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  • Jennifer Marks

Wants ads and wish lists

There's nothing like describing to a stranger what you do for a living to throw it all in perspective.

When interviewing job applicants at HTT, the conversation inevitably reaches the moment when one must describe the universe we cover. I usually tell them there are four primary points to understand:

Point #1. The home textiles industry is in the midst of epochal change. The domestic manufacturing structure that had been the model for success for decades is swiftly crumbling away.

The majority of the suppliers in the U.S. industry don't own so much as a single loom. They rely on their expertise in design, product development, merchandising and marketing to carry the business.

Point #2. The epochal change affects overseas producers as much as those in the U.S.

Conventional wisdom holds that China will sweep in and dominate world textiles production. In other countries, a few large suppliers will emerge as the leading global suppliers. Alternatively, China might get bogged down supplying its own growing domestic market, leaving the bigger pieces of U.S. business to India and Pakistan. In any event, nearly every company in Asia and on the subcontinent that holds global ambitions has been expanding like the dickens.

Point #3. Everyone's searching for the perfect formula. Some very smart people will tell you that when this all shakes out, there will be no more manufacturing done in the United States. Some believe the winners will operate from networks of overseas alliances.

Others believe the winners will own their own manufacturing operations in low-cost countries. Some equally intelligent people will tell you it is vital to maintain a base of manufacturing capacity in the U.S. to address demands for speedy replenishment.

They could all be right.

Point #4. There's little room for mid-sized players in the universe anymore. A handful of mega-players and a raft of much smaller companies populate the retail landscape. Similarly, the supplier community is dominated by a very few enormous companies, a few big companies and scads of small niche players.

As the enormous players are magnetically drawn to each other, they run the danger of creating a hermetically sealed environment for themselves, one that has little room for new ideas.

The small companies run the danger of attempting to spread themselves into too many new categories to puff up their importance, thereby undermining the strength of their niche.

Those poor applicants. They walk in the door thinking there can't be too much to this business of sheets and towels and whatnot — only to be treated to a somewhat bewildering precis that touches upon shifts in the consumer products industry, free trade disputes and the global economy.

And if they're still upright after all of that, we talk about benefits.

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