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Jennifer Marks

At 120, Sferra Embraces the Future

By Jennifer Marks

Edison, N.J. - Fine linen house Sferra celebrates its 120th anniversary this year as a thoroughly modern company serving a wired world that would have been inconceivable to Gennaro Sferra in 1905 when he opened his factory in Venice.

The company's founder travelled the East Coast from Maine to Palm Beach selling Sferra's fine Italian linens to the grand seaside resorts of the day. Today, Sferra serves ecommerce accounts as well as specialty boutiques. The company's Facebook page has more than 1,500 followers, and Sferra also interacts with consumers on Twitter.

President Paul Hooker, who acquired the company from the second generation of the Sferra family in 1977, spends a lot of time thinking about the next generation of consumers, how they live and how they buy.

"These kids don't watch the evening news, and they don't have a land line," he said. "We have to think about what are we going to be selling and how are we going to merchandise it. The [companies] that don't figure it out won't be in business."

Sferra is also beefing up its causal marketing "because this generation wants to buy from companies doing good." The company has been involved with Challenged Youth Sports, which Hooker founded, for 20 years. Sferra also became active in the Wounded Warrior program last year and has now hooked up with Susan G. Komen to support breast cancer research.

Differentiation is also a big factor for younger consumers, said Hooker. "It speaks to bespoke, the customizable - how can I get this made for me?"

To that end, Sferra is expanding its Festival table linens line from 13 to 101 colors this summer. Retailers will receive a sample wheel with swatches of every color along with color cards they can hand out to their shoppers. Sferra will provide table linens in standard sizes or custom sizes. Sferra will keep napkins, placemats and 6-by-9-inch cocktail napkins in stock.

"A customer can bring in a plate and match it to the color wheel, then take a swatch home," said Steve Schneider, executive vp. Turnaround on customer orders will be 10 to 12 weeks, he said.

The Festival program will be front and center at Sferra's stand during the New York International Gift Fair in August. The company is also looking to expand distribution into tabletop and gift retailers with the line.

"This is really, really big. We want to hit all those little specialty shops that don't carry linens," said Hooker. "We're gong to gift box it and make it very simple to put out as a sku."

Sferra also continues to push its "Lose Count" campaign with point-of-sales materials as well as an online component. The irony is that Sferra was among the first to promote thread count.

"We had linen bedding from Belgium, 300-count, that the manufacturer called C71. I thought, ‘That's fairly interesting. I never heard anybody put a number on it before,'" said Hooker.

As the thread count wars and dubious marketing claims rendered thread-count distinctions largely meaningless, Hooker became an outspoken advocate for dropping thread count labels. "My phrase is: ‘We birthed it, now we're killing it,'" he said with a laugh. HTT

 

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