This article originally appeared in the Fall issue of Technology Designer Magazine:
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ryan Gustafson, CEO of Screen Innovations, to learn more about his new manual Nano shade, but our conversation ended up taking a delightful turn. In the process of our conversation, Ryan’s passion and pride of the products his company manufactures jumped through the computer screen. The emotion was contagious, and the intensity was infectious and our interview ran well over the allotted time. What I learned during this interview turned a product review article into a company profile article, because Screen Innovations is more than just a company that provides industry changing, innovative products. Screen Innovations is environmentally responsible, passionate about its employees and dealers, disruptive and just a really cool place to work.
When Screen Innovations began life, they produced filmscreens. Their first goal was to take projectors out of the dark and bring them into the light. So they developed screen materials where homeowners didn’t have to sit in a completely darkened room to enjoy a movie. You could get incredible color and contrast in ambient light conditions. This sparked ideas about how various materials might be utilized on indoor and outdoor shades to harvest ambient light or refract ambient light, depending on the homeowner’s needs.
Twelve years ago Screen Innovations entered the projector screen category and created the industry’s first ambient light rejection screens at a time when no one knew what ambient light could do to any room. This solution opened up a new customer base, allowing the company to design a big screen experience based on both functionality and beauty. They’ve since brought similar innovation to the window covering industry, which is where we’ll focus on for this particular review.
Before SI entered the category with its lithium-powered solutions, wireless motorized shade offerings were either motorized or powered by standard alkaline batteries. A lot of them. Like, 6 D-size batteries per shade. These big batteries ate up space and so it was nearly impossible to design a small enough package that could seamlessly integrate into any given space. SI decided to design their motor assembly which utilized lithium ion batteries, the small, nearly flat rectangular batteries common to cell phones and other mobile devices I’m sure you are familiar with.
The product was evolutionary and just pretty cool. One huge plus was that you didn’t need to replace batteries every month, not to mention the side benefit of not having them also end up in a land fill. The lithium battery just needed to be recharged – via a nifty charging pole — and was good for around 500 charges, which meant it would last for many, many years.
One other issue they addressed had to do with the fact that people complained about how manual and motorized shades didn’t always properly match each other. SI knew not everyone had the budget for the motorized shades all throughout the house, so most owners would end up with a mix of manual and motorized shades. And when they talked to dealers and designers, they often heard that most manual shades were disappointing to look at.
So let me tell you about their newest product, the Nano Box Manual. The Nano is designed to perfectly match the cosmetics of the motorized version and offers integrators and end-users the ability to use a combination of manual and motorized shades while maintaining a unified look throughout the space. The Nano comes in more than 12 decorator colors, custom finishes and fits a wide variety of bracket styles. Designers and integrators provided SI with critical feedback on what was needed in the marketplace, and SI went to work to make homeowners happier by delivering manual shades that look like the expensive motorized versions, creating a seamless look that is visually appealing. The addition of the Nano to SI’s already impressive line-up fascinated me, but the story behind the product touched my soul.
Screen Innovation’s success is due to their work ethic and general positive attitude. Made in the USA, they managed their supply chain during the pandemic to keep their pipeline filled in support of their dealer base. Ryan told me that it wasn’t easy, but he felt compelled to support not only his employees, but also the dealers and customers who are the lifeblood of any company.
They become more and more vertically integrated every day due to the hardworking team at SI and the attitude of continual improvement. The staff at SI has designed and built a lot of their own machinery and equipment because they couldn’t get it anywhere else. The team became more innovative and discovered ways to scale the business, providing more products to their dealers. They continually strive to improve the design of their products and not just rest on what’s doing okay today.
At the same time they are reducing their carbon footprint for their office and manufacturing spaces, as well as in the manufacturing process. This innovative and forward-thinking attitude speaks to the heart of the company.
When Ryan spoke about all the work his team has done during the pandemic, the pride he has for his team was palpable. His team dug deep and figured out a way to support their dealers so they could keep up with the demand because as families were staying home due to the quarantine, they were looking for ways to improve their space.
Families are spending more time together; they are looking around the house and deciding to invest in design and technology to improve their lifestyles, and one of those areas is the outdoor patio. And outdoor living is a category that is booming for SI because shades are a cost-effective way to transform a patio for year-round enjoyment
A healthy, happy company culture is the most important aspect for SI. They know that a great environment and positive atmosphere trickles down to every person that interacts with the company. When it comes to integrating technology in the home, customers are interested in having a relationship with the companies they purchase from and SI has built a culture that breeds this solid relationship. It is refreshing to write about a company that isn’t all about market share and profitability, but about what joy they can bring to their customers and the world in which we all live.