Investor News July 15, 2020

Busting at the Seams: Our Relocation Journey as a Mid-Sized Manufacturer

The realization that we needed to relocate our long-standing manufacturing operation out of NY raised feelings of uncertainty, apprehension, and hope. Uncertainty if we would indeed find greener pastures. Apprehension of not knowing the looming pitfalls. Hope that that path to success would be clear. If you’ve ever had the thought or can see yourself being in the position of leading your company through a relocation, these feelings can likely resonate with you.

This is the story of our four-year journey from concept to fruition. It’s the lessons we learned and the hardships we faced. Spoiler alert: it is also the story of success.

It was the summer of 2016, business was booming and we were busting at the seams. You can’t see me, but I’m chuckling because, the company I lead, WT Shade, is a well-recognized leader in the design and manufacturing of roller shades, and well, our products do in fact have seams. But it wasn’t our product that was a concern. We were running out of space in our existing 30,000 SF building, with a staff of about 40. Running out of space because business is going well is a good problem to have, but it also brought us to a crossroads.

In addition to needing a bigger facility, I also knew that the cost of doing business in NY was sky high, especially real estate and labor rates. We could continue to operate in NY, but, the more I considered it, the less it made sense. But, if we were going to move, where? Also, how would it all come together? Would our best people come with us? These were all questions that immediately came to mind.

Like any CEO, I immediately began doing my own due diligence. A few things I knew would be critical for our operations to not only continue, but flourish, are a favorable cost of doing business, a strong airport and interstate connectivity to our customer base. Using those factors, a few contenders come into focus: Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, and Richmond.

Knowing that our employees are the heart of our business, I took the preliminary findings back to the management team. What became clear from that conversation is that personal interests for the staff were just as big of a consideration as the business. As an executive, we know that retaining talent is critical. Retaining talent during a relocation, is another challenge. Our team expressed a diverse set of interests in what would make a new community the right fit.

Relying on our team as a guide to research the four markets from a lifestyle perspective, the Charlotte region emerged as a front runner, but from a business perspective, I needed to know more.

Knowing who to call and getting connected to the right people was an important next step in the process. The management team and I had completed our own research, but to make the move, we needed the expertise of others to help make the decision clear. Our first call was to JLL in NY, which connected us with JLL in the Charlotte area. JLL had been representing the building we leased in NY, so, it was a natural call for us to make. They helped us find a set of buildings in the Charlotte region that met our criteria.

They also recommended that we speak with the regional economic development team at the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance. The CLT Alliance provided us with timely information and the right connections, as well as market insights that gave us confidence. Because the CLT Alliance helps companies like WT Shade relocate or expand on an ongoing basis, they were able to provide experienced and knowledgeable people to ask questions and to get a response, focused on the needs of our company.  

What we learned about Charlotte is that it does have the great airport we need. What sold us is that at the time, CLT was the sixth busiest airport in the country, based off the number of passengers. We knew this meant we could be quickly connected to our customers. As our friends at JLL helped us find a building, we also learned that we could lease a newly constructed state of the art building much cheaper than we could a 50+ year old building in NY.

We also found affordability from a lifestyle perspective. In NY many of our folks would work 80 – 100 hours/week just to survive. Because the cost of living was so much less in Charlotte, they wouldn’t have to put in nearly as much time on the job.

Things seemed to be falling into place, but, a big hurdle to cross was an in-person visit from the management team. During the visit to Charlotte, organized by the CLT Alliance, what struck the team is the access to amenities you can get, with an affordable cost of living. Remember the diverse interests the management team had? Strangely, they all felt like they could find something that fit for them in the Charlotte region. After our tour, we felt it was nearly a done deal.

As an anecdote, I grew up on a farm. Having space is important. We found it. I have some employees that want to live in the city, in a high rise. They also found it. The truth is, the Charlotte region gives you a little bit of everything.

For me, as a CEO, and for our management team, we had what we needed. Those apprehensions and concerns we had at the begging of the process had all been resolved. So, we made the move.

We took possession of our building in March 2020. As of late summer 2020, we are operating at full capacity. Oh, and our employees – they moved with us. We’ve found quite a few locals too. We have been pleasantly overwhelmed with the diverse talent in the area. Plus, we are already getting referrals from some of our best workers for other employees – and we are delighted for that. We landed in an 80,000 SF building, compared to our 30,000 SF building in NY.

We are no longer busting at the seams. But, if business takes us there again, we don’t have to look any farther than the place we now call home.

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