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Suppliers unsure if uptick will continue

Fabric business is better, but is it sustainable?

That's the big question confronting decorative fabrics suppliers that have seen an uptick in business in the last month or so, especially from those showing at Decosit in Brussels in September, where order writing was good.

But while improvement is evident, it is only to the degree that many feel the second half will enable them to make up for the poor first half and perhaps slightly better 2002 or to break-even in sales.

From most reports, the jobbers are the strongest distribution channel presently for the decorative fabrics firms. Sales into the home textiles channel range from very good to OK, but there is growing instability as many home textiles producers look to go direct off-shore.

It is the furniture channel distribution that is the "iffiest," a number of fabric executive related.

Noting that "we've had six weeks of better business — we can breathe," Roger Berkley, president of Weave, added, "It doesn't make a trend." Most major jobbers, he reported, "are consistent with reorders, and in the furniture market we had strong placements." Whether that turns into orders is the question.

"Business is better than it has been, but it should be for this time of year," said Ray King, executive vp, Mastercraft. "But it's not up to the point that people expect," he added. Jobber business held up — "it's very good" — and King thinks orders from the High Point furniture market will be good.

The general tone is "much more upbeat, in spite of the overall economy," remarked Larry Liebenow, president and ceo, Quaker. Placements from Showtime were stronger than ever, he reported, and Decosit pulled in lots of new customers and a breadth of countries represented in the mix.

From mid-August, all domestic business channels picked up, said Roger Gilmartin, executive vp, Covington Inds., "but furniture started to soften in bookings in the last two weeks."

Jobber business, Gilmartin reported, has been very strong. Overall, he asked, "How sustainable is the uptick?"

The question of sustainability also was raised by Mike Rice, executive vp, Merrimac, who saw "some rays of hope in the furniture premarket" as well as home textiles. "Although there is a lot of price pressure and some companies are going direct, we are offering design and marketing."

Calling the contract and outdoor channels very strong, Rocco Simone, senior vp, Sunbury, said, "People are repositioning themselves to compete in a world market, especially with service that has to be on a superior level."

One approach for Sunbury "is making more product and marketing more brands like Sunbrella, Crypton and now Microban. It gives us more name recognition and marketing clout."

"Business actually is very good," said Jack Eger, vp, Craftex, who added, "The last six or eight weeks we've been working Saturdays."

By channel, Eger noted, "We've spiked in bedding, and furniture is strong; we've had greater participation in presell than before. Placements and repeats in the Jobber business is up 25 percent vs. the beginning of the year. And we topped 2002 placements by the end of the third quarter."

But, Eger added, "the first and second quarters were behind '02, so we should end the year equal or slightly ahead of last year."

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