By John Johnson
The recent acquisition of Mission Valley Textiles, Inc., by Plains Cotton Cooperative Association (PCCA) brought many new dimensions to the cooperative’s business. The most obvious is the expansion of PCCA’s current denim manufacturing capability to include yarn-dyed, woven fabrics and the opportunity to return more money to the coop’s members.
Renamed Mission Valley Fabrics Division of PCCA, this leading and vertically- integrated manufacturer in New Braunfels, TX, differs dramatically from the cooperative’s American Cotton Growers (ACG) Denim Mill in one strategic area. Due to the nature of its business, Mission Valley must maintain a staff of experienced and highly skilled sales and marketing personnel.
From its conception and construction in the mid-1970s, ACG has enjoyed a unique relationship with essentially one customer, Levi Strauss & Co. (LS&CO.). This relationship benefited the denim mill because it was not necessary to incur the expenses associated with a sales and marketing effort. Thus, the savings realized by avoiding these salaries and other expenses have made a direct and positive impact on the mill’s net margins.
Mission Valley, on the other hand, currently manufactures and sells fabric to more than 400 apparel customers. The apparel market represents 75 percent of Mission Valley’s total business. The competitive nature of the business and changing fashion trends present numerous challenges. Thus, it is necessary for Mission Valley, like most other textile manufacturers, to maintain sales and marketing offices in cities where major apparel companies are located. Based on its record of success in recent years, Mission Valley may have one of the best sales organizations in the industry.
Headquartered in New York City, Mission Valley’s sales and marketing efforts are directed by Jack Mathews, president of Mission Valley Fabrics Division of PCCA. Mathews joined Mission Valley in October 1994 as senior vice president of sales/marketing and was promoted to president and chief operating officer in April 1996. Previously, he worked in similar positions from 1979 to 1994 for Cone Mills Corporation. Mission Valley sales personnel also are located in San Francisco, Dallas and High Point, NC, as well as New York City.
“Our business is extremely complex compared to other, more commodity- oriented segments of the textile industry. This complexity is the result of developing custom patterns for our customer base,” Mathews explains.
“We’re in the fashion business, and it is influenced by both economic and fashion cycles,” he adds. Response to these cycles has been a cornerstone in Mission Valley’s foundation for success.
“We’re only as good as our last season,” Mathews says, “therefore, we must be responsive to the marketplace. Mission Valley manufactures what it sells rather than sells what it makes.” To accomplish its goals, Mission Valley has positioned itself as the most flexible yarn-dyed woven fabrics manufacturer in the United States.
“Because of this positioning, some people refer to us as a ‘European’ mill that happens to be located in Texas,” Mathews notes with a degree of satisfaction since European consumers are renowned for their sophisticated and discriminating fashion tastes and the pressure they place on textile and apparel companies there.
“Even here in the United States, fashion is a tough business,” he continues. “We must be able to anticipate the next trend and avoid being caught up in fads.”
To explain the difference between trends (long-term) and fads (short-term), Mathews offers a few examples. Bell-bottom pants are a fad because they are popular for only a short period of time and their audience is narrow. Trends include the move to casual dress in the workplace and wrinkle-resistant bottom- weight fabrics, which have broad consumer appeal and support.
The trend toward casual dress has had a tremendous impact on Mission Valley’s operations. “Approximately 75 percent of all companies in the United States permit casual dress at least one day each week,” Mathews adds, “and about 50 percent permit casual dress every day.”
Mathews’ sales and marketing strategy is simple; he thinks of Mission Valley’s customers as partners. But, he is not content to rest upon past successes, and he envisions strategic changes ahead.
“The consolidation that is occurring throughout the supply chain is causing retailers and manufacturers to narrow their sourcing strategies,” Mathews states. “We are constantly evaluating the market in an effort to select the best possible customers with whom to partner. Our goal is to be more important to a smaller group of customers.” Mission Valley’s product lines and production capabilities offer ample opportunity for Mathews to reach the company’s ultimate objectives.
“We’re like a drug store for apparel makers because we can manufacture 80 different fabrics from 20 different yarn sizes,” says Mathews, “and we can apply various finishes to these fabrics.” Mission Valley also offers 700 different yarn colors enabling the mill to provide its customers with the greatest service available in the United States. Another market advantage enjoyed by Mission Valley is its manufacturing location.
“Many cutting and sewing operations have migrated from Asia to the Americas, especially Mexico and the Caribbean Basin, as a direct result of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA),” Mathews explains. “Because the Mission Valley plant is in New Braunfels, we are only a few hours from the Mexican border, and many of our customers have operations there, or they contract with Mexican companies for cutting and sewing.” Mathews estimates more than 50 percent of Mission Valley fabrics is sewn outside the United States.
It is this diversity, flexibility, location and reputation for customer service that made Mission Valley an attractive acquisition. Furthermore, these characteristics fit like a hand in a glove with PCCA’s overall mission: To add significant value to the cotton marketed for our members by being the supplier of choice to our business partners in terms of quality, service and value.