• Cecile Corral

Brands, Seasonal Drive Small Gains at the Table

It is no surprise that once again, it is largely thanks to recognized brands and designer labels that the table linens category grew, even if only nominally, by 1.2% percent in total sales to $830 million in 2005 over the prior year.

Table linens suppliers told HTT they continue to find that by offering goods with known brand names — the likes of Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Lenox, Echo, Jonathan Adler and Waverly, to name only a few — through exclusive licensing partnerships, they can differentiate their assortments from competitors and catch the attention of retailers. It has been the same story for many years now, a trend that seems to be here to stay.

“Brands are the number one growth segment for us,” explained Ana Werbel, vp, Tappan, NY-based Fallani & Cohn. “If we don't have brands, what is the point of retailers coming to see us?”

Fallani & Cohn is an experienced provider of table linens and kitchen textiles for the Waverly and Woolrich licenses, and also has a more recently forged partnership with artist Carole Shiber for her hand-painted wares.

Licensed to the Nth

“Licensing is the number one reason we are still in business,” Werbel continued. “Retailers look to us for our brands and look to us for unique product like Carole Shiber. We are different to retailers because we have these unique brands.”

Bardwil Industries' Nancy Kristoff, president, sales and marketing, attributes her company's growth to its roster of licenses. “Product wise, our growth is from our Lenox, Dansk and Liz Claiborne licenses.”

Bardwil, the country's third largest table linen company, reported a 6% sales increase in 2005 to $57 million, noting among other things that its Lenox program was a “bright spot” for the year.

Playing on the branding dynamic is the increasing desire by retailers to offer such brands at their stores, for the same reason as suppliers: to stand out from the competition.

The hungriest for branded offerings, suppliers say, have been home textiles specialty chains, which accounted for 24%, or $199.2 million, of total sales last year. Only discount department stores beat that proportion, accounting for 33%, or $273.9 million, of the total. Mid-price chains — which are also relying more and more on branded wares — came in third place with a 20% share, or $166 million.

Road Less Traveled

Still eating a thin 6%, or $49.8 million, slice of the total table linens pie — and taking the less traveled road to possibly improve its positioning — is the department store segment.

Noted Dick Gould of Long Beach, Calif.-based Foreston Trends, there is a new openness among department stores to include in their assortment unbranded goods — a departure from their typical focus on higher-end brands, many of which tie back to dinnerware collections.

“I think the department store business is looking to find a proper equation; they see they need to gear toward more moderate customers now,” said Gould, vp, sales. “Department stores seem to be looking to diversify beyond the upscale brands.”

The harvest-through-Christmas season is also still a key sales driver for category players, and vendors are seeing some distribution channels become more experimental with the niche. Again, home textiles specialty chains are at the forefront of this trend.

“Specialty retailers have increased their seasonal presentations and assortments, many offering lifestyle presentations for modern or retro, instead of just the traditional looks,” said Bryan Siegel, president, New York-based Elrene Home Fashions.

Home for the Holidays

Kristoff added that these stores “want seasonal products from us from across the board: core lines and fashion.”

Related to this in Bardwil's case is an increased demand for runners and accessories like napkin rings, coasters and gift sets for the holidays.

“Runners had slowed but now has picked up again,” Kristoff said. “In fact, we're seeing a large demand for more sizes of runners, especially during the fourth quarter.”

Wyckoff, N.J.-based Anchor Home Products sees tablecloths “falling off some” and being replaced by placemats and runners.

“We're exploring more sizes for runners and we're starting to get more hits for them under our Better Homes & Gardens and our Pfaltzgraff licenses,” said Frank Petronzio, president of Anchor Home.

Distribution Channels ($ millions)
2005 total retail sales: $830 million
Up 1.2% from 2004

% of total 2005 sales
*Other includes home improvement centers, military exchanges and gift/home accent stores.
Discount department stores 33% $273.9
Home textiles specialty chains 24 199.2
Mid-price chains 20 166.0
Off-price chains 7 58.1
Department stores 6 49.8
Direct-to-consumer 4 33.2
Single unit specialty stores 2 16.6
Variety/closeout 2 16.6
Warehouse clubs 1 8.3
Other* 1 8.3

Merchandise Mix ($ millions)

% of total 2005 sales
Placemats 38% $315.4
Table cloths 30 249.0
Napkins 21 174.3
Runners 8 66.4
Napkin rings 3 24.9

Cecile CorralCecile Corral | Senior Product Editor, Home & Textiles Today

Cecile B. Corral has been a product editor with Home Textiles Today since late 2000. She covers the area and accent rug, kitchen textiles, table linens, beach towels, decorative bath and decorative pillow categories, as well as some retail subjects.

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