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Sferra Spreads Its Wings

International Push Just One initiative Among Many

Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, February 22, 2010

Sferra has developed a corporate strategy designed to move beyond its traditional domestic specialty store business with an ambitious 47-point plan for growth.

“We’re looking for different ways to grow the business,” said Paul Hooker, ceo.

The international arena is a key objective in this plan, said Hooker, and the company will move into that area with Duxiana, a luxury mattress retailer. The international market is a complex one because of the diverse bed sizes globally, “but not impossible,” Hooker explained,

For the program’s Sept. 1 debut, Sferra has narrowed the size variables to 15 for fitted bottom sheets, including four that are needed in the United States. Size variables are a key stumbling block for many companies wanting to market around the world, he noted.

“After six months, we were able to narrow down the sizes in the fitted; the top of bed and duvets all will be the same sizes,” he said.

Currently, there are 33 Duxiana stores in the United States and 65 internationally, he said. There will be a new collection for this program internationally, and the U.S. stores will buy additional lines.

In sheets there will be two collections — one offered in white and ivory in solids and a stripe in the “better” grouping, and white and ivory in a jacquard, solid and stripe in the best grouping

“This gives us the opportunity to ship to international markets, and if we want to expand to others, our advantage is that we have two distribution points set up — one for the 'best’ in Italy and the 'better’ in China,” Hooker pointed out.

Other international activities involve a group of Australian stores that will launch in the third or fourth quarter. “And we’re planning to grow the number of U.S. embassies we furnish around the world,” he added.

Aside from those upcoming ventures, Sferra’s international thrust has encompassed only Canada and the Caribbean islands. “This will be a good experience,” he said.

On the design side, the company has signed apparel designer Peter Som, “one of the designers de jour,” who will launch a bedding collection in spring 2011. “We saw his runway show this month and again were impressed with how he does prints,” Hooker said. “We’re going to be going to different designers for our print programs that will begin next year.”

Kelly Wearstler for Sferra continues as a co-branded designer couture collection.

Another initiative outside the norm, Hooker added, is the potential of the incentive market. “It’s a whole different dynamic and totally different [from the consumer retail business]. There are a lot of companies looking for corporate gifts, and it’s pretty much catalog-driven.”

“We’ve been successful with American Express through a sales organization, and there’s a whole network that specializes in this segment.”

From a product perspective, Sferra is developing its own down program for basic bedding. “We’re developing it to answer specialty store needs that include such elements as shipping, collateral material, stocking, as well as product,” Hooker said. “We’re meeting with world-wide down processors to bring all the details together — there’s a lot of minutia involved.”

Within its core retail constituency, Sferra is developing shop-in-shop programs “and we’ll start a big push in the baby market. We’re looking to grow this business with our existing base but also reach out to upscale retailers that are not necessarily in home textiles.”

Also new in the specialty store segment, Hooker said, is a frequent buyer program.

Another first for the company is a consumer advertising program that launches with the March issue of Elle Décor and runs to 15 full-page ads there and in three other shelter magazines: Town & Country, Veranda, and House Beautiful. Each includes 12 retailer store listings. “We had a total of 180 slots and sold them out in three days,” Hooker said. “We went to our best customers, charged a participation fee and each could take up to eight spots.”

In addition, Hooker has started a side company, American Liberty Home, whose proceeds will go to the American Red Cross “to provide linens and towels to our wounded warriors, especially those with severe injuries. They’ll get a Sfrerra bag including a robe — all will be embroidered with an American flag.” Hooker said.

Another initiative, “is to provide more linens to the White House. We’ve already sent a letter to Michelle Obama with details,” he said.

Sferra also continues to grow is its hospitality business with boutique and five star hotels.

A major effort for the company is Lose Count, a program designed to focus attention on the weight, fiber and finishing are as key to quality versus the industry’s current focus on thread count, Hooker stated. The program, which began as a brochure available to retailers to distribute to consumers, now is available on its own website and is promoted on social networks including Twitter and Facebook.

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