Fresh Optimism On Tap
Jennifer Marks -- Home Textiles Today, February 5, 2007
Is the worm beginning to turn?
I hosted a panel discussion last week at the New York Home Textiles Show. The topic was globalization — but it led to a conversation on the future of the industry. I was pleasantly surprised by the panelists' optimism.
"Marketing in the Global Marketplace," sponsored by Executives Working in Home Textiles, was anchored by Bob Hamilton, marketing director for Welspun USA, and Bill Heisler, vp sales manager and product development liaison at Croscill. Both men came up in the U.S. mill system at Fieldcrest, in the glory days of national mill brands.
Bob rode the arch from Fieldcrest's acquisition of mighty Cannon Mills, to its acquisition by Pillowtex — to its collapse in 2003. He left the industry, consulting in other fields until he was recruited into Welspun last year.
Bill wound up at a multi-category, under-the-radar home textiles supplier. He joined Croscill about six months ago.
Neither is in short supply of perspective.
Both feel the in-house brand scenario may be playing itself out, not that either expects it to disappear completely. However, said Bill, lackluster sales performance suggests retailers need to salt the mix with more "real" brands. He thinks they're starting to wake up to that fact.
Bob noted that 10 years ago or so, the names Fieldcrest, Cannon, Martex, Royal Velvet, etc., had high consumer awareness levels. More recent polling on retailer house brands has yielded consumer awareness levels in the low single digits. More proof, said Bob, that nameplate-building via captive brands isn't a sustainable strategy. Nor is the backward-looking reliance on "updating what worked last year" in terms of product design, both agreed.
The gentlemen added this tidbit: Buyers in nearly every channel are currently obsessed with Restoration Hardware. (Knock-offs coming soon to a retailer near you.)
Both men believe the cycle of aggressive price compression that began five years ago has reached the end of its tether. This portends a return to clarifying good/better/best among assortments in every channel. The sameness across national retail chains also creates big new opportunities for distributors of better, more creative product — especially through the Internet.
Finally, each noted that the home textiles industry has done a poor job of creating excitement through innovation. However, with new fibers and performance fabrics headed into the pipeline, they see the potential for a sea change over the next two to three years.
Pretty optimistic. I sure do hope they're right.
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