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Holiday Shopping Festive So Far

Despite Macroeconomic Concerns Companies Less Pessimistic Than Before

New York — Home textiles retailers and suppliers so far have been pleasantly surprised by the first wave of holiday sales results, particularly as measured against concerns that higher oil and gas prices would dampen consumer enthusiasm.

Figures for sales increases across all product categories varied for the opening weekend. The National Retail Federation reported a 22 percent jump year-over-year. Visa announced an 11 percent climb in credit card purchases. Market research firm ShoppTrak RCT was the most conservative, pegging the opening weekend sales gain at an anemic 0.4 percent.

For home textiles, according to industry executives, the season so far has been a mixed bag.

While home textiles are not viewed as a major holiday gift-giving business, sales have been strong in a number of categories, according Joe Laneve, senior vice president, home, Bloomingdale’s New York.

Leading segments include Charisma, Ralph Lauren and Court of Versailles in designer bed and bath, cashmere and Churchill Weavers throws and luxury down comforters, he reported.

At JCPenney, “Energy solutions are doing extremely well” in both catalog and on the Internet, said Donna Gering, vice president, director of soft home, JCPenney Direct. “November was good, and holiday looks quite promising.”

Key items were electric blankets and all down products. And overall, the company reported a “record Black Friday” with home one of the leading areas led by the gift, bath and window businesses.

In contrast to conventional wisdom, the oil situation and rising interest rates have had a positive effect on the table linens category, according to Bryan Siegel, president and chief operating officer, Elrene Home Fashions. While those factors have dampened travel and restaurant dining, they’ve been a boon to home entertaining, he said.

“We are seeing increases in accent/accessories pieces like runners, napkin rings and chargers. We have even seen nice sell-throughs on decorative/seasonal kitchen textiles over a year ago, Siegel said. “Holiday is finishing off to be rather strong.”

George Kouri, president of Avonhome, said business for both seasonal and everyday table linens and kitchen has been “exceptional” throughout the fall. “Formal has been great,” he added, “but whimsical not so great.”

Loren Sweet, president of Brentwood Originals, said business is much better than he expected it to be a month ago.

“No question there is an impact of high gas, heating fuel, and so on. But the customer is spending,” he said. “It amazes me that the news said that higher fuel prices took $90 billion out of the economy, and they are still spending.”

For the pillow and pad category, the season has been unusually busy, suppliers said.

“Usually, at this time of year it slows down in our industry, but it’s been so hectic gearing up for the holiday,” said John Facatselis, president and CEO of Phoenix Down Corp. in Totowa, N.J. “It’s chaotically busy with the institutional market and mass merchants particularly.”

Down Lite International is finding that better goods are selling much better than mid-price and promotional items, according to Bob Altbaier, senior vice president.

“Our business is strong, and from what retailers are telling us about holiday sales thus far, they are doing as well as can be expected,” he added.

Perfect Fit is chalking up the results to heightened consumer awareness of energy costs. “We enjoyed a noticeable spike in retailer interest in our Soft Heat low-voltage warming products, and in early reports on consumer sell-through,” said Allen Robinson, director of marketing.

Bud Frankel, CEO of Arlee Home Fashions, pointed to a shift in retailer interest from highly seasonal home textiles to more giftable goods.

“Seasonal goods are off. They weren’t hot last year, and they aren’t hot this year. Stores are not putting money into things they have to mark down,” he said. “What have been hot for us are the pillow-and-throw sets.”

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