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Spend that Shoe Leather

It's not a groundswell by any stretch of the imagination. Nor is it more than just a mere glimmer of change. It, however, is the sign of a beginning of change in thought process among the mainstream supplier base in home textiles.

The dramatic shrinking in the numbers of the major retail power players in home textiles is finally causing some supplier types to rethink their business models. Big is not necessarily better, nor profitable, some are beginning to realize.

As discussed in earlier columns in this space, there are opportunities in a totally different realm of the home textiles business — the small, independent specialty store.

But there also are a host of other retailers — regional department stores, family owned junior department stores, and specialty chains that mix home and apparel in their offerings.

Then there's also the challenge of the Internet — a concept that fills many supplier executives with a sense of panic at the thought of selling direct to consumers. It's happening in all consumer product areas and at all price points. So ignoring this phenomenon of retailing is ignoring a major new business outlet.

The challenge for most in this market is to make the time and effort to leave their offices, meetings and conference calls and get out in the hustings. Too many sales executives and reps have fallen into the once comfortable rut of calling on the same-old, same-old.

Just a few weeks back, I had a series of conversations with folks in furnitureland who are facing a similar challenge. A few, and a very few indeed, have recognized that there are a whole lot of other retailers beyond their normal spheres of selling activity — and beyond the comprehension of their conventional sales forces.

For a few, the solution is to develop parallel sales activities with "newbies" sent out to scout the potential for development, while keeping the mainstream folks working the tried and true — however difficult they increasingly become.

It's no longer a matter of complaining about what is at hand. It's survival — and growth.

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