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Furnishing some new ideas

Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, April 1, 2002

There's a fair amount of change afoot in retailing — especially home furnishings retailing — and every now and then these changes involve the home textiles world.

But it probably isn't on everyone's radar screen, since it basically doesn't involve most of the top 10 in home textiles sales.

Case in point is IKEA, where, in a conversation with Pernille Spiers-Lopez, the president of the North American division, it became obvious that this global giant is more and more aware of specific national needs for its home furnishings business.

First and foremost is its dedication to product development. And as Spiers-Lopez emphasized more than once, it's not just design for design's sake; it has to go hand-in-hand with function and price. The company has a stable of in-house and outside designers that it taps for this activity and recognizes them globally as company stars. What other retailer can make this claim?

Then the conversation moved on to home textiles. And surprisingly, for an executive in a company this large, she acknowledged that IKEA took a long time to understand the significance of American size differences. But even more interesting is the fact that a little piece of the business — decorative fabrics — that had been dropped was being reinstated because customers missed it.

Can anyone remember when a retailer reinstated something because they found customers missed it? More often than not stuff is discontinued because it doesn't fit in someone's matrix and can't be sold without multiple coupon savings.

On the homegrown side of the retailing business we're getting glimmers of hope that someone out there is trying to communicate with consumers — differently.

Little by little we're seeing Ethan Allen moving into the home textiles world, not with histrionics and dubious sale events but rather with carefully thought-out assortments from the expected throws and decorative pillows to custom bedding to even a select offering of comforters and pillows.

These are two huge retailing organizations, and their influence with consumers can be long-range because of their attitudes. They're worth looking at.

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