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Hollander Colors Laura Ashley for Success

Brent Felgner -- Home Textiles Today, April 17, 2006

New York — Hollander Home Fashions may have the basic bedding license for Laura Ashley, but the line is showing bold colors and design, making a fashion statement in context, and moving away from the limited idea of basic being white.

“We're trying to extend the lifestyle, instead of make just another white product,” said Andy Schantz, vp of the Laura Ashley Division. “There's plenty of white product out there. We want that core business, we have that core business — but we also want to create a synonymous style, which is not so hard to enlarge.”

Hollander began to experiment with a bolder position in basic design and colorations during last October's market. Based on those results, the program has vastly expanded.

On entering Hollander's showroom, the feature bed this market was a modern geometric from the Laura Ashley basic line, Color Block, using the tone-on-tone contrasts from the designer's palette in rose, steel blue and cream — for a bold, updated departure from the typical Laura Ashley look.

“This is a major departure for us in basic, because it is not the traditional florals and pastels,” Schantz said. “But they are all actually Laura Ashley colors designed with Laura Ashley U.K. “We've just done it in a more modern, streamlined way. So this was my 'risk' bed, let's say, but the response has been fantastic.”

Less risky, perhaps, but no less dramatic were the other Laura beds in a separate showroom. Fleur du Fleur featured the heirloom vintage look for which Laura Ashley is so well known. Third and fourth quarter solid color palettes also presented a contrast to reversible solids and offered a side-by-side comparison, making the line easier to assort, he explained.

“Before last market, this was an 80% white room,” Schantz offered. “Now it's an 80% color room, because everyone already knows Hollander for its white goods. We don't have to explain that.”

“Seventy percent of the business is still white — it's on a very high trajectory,” he added. But that other 30% is color and prints, and it's really expanding the assortment: we have the exclusive distribution of the brand, and that is not going to get bigger, so I have to make my product assortment bigger to go back to the same customers. We're trying to do it in a logical way.”

It's a high-volume business, he emphasized.

That's possible in part because of the resurgence of the Laura Ashley brand at retail, perhaps driven both by the designs and by retailers' new commitments — especially at Kohl's — as well as renewed consumer interest. While retailers were reporting their businesses as slightly north or south of flat, Laura Ashley sales were often outperforming the stores.

“Among my customers, the condition of their business overall is not that relevant to the brand,” Schantz noted. “Whether the scenario is flat, down or up, the brand is doing very well is all retail environments right now. I think every licensee is reporting double-digit gains at retail.”

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