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Cross-Pollination Keeps Table Buzzing

New York — The table linens category in 2004 eked out a sales gain of 1.2 percent to $820 million that it managed during an otherwise lackluster year by pursuing cross-coordination with related categories, like kitchen textiles, and placing a greater emphasis on upscale brands and designers licenses.

Names like Colin Cowie for bridal and Chris Madden for regular home at JCPenney, Jonathan Adler by Elrene Home Fashions, Laura Ashley by Town and Country and Nicole Miller at Bed, Bath & Beyond, among others, gave cachet to the category with these contemporary designer debuts.

And already this year the movement persists, with W-C Designs having presented its Sigrid Olsen Collection and Bardwil Industries having launched its Dansk Graves Studio collection by Michael Graves, both in February during Mini-Market, and Bardwil soon after signing on as the licensee for Liz Claiborne.

“A trend we are seeing in the table linen category is versatility in our demographics due to design innovation,” explained Bryan Siegel, executive vice president and chief operating officer of New York-based Elrene Home Fashions. “Jonathan Adler is a perfect example. We are experiencing great success from this non-traditional modern line. Consumers have come to expect that the table linens marketplace will always offer a fruit or flower everyday, and maybe a poinsettia or holly for the holiday. They get excited when they see the unexpected on the retail floor.”

Siegel added that through in-house research, Elrene has discovered that its Adler collection — based on the artist's modern sculpture and artwork — attracts a more general audience as opposed to a niche group, as might have been expected.

“The Jonathan Adler consumer is a retired Floridian, a first time parent, a college-bound youngster and even a middle-age adult,” he continued. “We have been able to capture a broad audience with this new modern versatility.”

One of the ways W-C Designs serves its core customers — department stores — is by building its portfolio of “high-end licenses, like Calvin Klein, Waterford, Wedgwood and, most recently, Sigrid Olsen,” said Patrick McCullagh, president.

Designer brands represent points of distinction for retailers, said Nancy Kristoff, president, sales and marketing, New York-based Bardwil. “Designer brands, provided they are well designed, are critical for these retailers because they serve as differentiators from others,” she explained. “They allow each retailer to be different in their offerings.”

Town and Country added Nicole Miller for Bed, Bath & Beyond last year to its roster, which already included Ralph Lauren and Laura Ashley, “Designer licenses and dinnerware brands play an important role in this business,” said David Beyda, chairman.

Also playing a big part have been ties to sister category kitchen textiles, which helps explain the major role discount department stores and home textiles specialty chains play in the table linens category.

While discount department stores dominated the category last year, churning about one-third — 34 percent, or $278.8 million — of the total sales, home textiles specialty chains took one-fourth of that pie — 24 percent, or $196.8 million — by better merchandising the products, suppliers said.

“The specialty stores do a much better job for these categories (table linens and kitchen textiles),” said Carolyn Winderbaum, design director, Griffin, Ga.-based Fashion Industries. “They not only designate separate areas and space to the categories, they also create swing areas in the front of their stores where they always include them, especially for seasonal.”

Siegel said the seasonal business from the specialty retailers “continues to grow at a double digit sales” pace.

Dick Gould, vice president, sales, Long Beach, Calif.-based Foreston Trends, said the specialty chains are the ones “really cornering in on the cross-coordination” and helping drive sales.

“We're seeing more and more cross-coordination going into 2005 and 2006, and we're addressing it with more coordinating kitchen towels and placemats,” Gould said.

Bardwil, historically a table linens supplier, is boosting its kitchen textiles/table linens cross-coordinated offerings this year after finding success in its programs, particularly for those that were seasonally inclined.

Foreston Trends, also predominantly a table linens supplier, will this year expand its offerings of terry and woven kitchen towels and textiles. Currently, it supplies oven mitts and pot holders to one customer, a mid-tier department store, but it hopes to expand that — with more cross-coordination to placemats and napkins — this year and beyond.

Merchandise Mix (in $millions)

% of total 2004 sales
Placemats 38% $311.6
Table cloths 31 254.2
Napkins 21 172.2
Runners 7 57.4
Napkin rings 3 24.6


Distribution Channels (in $millions)
2004 Total: $820 million, up 1.2%

% of total 2004 sales
*Includes home improvement centers, military exchanges and gift/home accent stores.
Discount department stores 34% $278.8
Home textiles specialty chains 24 196.8
Mid-price chains 19 155.8
Off-price chains 7 57.4
Department stores 6 49.2
Direct-to-consumer 4 32.8
Variety/close-outers 2 16.4
Single unit specialty stores 2 16.4
Warehouse clubs 1 8.2
Other* 1 8.2


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