Shiloh window shade company marks 60 years in business

May 5, 2014 

BND

Name: Jack McAlister Jr.

Job: Owner, Drexel House of Drapes at 3721 Lebanon Ave. in Shiloh (618-624-5415; www.drexelwindowfashions.com)

Outlook: "We not only sell the product, but we also repair and clean it for people. The fact that we're safety-oriented is very important to us."

Drexel House of Drapes in Shiloh is marking its 60th year in business. Jack McAlister Jr. runs the business and his father, founder Jack McAlister Sr., is 91 and now works alongside his son. The business has provided blinds and shades for homes and public buildings in the metro-east, including the St. Clair County Courthouse and buildings on the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and Southwestern Illinois College's Belleville campus. Jack Sr. is a decorated veteran and who displays his medals, which includes a Purple Heart, in the basement workshop that he and his son work out of. Business writer Will Buss met both father and son at their workshop last week. Jack Jr. reflected on the business over the past 60 years:

Q: How did the business get started?

A: "Our business started in a cinderblock building in 1954 down in East St. Louis. That's how Dad started out. He started as a blind repair company and evolved from that to actually fabricating blinds and shades as well as fabricating window shades for the housing authority out of East St. Louis and St. Louis. Dad supplied a lot of the window shades that was in government housing over the years. We physically manufactured them. Now these are major corporations that you buy your goods from, so you don't really have to have a major production area here."

Q: How did you first get involved in the family business?

A: "I first started working with Sears & Roebuck in '74. It's been since 1985 since I've been here handling the shop. At about that same time, we incorporated the business."

Q: How has the business evolved over the past six decades?

A: "We always kept it small. At one time we had a showroom in O'Fallon and in East St. Louis, but the business evolves. It's very rare that you see a drapery customer come in who's looking for full-width draperies that open and close. Mostly, it's just side panels on the side because of all of the other products we make or are doing things for privacy and light control, like shutters, blinds and shades."

Q: What's popular with consumers today?

A: "Things go in streaks. I think the most popular thing today, which is a high-end product, is plantation shutters, indoor shutters for homes. That's probably the most sought-after thing. There are no strings for kids to pull on and it's low maintenance. ... One thing we take pride in, if we are experts in anything at all, it's shutters with the design and installation of them and anything that has to do with motorized products, whether they're hard-wired products, which means they go directly into a household current or if they're battery-controlled units. That's the wave of the future. Most people think I need a motorized shade because my windows are so tall. What we forget about is the aging of our society and more and more people are either handicapped in chairs or are limited to what they can do with their hands. So motorization is a big plus."

Q: Where did the Drexel name come from?

A: "Dad always knew repetitiveness of a name was something that always catches people's attention for them to want to shop from you. So the company name derived from the old telephone exchanges out of East St. Louis. They used to have letters instead of numbers, and Drexel was a phone exchange."

Q: What separates you business from other similar services?

A: "One of the biggest thing is we're members of the carpenter's union. Dad's been at it over 65 years now, I've been a carpenter's union member for almost 30 years and my son-in-law has been for 14 years. The important thing about that is that we go through yearly training. We're OSHA certified for safety."

Q: Describe the service you provide.

A: "Service to us, after sales, is not calling your client and asking for more referrals. Service is after the product is up for a while, it's going to wear out. It's going to need cleaning, and we're really the only firm around that does all of that. We get inquiries all of the time. 'Hey, can you fix this? I bought this from this place, but they sent me to you to fix it.' It doesn't make sense. That's like buying a Cadillac and you have to go to a Ford dealer to get it repaired. So the main focus of our business has always been when we sell it to you, should it need cleaning or service on it, you don't have to go anywhere else but us."

Q: Why?

A: "In every one of these drawers, there's miscellaneous parts all over the place. Being in business as long as we have, some of these parts are not even available to the manufacturer anymore. They've updated their stuff. What will happen with a manufacturer after they update their stuff, they will have a warranty and it says limited lifetime warranty of the product. Limited is the big key because its says we warrant it but we stopped making that part and as soon as we stop making that part, then we don't warrant that anymore. Whereas we may still have that part laying around. What we'll do is when manufacturers issue things, we'll always buy some spare parts for it because we know that there are always some certain parts that will always fade out. So we'll buy that in bulk. When a client comes in, we might have an item that is five, six, 10, 12 years old, where nobody else will have them."

Q: Are other family members working in the business?

A: "No. I have two sisters not involved in the business. I have a son-in-law who works for me. I'm not sure where this business will go after me. But obviously, I'm not going to quit if (Dad) is still here working at 91."

Contact reporter Will Buss at wbuss@bnd.com or 618-239-2526.

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