• Cindy W. Hodnett

Glen Raven thrives by investing in originality

Gant Jr.Gant Jr.
ANDERSON, S.C. - In a decade marked by the demise of a number of domestic manufacturers, North Carolina-based Glen Raven has not only survived, but thrived. It has about 3,000 associates worldwide and manufactures fabrics in the United States, Europe and Asia.
     Glen Raven says it has achieved that success not by focusing on inexpensive imports, a reduced labor force or bare-bones business practices, but by adopting a growth strategy of investing in originality.
     "Innovation has been a central element in our culture since Glen Raven's founding in 1880, recognizing that creativity is the single greatest competitive advantage possible for our company and our customers," said Allen E. Gant Jr., president and CEO. "Innovation is essential to how we manage our company today, and this commitment is reflected in everything we do. We have assured that this culture is sustained by the types of people we have asked to join our company and by providing these associates with the tools and the encouragement they need to bring forward truly new ideas."
     A privately held, family-owned business founded in 1880 by John Quinton Gant, Glen Raven has three divisions: Glen Raven Custom Fab
Wild turkeysWild turkeys are frequent visitors to the Anderson grounds.
rics, which produces the Sunbrella and Dickson brands; Glen Raven Technical Fabrics, which makes products for the automotive, geosynthetic, military, mining and protective markets; and Tri Vantage, which distributes specialty fabrics and hardware for casual furniture, awnings, signage, marine products, tents and umbrellas.
     Sunbrella's popularity has propelled the company to a dominant market share in the performance fabric category, but the company been at the forefront of market trends since its inception. From Allen Gant Sr.'s invention of pantyhose in the 1950s to Glen Raven's fabric production for the first American flag placed on the moon, the company has embraced innovation from the executive level to the factory floor for more than a century.


     That approach continued with its construction of a $125 million textile plant in Anderson, S.C., in the mid- 1990s - a project managed by a team of industry veterans and young graduates of Glen Raven's management development program.
     "Success with innovation not only requires the ability to come up with new ideas, but more importantly,

the ability to implement those ideas," Gant said. "We have been very purposeful in recruiting and retaining talent throughout our company that can design, market, manufacture, deliver and service the innovative products we create on a global basis. Our company has also surrounded itself with trade partners who also offer the resources needed to not only create new ideas, but to take them to market successfully."
Glen RavenGlen Raven associates check one of the campus cameras that records wildlife on the 180-acre site.
    Randy Blackston was one of those who helped design the Anderson plant. Just 25 years old when Gant invited him to work on the project, Blackston joined Leib Oehmig and Harrison Ellison in designing the facility - with the idea of redefining industry standards for sustainability and operations.

     "We have over a million square feet here and we are 100% landfill free," Blackston - who is now vice president of operations for Glen Raven Custom Fabrics - said during an onsite interview with Furniture/Today. "I like to start our plant tours with a ride around the property to show visitors what we are doing and how we continue to work on reducing our environmental footprint."

     A quick ATV drive around the 180-acre Anderson property highlights some of the sustainable initiatives implemented by the design team. Along with four facilities for yarn manufacturing, warp prep weaving, finishing and cloth grading and an international distribution center, the plant property includes composting and recycling areas, a walking track, a nature trail and duck boxes, as well as plantings of red-tip clover, saw grass and millet to feed the wildlife that roams the grounds.

Randy BlackstonRandy Blackston helped design Glen Raven’s Anderson facility and campus.

     "Glen Raven was already green when green was still just a color to most companies," Blackston said, easing the ATV into an emerging woodland area. "For example, this used to be a 60-acre pasture. Instead of continuing to bush hog it every year, we planted 27,000 maple, white pine and pin oak trees. This will be a forest my kids will enjoy."
     A long list of accolades recognizing Glen Raven's environmentally friendly practices has followed the company's commitment. In addition to ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certifications, the Anderson plant is W.A.I.T. (Wildlife and Industry Together) certified, a South Carolina Wildlife Federation designation that recognizes companies for protecting and enhancing wildlife.
     "Sustainable, environmentally friendly business practices represent good business strategy, which we have proven at the Anderson plant and th
Glen RavenGlen Raven manufactured the fabric used for the first U.S. flag placed on the moon.
roughout our company," Gant said. "By implementing a landfill-free program at all of our domestic manufacturing facilities, we have not only done the right thing for the environment, but have taken a cost item - landfill fees - and converted them to positive revenue through recycling. By reducing the amount of water and energy we used to produce fabrics, we have again helped to control our costs, which is good for business and the environment. By taking waste fibers and finding new uses for them in fabrics, rugs and many other items, we have again proven that sustainability is good business practice."
     "We designed this property to be in harmony w
The company createsThe company creates compost that includes leftover food waste from the employee canteen area.
ith nature," Blackston said. "Of the entire 180 acres, only about 40 acres are used for the facility. We included the nature trail and walking track because we realized that if you are going to tackle sustainability as a company, then you need to think about the people running the business as well."
     The attention to personal well-being translates into an average length of employment between 15 and 20 years for Glen Raven employees. According to the company, the annual turnover rate is in the low single digits.
     Glen Raven says it is reaping bottom-line benefits from its environmentally friendly and health-conscious practices.
     "By definition, sustainability must include a financial element," Gant said. "At Glen Raven, we have proven time and again that sustainable practices and good business practices are one and the same."


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