Costa Mesa, Calif., manufacturer Dragon Crowd Garment Inc. is increasingly thinking less factory floor and more mood board as it aims to grow its business and stand out from the competition.
The company’s running up 12 percent over last year and the runway for growth is a long one for a business that does about $125 million a year but has set a loose target to reach about $500 million for itself over the next five years.
“We’re looking at ways that we can add value for our customers,” said Dragon Crowd president J Spencer. “How do we do that? We do that through making certain we’re providing them quality products, efficient systems as well as providing them services at the concept stage.”
Dragon Crowd specializes in knits and wovens for the men, women and youth markets and also does private label for specialty retailers, department stores and wholesalers.
So what exactly does adding value for customers look like from a manufacturer? To start, the company’s marketing has gotten savvier.
Earlier this year it released, for the first time, a swatch book — a slick offering of different fabric samples sent out to about a 150 customers aimed to serve as inspiration and also streamline the sourcing process. A second booklet was just released.
That’s in addition to a look book of key trends that also went out to customers this year.
“While everything’s going digital, people still like to flip through something like this,” Spencer said as he went through the swatch booklet sitting atop his desk in the company’s Costa Mesa office.
Dragon Crowd upped its marketing game as one part of a broader plan to grow the business that began several years ago.
According to Spencer, Dragon Crowd reached a point a few years back where it became apparent to chief executive officer and founder Edward Zhou and the rest of the leadership team that it behooved management to create a sustainable business for not only its growing customer base but also swelling its roster of employees. What resulted was a five-year plan, which the team worked on for the better part of last year.
“We looked at the business in its entirety and we looked and saw we were too brand-focused and wholesale-focused and needed to look direct to retail,” Spencer said.
The company sees working with retailers as a real growth opportunity and is currently chasing that segment for business.
At around the same time, the firms Dragon Crowd was working with wanted an elevated experience with their factory partners.
“They wanted more,” Spencer said. “They wanted more input from the people they were working with so that it wasn’t just them driving the conversation about design and development.”
The company hired more designers and started developing more product.
“We’re really at a point where we’re starting to see the fruit of our labor,” Spencer said.
That’s perhaps best mirrored in the company’s Ningbo factory in China, which underwent a complete redesign beginning last year following the strategic plan’s completion.
Ningbo “looked like a prison,” Spencer said. That was overhauled so that the factory offices are more akin to that of a design or architecture firm where there are stark black-and-white graphics with the company name and logo emblazoned on the walls, punctuated with accents of red on office doors and other decor.
The China office houses some 225 people, including technical development and back-of-house functions such as accounting, finance, operations and IT.
The company’s in the process of now taking one floor of the building and filling it with racks of samples to create a library.
It’s creating a 25,000-square-foot design center in which the best of the samples will be pulled and placed on speed rails stacked two tiers high — like a scene from a dry cleaner on steroids — and it will serve as a place for customers to have beer or coffee and create product right on what is essentially the factory floor.
Dragon Crowd earlier this year bought one of its factory partners in China, adding more resources to its stable to accommodate growth. It was the company’s first major acquisition. The price is undisclosed. Dragon Crowd also has a presence in Hong Kong and New York.
It’s building its fifth factory, to be located in Vietnam and is scheduled to be up and running next year after the Chinese New Year. The three-building campus will employ about 1,000 workers to start, eventually building that workforce up over the next few years and adding on functions so that by year three the factory will be doing weaving, knitting and dyeing.
“The environment is right,” Spencer said of Vietnam. “It’s the right time for a distribution center to go in there and plant some roots.”
Stateside, the company’s eyeing a potential move to new offices in Costa Mesa that would allow it to assume a similar design aesthetic to that of Ningbo. And it will continue to ramp up the marketing to win new business as it plugs through the early stages of its strategic plan.
“The thing that I love about this business is it’s not a static business,” Spencer said. “It’s dynamic. It changes all the time. If we’re static we’ll die.”