Adapting to Change as a 3rd Generation American Manufacturer – with Janet Wischnia

Perhaps nothing else signifies the spirit of the true American entrepreneur than the story of a family business that has survived for almost 90 years. Those 90 years have brought incredible advances in machinery, technology, and the way America does business and manufacturing. Join us to hear my guest’s amazing story!

Janet Wischnia is the former CEO and founder of American Blossom Linens and owner of Thomaston Mills, the manufacturing arm of American Blossom. Since Janet was four, she’s been involved in the family business, which was started by her grandfather in 1931. Her father started out with one retail linen store in downtown Philadelphia, and Janet learned at his side about the textile industry from the ground up, including manufacturing, marketing, and even sweeping the floor. In this episode, Janet shares how American Blossom has continued to evolve and thrive over eight decades, providing linens for hospitals and the hospitality industry. Janet began recently selling linens directly to online buyers because she recognized the demand for sustainable products. Janet shares why buying organic and caring about people, products, and the planet make a huge difference in the way you do business. 

Made in the USA

You’ve heard the #1 argument against buying American products: they are more expensive. Janet agrees. Her company is committed to using organic, American – grown cotton. Even though that makes her products more expensive than cheaper linens, people are becoming more environmentally aware as they look for quality and sustainability in the products they buy. There is a return to the solid philosophy of spending a little more money to buy something that will last longer than a cheaper product. The minimalistic movement also contributes to the popularity of American – made products in that if people have fewer things, they want them to be of the highest quality so they will last longer. 

Challenges and opportunities

Janet says that the biggest challenge for her has been her lack of knowledge about retail marketing because it’s very different than B2B marketing. She had to learn about digital advertising for the retail arm of American Blossom. The company has raised its visibility by learning and utilizing SEO, Facebook and Google advertising, and influencers. Janet has witnessed these new strategies slowly starting to work to increase sales. The year 2020 and the global pandemic have brought a renewed interest in buying American and people being more committed than ever to making their homes into places of comfort. Spending more time at home makes us want to have quality items at our disposal.

2020 growth

Many factors have contributed to 400% growth in Janet’s retail business this year. Although their sales to hotels and hospitality venues have been down, they have seen an explosion in retail business, partly because they have diversified their products into different markets. Regarding the pandemic, American Blossom has developed a new fabric with which to make isolation gowns for healthcare providers. Unlike other businesses that have seen declining sales this year, American Blossom continues to grow and keep itsr employees’ jobs safe.

Tending to the business

Taking care of a family business is like tending a garden. Janet learned early from her father and uncles that you can’t ever rest on your laurels as a business owner. Things are always changing in the world of business, and you have to change to keep up. The biggest change over the years has been advancements in technology. From doing everything by hand and on paper to doing almost nothing on paper, there have been big changes in the textile industry. Early on, there were no emails, but telegrams. Carbon paper was used to make duplicate copies of important papers and receipts. We do everything via the internet today where there was much more face-to-face interaction back then when the world moved at a slower pace. Janet has changed and grown with the times, but she says the danger of advanced technology is losing the human element. 

Managing a business during COVID-19

American Blossom has factories in Georgia and South Carolina, and their home base is still in Philadelphia. The company has followed CDC recommendations for wearing masks and allowing many employees to work from home. They have had to change procedures in factories to keep workers socially distanced from each other. Their commitment to doing what it takes to keep their factories open and keep their products available have kept their workers on the job during a time when many have been laid off. Janet is committed to doing the right thing for her employees because it’s what her father and grandfather taught her to do. 

Janet’s product

American Blossom makes bedding out of 100% organic, USA-grown cotton from Texas. They make sheet sets in all sizes and duvet covers, and they will have blankets in a few weeks. Their cotton is grown with no pesticides or herbicides and is a non-GMO product. This produces a product that is heavier weight than average sheets. Their sheets are generously sized, and every queen and king sheet set comes with four pillowcases. They are available in three colors: white, natural, and latte linen, all produced with no colors or dyes. 

Highlights of this episode:

  • 14:10 – Made in the USA
  • 19:25 – Challenges and opportunities
  • 24:10 – 2020 retail growth
  • 26:40 – Tending the business through changes
  • 31:40 – Managing a business during COVID
  • 34:05 – What Janet thinks about big companies like Amazon
  • 39:15 – Janet’s product
  • 44:45 – Fem Five

Resources mentioned:

  • Find American Blossom Linens on Facebook and Instagram.

Fem Five:

  1. Favorite book to recommend for women?
  • The Intelligent Investor: The Definitive Book on Value Investing. A Book of Practical Counsel by Benjamin Graham and One Up On Wall Street:How to Use What You Already Know to Make Money in The Market by Peter Lynch.

2. Favorite self-care hack?

  • Spin class.

3. Best piece of advice and who gave it to you?

  • “My father and my husband have both told me to keep trying and don’t give up.”

4. Female CEO or thought leader you’re into right now?

5. One piece of advice you’d give your five years younger self?

  • “Everything is going to be alright.”

Last Time on The NextFem Podcast

Finding Good Content on Goodpods – with JJ Ramberg

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