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WestPoint Flexes Production Muscle

NEW YORK - With sales for 2010 on a major upswing and market share growing, WestPoint Home sees further growth opportunities beyond its traditional domestic retail business.
     In a recent interview, John Piazza, president and ceo, outlined some of the key opportunities: a major expansion into the international market; a multi-tiered approach to brand marketing; and a growing move into hospitality as the leading elements.
     With the company's sales up by 24% to 25% in the first quarter, July and August up in double digits, and the outlook for the balance of the year in a similar mode, international can become a new target for the company's business, he noted. Overall, Piazza remarked, "I feel real good about our top line and see a real opportunity to grow."
     "We're starting to catch this market; it's solid and profitable," he said, noting the company already has offices in China, London and Moscow. It was an exhibitor at Heimtextil this year as well as in Shanghai earlier this month where it proffered a great number of introductions, some not obviously substantive, but others showing potential for internal Chinese retail business, which is burgeoning.
     In brand marketing, WestPoint Home is taking a somewhat different approach from many of its competitors - going upfront with a multi-level, multi-retailer, national power brand strategy. The latest to join this program is Hanes - an apparel- and hosiery-driven company where Piazza served for several decades; he prides himself on his involvement with the legendary L'Eggs hosiery program.
     "Hanes is a power brand selling to many retailers at multi-levels," Piazza pointed out. "There also are sub-brands that offer a halo effect. It's a brand well known at all levels and offers the kind of stuff we're looking for."
     He also pointed to the multi-tier effect of Izod, a brand acquired last year, and Caribbean Joe, which also comprise sub-brands: "They're both doing just fine."
     In the hospitality market, which has been depressed globally for several years, the company "sees a real opportunity to grow" with negotiations now in progress for some headline names. "In fact, it's doing really well for us."
     In terms of production, Piazza said, "We're going to leverage our internal capacity. We've been running full all year long, at both Lahore and Bahrain, and over the next several years we see these as a competitive advantage as we expand these facilities." He added, "We're still sourcing 40% of our product and want to get that down to 10% to 15%."
     At the same time, he sees the challenges of yarns, duties and internal changes in China offering opportunities. "We see internal factories in the U.S. getting more valuable," Piazza said, citing the WestPoint plant in Shipley, Fla., as an example.

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