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White Lotus feels it's found (latest) secret to success: Highland Park pillow, bedding company embracing move to third-party sales

By Andrew Sheldon, June 13, 2016 at 3:00 AM
Marlon Pando, owner of White Lotus.Marlon Pando, owner of White Lotus. - (PHOTO BY AARON HOUSTON)

Marlon Pando prides himself on being able to change with the times.

When he moved to New Jersey to work for White Lotus 11 years ago, he was convinced online sales were the key to the future of the bedding manufacturer. And they were.

“When I came into White Lotus, I started as a general manager and I noticed that we had two stores in New Jersey that were brick and mortar,” he said. “They were nice to have, but I saw the way to growth was online and wholesale.”

After purchasing the company in 2006, he started to push in that direction.

Initially, the split between online and in-store retail was half and half. That was until 2014, when Pando noticed a shift in trends.

“Our business is now currently 80 to 90 percent online, and we’ve decided to close some of our retail locations,” he said. “Now we have our one main store (in Highland Park) where we hand-craft everything and put it on display, and we’ve noticed that our savings have gone through the roof.”

Despite his success, Pando now is convinced it’s time to change the business model again. He feels the future of White Lotus may very well be as a third-party, white-label manufacturer.

Because the company’s products are organic, handmade and, yes, made right here in America, they are in high demand.

“What we’ve found is that there’s a lot of Americans who want to support products that are made in America and we feel that we’re the most successful handmakers of bedding in the United States,” he said. “Not to mention that it’s natural and organic bedding.”

The demand for products is the key to the company’s growth in white-label production for companies of all sizes.

Biz in brief
Company: White Lotus
Founded: 1981
Employees: 15
Revenue: $1.7 million
One more thing: After five years of hand-making neckties, Marlon Pando started his first company at 18 by breaking out and starting his own necktie factory with his mother after relocating to Miami.

“We’re now doing private-label production, where there are a lot of folks working from home or with smaller companies that wish they could come up with their own mattresses and call it, ‘Bob’s Organic Bedding,’” he said. “(We) now have a handful of very active clients that are using that service from us.”

For Pando, its success is a testament to the company’s decades of business practices. The company made $1.7 million in revenue last year.

And these numbers are growing.

“One client has just recently gone from ordering a couple thousand a month to $250,000 a year,” he said.

Pando said another white-label client has brought so much business to the company, that account alone is comparable to one of its retail outlets in New Jersey.

White Lotus has found that these third-party companies are willing to pay extra for its product because the firm’s manufacturing model brings added value to its product.

“White Lotus can say that, for 35 years, we don’t only give the local community work and jobs, but also make sure the mattress that we make comes from cotton that is grown in the U.S. and so now we’re giving farmers work,” Pando said. “And we’re doing good for the environment because those farmers grow organic cotton and don’t use a bunch of pesticides.

“So, I think when these third-party companies that are hiring us can say that in their PR, that their products are handmade in the United States, it’s really working for them well.”

Pando finds it interesting that people will buy the White Lotus product through a third party, not realizing it also is available directly.

A member of the local and global community
Despite branching out into retail outlets, White Lotus has been based in Highland Park since its founding 35 years ago. With that history in the town, the company has worked to become a part of its community with its owner, Marlon Pando, saying he was proud to offer his local employees well-paying jobs.
But the company has also worked to improve the community by establishing Lotus Studios, a nonprofit space open to bringing music, art, fitness and green living to the town and its surrounding areas.
More globally, the company is a member of Green America, the Organic Trade Association and the Made in America Movement.

“The people that are coming to us are great at selling and producing this awesome website where people are buying from them even before they’re buying from me,” he said.

“Let the salespeople be the best at that and let us focus on being the best manufacturers.”

It’s a delicate balancing act Pando has learned over 30 years in the garment manufacturing industry. He started making neckties at age 13 and hasn’t looked back.

“The same factory that I worked for made ties for Polo and Gap,” he said. “So, there’s the manufacturing, but it all depends on how Polo markets versus how Gap markets everything.”

And because of the value Pando said White Lotus adds to its products, the company’s clients are able to sell the goods for a large profit.

“I have a very high-end retailer that is going to buy pillows from me at $30 to $50 and they’re going to sell the pillows for $500 to $1,000 each,” he said.

“I retail them for $60 to $80 each, but these retailers put their own fabrics and designs on our product. I’ll make the insert and the cover, but we’re using their fabrics and labels.”

E-mail to: andrews@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @sheldonandrewj


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