family of Greensboro, which had obtained a Spring Air license.
“We were one of the first companies to do offset printing on fabric, a process that added a completely new dimension to labels,” Don Wright recalls. And with its capabilities in offset printing, which allowed for much better reproduction of photos, Wright of Thomasville also became a pioneer in the creation of fabric labels with four-color lifestyle imagery. One of its first offset projects, for Burlington Carpet, featured a photo Don Wright took with a rangefinder camera while at summer camp.
“All three of us grew up around the business,” says Don Wright, who leads the company, now called Wright Global Graphics, with his brothers Greg Wright, who serves as chief executive officer and president, and Ron, president of international operations. Early jobs as kids included unloading fabric rolls, emptying trash and, in Greg Wright’s case, when he was older, “messing around — or sometimes messing up — on our computers,” he says.
As a child, Don Wright remembers sitting in a wheelchair with a cast on his leg at the end of a production line applying stickers to boxes. “I had been hit and injured by a car, but I was still helping out,” he says. “That’s dedication!” For Ron Wright, one memory that stands out is his father using a slide rule until the numbers wore off rather than relying on a calculator.
Growing up around the business gave all three brothers a strong foundation for leading the company when the time came. Don Wright and Ron Wright joined the business in 1986 after graduating from their dad’s alma mater, the Rochester Institute of Technology, where they were roommates. Both have spent their entire careers with the company. After graduating from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, in 1992, Greg Wright spent 10 years in the hospitality industry. He joined the family business as information technology manager in 2004, shortly after their dad died.
The loss of their father led the Wright brothers, along with their uncle Tom Wright, to reassess the company’s strategic direction. (Tom Wright continued to serve as chair until his retirement in 2010.) A cornerstone of the process was Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t,” which outlines ways that strong businesses can be built into outstanding ones that produce remarkable, sustained results. The book helped them navigate the transition from a small family business to a much larger international company with a more sophisticated management structure.
“Our parents and our uncle did a great job of preparing all three of us for the challenge of running this company,” Greg Wright says. “And while we are very close brothers, we are all different in many ways. Don is the creative visionary, while Ron is more manufacturing oriented, and I am the business and technology guy. That blend of talents and know-how has served us well.”
With everything they do, the three brothers have a common goal of “making sure our business grows and succeeds,” Don Wright adds. “We’re all fairly strong willed, so we inevitably have disagreements. But we can be upset or frustrated with each other and still have that strong bond with our family — and our employees, who we regard as an extension of our family.”
Reducing the time to market
As part of their upbringing, the Wright brothers also developed a strong entrepreneurial spirit and a willingness to take calculated risks.
For example, Don Wright, recognizing an opportunity to grow the company’s carpet and rug business, moved to Dalton, Georgia, in 1990 to set up a new manufacturing facility. At the time, there were about 300 carpet mills in the area, making Dalton the capital of U.S. rug making.
“We were already doing a lot of business in floor coverings,” Don Wright says. “But having our production in the area put us in a position to improve our service and get our customers what they needed more quickly. Reducing our time to market was a critical reason why we moved to Dalton and a big part of how we approach our other business, as well.”
Today, Wright Global Graphics has four U.S. production facilities — three in the Thomasville area, plus the Dalton site. The North Carolina facilities include a 50,000-square-foot headquarters and 40,000-square-foot printshop in Thomasville and a 53,000-square-foot cut-and-sew facility opened in High Point in 2015. It produces point-of-purchase branding materials, including pillows and other top-of-bed accessories.
Wright Global Graphics also operates a 32,000-square-foot factory with 25 workers in Foshan, China, in the Guangdong province. The company opened the facility in 2017, replacing the original facility where it had been operating since 2012. The expansion enabled the company to broaden its services to include weaving, finishing, dye sublimation printing, embroidery, and offset and flexographic printing, as well as cut-and-sew work.
About half of the China plant’s production is shipped to U.S. customers; the other half goes to customers throughout South Asia and Southeast Asia, including India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand, as well as other parts of the world, such as Australia and New Zealand, Russia and South America. The facility also serves some of the larger U.S. brands in China.
“We’ve been doing business in China since 1997 but decided to open our own facility there when the U.S. brands began to get more active with their overseas licensing,” Don Wright says. “American brands had a lot of prestige, and the licensing companies wanted U.S.-inspired branding materials that could build on that success.”
Today, many U.S. brands have dialed back their activity in Asia, adds Ron Wright, who is based in Hong Kong. But Wright Global Graphics Asia continues to generate solid growth both with new business partners and existing customers. “This remains an important part of our business,” he says.
Wide range of solutions
In the United States, where it has a workforce of 230, Wright Global Graphics’ list of products and services has grown far beyond its roots as a printer of product labels. Today, the company offers a full range of packaging, POP, and other branding and marketing solutions, including digital offset printing; die cutting, perforating and scoring, punch and fold stringing; woven labels; woven cut-and-fold labels; eight-color flexographic printing; letterpress printing; embroidery; dye sublimation printing; heat-transfer applications; slitting; and cut and sew. The list of products the company supplies to the mattress industry is equally long and includes pillow shams, foot protectors, labels, corner guards, handles, hangtags, bed cards and brochures, plus showroom banners, posters and other large-format graphics, as well as packaging for the drop-ship market.
“Our expertise and training revolve around graphics, so we’re always looking for new ways to help our customers strengthen and promote their brands through effective graphics,” Don Wright says. “Our starting point with a new customer is often label printing, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. We see the label as just one element of a branding package that extends to every part of a bed display, from the footboard and handle to the headboard and wall signage.”
At the same time, the company’s customer base also has diversified. The home furnishings sector, which includes bedding and upholstery, accounts for 40% of business. Floor coverings accounts for another 40%, and retail/action sports holds a 20% share. A segment that Wright expanded into about 10 years ago, retail/action sports includes labeling and signage for products such as gourmet food, wine, swimwear, hosiery and athletic shoes.
“This is still a relatively small portion of our business but it’s an exciting world to be in,” says Don Wright, adding that the cross-fertilization of ideas and influences from different business segments provides a constant source of inspiration. “Our involvement in various industries gives us a unique perspective. If you think it’s hard to grab attention in a retail store where you’re competing with eight or 10 other brands, imagine how hard it is to stand out in a cluttered wine or grocery aisle.”
To make sure it stays at the cutting edge of what’s new in the art of POP marketing, Wright Global Graphics’ team travels extensively to trade shows and other events, makes frequent visits to stores of all types in various countries and meets regularly with its clients about emerging needs and challenges. The team is constantly on the lookout for new materials, approaches and technologies.
“We’re project people, and we love thinking up fresh ways to do things,” Don Wright says. “When we have a new idea, we’ll do the initial R&D work, then partner with one of our customers to finish the development of the project. It’s a collaborative process that incorporates their insights and what they want to accomplish.”
With all its work, Wright Global Graphics strives for an approach tailored to each client’s specific branding needs. “We try to keep everything different,” Don Wright says. “Every brand should have its own clear identity, and our work needs to reflect that.”
At the same time, creating unique POP can be a challenge when every bed maker seems, for instance, to need a panel with an embroidered logo for placement in the same position on the foot of beds.
“Creating product differentiation at the point of purchase is critical,” Greg Wright says. “If the customer insists on doing the same thing everyone else is doing, we’ll encourage them to include another element to set them apart, like an eye-catching graphic headboard or a special, more decorative label.”
The most recent addition to the Wright Global Graphics’ POP line is a brand identification product called PerformaFlex Plus. Engineered for the mattress industry, PerformaFlex Plus allows for flexible designs to be cut out of stretch material and applied to a wide range of substrates, including cotton, mesh, stretch fabrics and blends.
Through a proprietary process developed by Wright Global Graphics, PerformaFlex Plus and its sister product, Performa-Flex Velvet, can appear to become part of the fabric, creating a sleek, updated tech look. The material easily is integrated into the mattress manufacturing process, according to the company, and is appropriate for large-volume use. It also bounces back, making it a good fit for boxed beds.
“PerformaFlex provides our customers the opportunity to create a new generation of performance-driven, modern and flexible designs for their products,” says Don Wright, adding that the use of embroidery still can be effective but is a bit dated and time consuming.
Another alternative to embroidered POP materials that has done well for the company — and its customers — is DomeTEC. Introduced in 2014, DomeTEC features an embossed, metallic-looking material in an unlimited range of colors that has a soft, flexible feel that makes it a good fit for boxed beds. It can be applied to almost any surface and used as a bed label, an enhancement to top-of-bed display items or as a replacement for an embroidered border.
“DomeTEC’s dimensional qualities and ability to capture and reflect light create a strong visual impact in the showroom,” Greg Wright says. “To sell a bed, you have to get them to the bed, and DomeTEC is an innovative way to achieve that.”
A “gorgeous product,” DomeTEC can be used “in any number of ways, shapes, colors and iterations,” Don Wright adds. “We’ve just scratched the surface of what we can do with this technology. The only limit is your creativity.”
Wright Global Graphics’ products and services also extend into the digital world. In 2014, for example, the company launched RetailLive, a technology that enables retail sales associates and consumers to gain immediate access to digital content about specific models on store floors. By scanning a designated area on point-of-sale materials, users can pull up a wealth of product specifications, videos and other information via their smartphones and tablets.
The program has been used by Serta Simmons Bedding LLC to promote the Beautyrest Black line and other products.
“RetailLive makes consumer interactions with products memorable and unique,” Greg Wright says. “It is a powerful sales tool, providing RSAs and consumers with a dynamic, interactive and informative shopping experience.”
“The bedding industry has been slow to adopt these types of technologies because they’re new and unfamiliar,” he adds. “But augmented reality tools will definitely have a place in the near future.” He points to the Australian wine brand 19 Crimes, which uses an app to bring its bottle labels to life. The app connects the shopper to content that reveals the story behind every bottle and the infamous convicts from Australia’s history that are pictured on the labels.
The day is fast approaching when omnichannel retail is the norm, not the exception, Greg Wright says. Warby Parker is an example of a company that leverages both sides of its business — brick-and-mortar and online — to its maximum advantage. He cites a recent visit he made to a Warby Parker store in New York City as a model for what’s possible.
“When I entered, an associate asked for my email address,” he recalls. “She immediately was able to pull a few pairs of glasses off the shelf that I had looked at online, as well as a few other options. I tried everything on, passed along my prescription and placed my order. The whole process was seamless and could be done as easily at home as it was online.”
Warby Parker works hard to make both its in-store and online shopping experiences as easy and enjoyable as possible, Greg Wright says. The retailer even offers at-home testing for customers who can’t make it to a store to try on glasses. “Each side of the business complements the other and works together to enhance the brand,” he notes.
When it comes to trying new ideas, Wright Global Graphics isn’t afraid to push the envelope. The company encourages its creative team to experiment, even if the results don’t always result in a finished product.
“When we’re hiring, we look for people with a high level of curiosity who like to question things,” Don Wright says. “In our R&D department, where we work on new concepts, my theory is that if there’s not smoke and fire coming from somewhere, we’re not trying hard enough.”
Keeping up with changing technologies in a creative arena like graphics requires a mindset of openness and exploration. “We expect a certain level of proficiency with technology at the front end, but we also work hard to keep our team up to date with what’s coming down the pike so that we take advantage of emerging opportunities,” Greg Wright says.
In coming months, Wright Global Graphics expects to unveil several new POP products for the bedding industry that “are very exciting,” Don Wright says. “They are significant new iterations of tools that should be ready in time for the winter market in Las Vegas.”
At market, the company also will be spotlighting Wright Tailored, a program of specially chosen, best-selling fabrics for label use that will be available for delivery to mattress manufacturers in five to seven days. A related program called Freestyle that is in development will offer quick-ship turnaround on other POP materials. Both programs are part of Wright’s Showroom Solutions Express, a suite of popular products designed for priority production and quick-ship delivery.
The ability to quick-ship labels and other POP is becoming increasingly important, particularly for second-tier producers who have to move quickly when a slot for a new mattress model opens up at a potential dealer’s store, Don Wright says. “If they get the order to fill that slot, they have to be able to round up all of the necessary promotional materials right away,” he says. “With our latest Showroom Solutions Express programs, they’re in a position to deliver.”