US-Based Novel Fabrics Gains Traction in Export Markets Under Direction of Lazaro Fernandez Jr.
Cuban American Builds the Business From Scratch
May 29, 2019
He’s optimistic after showing the new Novel line at Hospitality Design Expo in Las Vegas on May 15-17. Fernandez Jr. is a frequent fixture at international shows like Proposte, Heimtextil, HD, and BDNY, shopping the market for new ideas and sources.
About 80 percent of the collection is exclusive to Novel and the balance is an open line.
“Most of our sources are based in Italy, Belgium, and Turkey, with some Chinese goods in our open line,” he says.
His 81-year-old father, Lazaro Sr., and his cousin, Noe Fernandez (company accountant), are still the owners of the business. Fernandez Jr. is happy to be president, although he says that technically he is still an employee.
Fernandez Jr. has help in creating the designs with at least one full-time designer, and together produce eight to ten collections a year.
Most of the Novel business lies in exporting. About 70 percent of the collection is sold outside the U.S., he says.
These are booked and distributed in Mexico, South America, and the U.S. Novel also has a dozen agent showrooms geared towards the designers.
“Everything in the book is stocked in a 24,000-square-foot warehouse in McAllen. We have over 10,000 SKUs in stock for immediate delivery,” Fernandez Jr. says.
“We feel we have provided something different in our Novel designs. I’m passionate about design and I’m very involved with Novel styling. Everyone else seems to be doing the same upholstery designs but we provide something really different.”
The Novel Design Centre showroom is in San Antonio, Texas, where it is part of a 32,000-square- foot shopping center dedicated to home product stores. They contain other home products in separate stores selling goods like lighting, accessories, wallcoverings, and furniture. The Fernandez family owns the entire retail space.
In fact, real estate has been a parallel investment for the family for the last 30 years, he says. His background was apparel fabrics, the original business established by his father under the Dos Rios branded retail outlet here. But in 1990, Fernandez Jr. started the home fabrics operation for the company.
“In the last ten years, I saw an oversupply of fabrics coming on to the market,” he says. “All of the markets also have political problems, and this is affecting business. Money is not flowing the way it used to. The politicians in power in the export markets we serve are not pro-business; many are socialists with corruption way out of hand. Tariffs have created instability.”
“I think the internet is becoming a more powerful distribution channel,” he says. “I do not sell to the public, but other converters and distributors are doing so on the internet today. My only market is to the design trade and that’s where we focus.”
Fernandez Jr. sees more consolidation on the way. He says he feels the younger buyer is not conscious about quality or loyalty, and the only thing left for them to measure is the price.
“I really believe this year and next will see continued consolidation in the fabrics industry; books are expensive and not everyone can afford to do them; mills are starting to sell direct, while converters are selling to the public on the internet,” he says.
- Novel Fabrics didn’t just happen. The story really began in 1948 when Laz’s great uncle, Jose Fernandez, opened the family’s first fabric store, the La Elegante fabric store in Guantanamo, Cuba. Laz Sr. moved from Havana to help his uncle in 1951. Laz Jr. was born in Cuba, but in 1959, Castro overthrew the government, and by 1961, Jose Fernandez had left the island with his family and moved to Miami—45 minutes away by plane.
- Jose eventually settled in McAllen, Texas and sent for his nephew Lazaro Sr., who brought with him his wife Maelia, and their two children, Laz and Maria.
- The family’s Rio Bravo store opened in McAllen in 1963, selling only remnants. The Dos Rios Corp. opened in 1986, and the business grew with the city. The Fernandez Family was mentioned in a commemorative 100th- anniversary book published by the City of McAllen.