Class of ’42, ’72, ’02 | Nearly 100 years ago, a 22-year-old entrepreneur named Louis Hornick rented a small loft on Bleecker Street in New York City, scribbled his name onto a business card, and placed an order for curtains.
Thus began Louis Hornick and Company, Inc., which has, remarkably, remained in the family ever since, with three generations of Penn graduates —the late Morton J. “M.J.” Hornick W’42, Louis Hornick II W’72, and Louis “Tripp” Hornick III C’02 —running the window-treatments and home-textiles business.
To be sure, there have been some turbulent times over the last century. But the Hornicks are currently in the process of doing something they believe will keep the business viable for at least another 100 years: they’re opening a new facility in South Carolina and reshoring their manufacturing after years of importing products from overseas.
“This business is a part of me, and restarting in South Carolina and bringing jobs back to the USA is one way I’m able to honor my grandfather and my father,” says Louis Hornick II, the company’s CEO and president. “It’s really not about me or about Tripp. It’s about the continuity of 100 years and it’s about family businesses, which are the backbone of our economy.”
For almost all of the company’s existence, it had been based in New York. The original Louis Hornick manufactured curtains at different facilities throughout Manhattan, selling his products to companies like Sears and J.C. Penney. After he died in 1946, his son M.J. took over the business and moved the factory to Haverstraw, New York, about 35 miles north of Manhattan. (The move was not surprising when you consider the title of his senior thesis at Wharton: “The Inefficiencies of Manufacturing in New York City in a Multi-Storied Building.”)
The business grew rapidly in Haverstraw, and after the torch was officially passed from M.J. to Louis II in 1980 it continued to be an important window-fashions supplier to such large corporations as WalMart. (M.J. passed away in 1988.) But in 2008, due in part to the country’s economic downturn, the Hornicks reluctantly shut down their Haverstraw factory, moving almost all of their manufacturing overseas and closing an important chapter in the company’s history.
“I will say it was the hardest day of my life because I watched my father [Louis Hornick II] say goodbye to people he’s literally known his entire life,” says Tripp, the company’s chief operating officer. “Everyone was in tears. It was because it was the death of a corporate family. I don’t unliken it to losing one’s home. That was our home.”
It’s understandable why Haverstraw held such sentimental value to the Hornicks. It’s where Louis and Tripp grew up and bonded with their fathers. “It’s not like my father played catch with me,” Louis says. “We went to the factory every Saturday together.” Adds Tripp: “I grew up in our mill with my father and I was in the office with him on the weekends. I love the smell of a factory. I love being able to be on the floor.”
But the Hornicks had to push nostalgia to the side when the time came to determine whether keeping the Haverstraw mill open was still financially viable after quotas on textiles around the world (which determined how much of the product each country could export to the United States) were lifted in 2005, which in Tripp’s view “absolutely destroyed” American textile manufacturing. Combined with the recession and the fact that, according to Louis, the company wasn’t getting “any support from New York State, the county, or town,” the Hornicks realized that they simply couldn’t afford to stay open in New York. And so, by making strategic partnerships in China, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Turkey, they weathered the storm.
“We hate being importers,” Tripp says. “We never wanted to be importers. We always knew this was an appropriate and feasible and moneymaking endeavor to have domestic capabilities. The question was which state and what time that would occur.”
The Hornicks settled on South Carolina for a few reasons. For starters, they believe it will actually be cheaper to make their products there than to import from China —“A lot of the assumptions about sourcing jobs overseas have been proven to be incorrect over the past 10 years,” Louis says—and that the quality will be “infinitely superior.” And after a less-than-satisfying relationship with New York, they wanted to come to a business-friendly state in the heart of the textile belt—both boxes that South Carolina checks.
They’ll be generating 125 jobs in the next three years and potentially becoming a hub for new business activity in Allendale County, a rural area of the state that Tripp says has “un-American, abhorrent levels of poverty.”
My father and I see continuing the legacy of our company by building a new corporate family and having generations be a part of that family,” he adds. “That is very important to us personally—not just from a business standpoint. This is a triple bottom line. Very rarely in life do things make perfect economic, social, and political sense all at once. With this, it’s very, very clear.”
That isn’t to say that moving into a new factory doesn’t come with its set of challenges. The facility that they settled on—a 103,000-square foot building that used to operate as a Shaw Rug factory—is a “unique fixer-upper opportunity,” Tripp says, borrowing a line from Ghostbusters. And Louis admits there have been some headaches getting off the ground, with the official grand opening date still to be determined and the Hornicks shuttling back and forth between South Carolina and their office in New York.
But since the move was announced in October 2013, it’s been met with positive feedback from the business community. For the Hornicks, it represents an exciting new chapter.
“Only two percent of family businesses make it to a fourth generation, and most are not fully controlled by the family,” Tripp says. “This is a family business and Penn was where our family was educated. And Penn should be proud that we weathered the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Great Recession—it just keeps going and going.
“I don’t believe the American Dream is dead,” he adds. “I refuse to accept that. I get to walk in the steps of my great-grandfather in building a facility where there never was one before. That’s quite remarkable.”
— Dave Zeitlin C’03