DUQUESNE, Pa. (AP) — Sewing machine operators stitch the ends of freshly stuffed pillows at a pace of several a minute in American Textile Co.'s Duquesne factory, where downy polyester fibers float in the air and about 10 million pillows roll off the line each year to meet demand from North American consumers.
Americans buy a lot of pillows, a trend that has been a boon for the Duquesne-based company, one of the nation's largest bedding producers.
The company, a 90-year-old enterprise founded in Pittsburgh, makes pillows, sheets, comforters, mattress covers and other bedding products that are sold in 40,000 stores in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
American Textile products can be found in major retailers, including Wal-Mart, Sears, Bed Bath & Beyond and Amazon.com. It has experienced "double-digit" sales growth in each of the last 10 years, as it expands in the pillow industry and brings new bedding products to market, said Blake Ruttenberg, the company's executive vice president.
"We've enjoyed some really nice success," said Ruttenberg.
And while most sheets, blankets and mattress pads are imported from low-cost Asian factories, pillows stand out as one of the few American-made bedding products, he said.
The reason is the cost to ship them from foreign factories. Because they are fluffy and will lose their shape if compressed, pillows take up a lot of cargo space, which makes them uneconomical to ship from abroad, Ruttenberg said.
Over the past 10 years, American Textile has invested in U.S. pillow production, opening plants in Georgia, Texas and Utah, in addition to its headquarters and manufacturing operation along the Monongahela River at the City Center of Duquesne industrial park, the former home of Duquesne Steel Works.
The four factories are strategically placed to allow the company to reach 95 percent of the American population within about a day's drive.
Sales of sleep pillows were an estimated $1.2 billion in 2014, accounting for more than a third of U.S. bedding sales, said Jennifer Marks, editor-in-chief of Home & Textiles Today, an industry publication. Total bedding sales were $3.1 billion, up 2.3 percent from the year before.
American Textile generates revenue of about $200 million a year, which would rank it among the five largest bedding companies in the country, Marks said.
Blake Ruttenberg's brother, Lance, is CEO of the company, which was founded by their grandfather, Charles Ruttenberg, in 1925 as a manufacturer of mattress covers. In 1935, the company patented the first ironing board cover.
In the 1990s, the company began selling allergen-free mattress and pillow covers under the brand name Allerease, which can be found in about 20,000 North American stores. More recently, American Textile has introduced performance fabrics into sheets that Ruttenberg said prevent sleepers from waking up too warm or too cold.
It also licenses the Sealy brand name for bedding products and has a large contract manufacturing business, which produces bedding for other companies.
The company employs about 200 people in Duquesne and about 1,000 companywide. It increased its workforce by about 50 workers last year and expects to add a similar number this year as growth continues, said Pete Marsalis, the company's senior vice president of human resources.
Blake Ruttenberg expects the company's growth to continue above the industry's pace as American Textile accelerates business with online retailers, including Amazon.com and Overstock.com. The company recently added a second production facility in Tifton, Ga., to help it meet demand for online pillow sales.
And the company is scouring the market for other companies to buy, he said. Ruttenberg declined to provide names of companies targeted by American Textile but said the U.S. bedding industry is highly fragmented, with only a handful of large companies and many very small manufacturers.
"We are aggressively in the marketplace looking for acquisitions," he said.
American Textile Co.
What: Family-owned manufacturer of pillows and other bedding products sold by 40,000 retailers in North America
Where: Headquarters in Duquesne with manufacturing in Duquesne; Tifton, Georgia; Dallas; and Salt Lake City
Sales: About $200 million a year
Employees: 200 in Duquesne; 1,000 total
Executives: Lance Ruttenberg, CEO; Blake Ruttenberg, executive vice president of sales, marketing and product development; John Riccio, chief financial officer; Keith Brown, senior vice president of operations; Jane Fisher, senior vice president of product development; Pete Marsalis, senior vice president of human resources; Patrick Seiffert, senior vice president of marketing; Paul Stark, senior vice president of sales
Information from: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, http://pghtrib.com