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Jo-Ann Embraces Christopher Lowell

Designer Christopher Lowell and Jo-Ann Stores have begun a partnership that could change his profile in home textiles and ultimately see the $1.87 billion fabric and craft retailer enter an array of bedding, bath and kitchen merchandise categories.

Christopher Lowell Enterprises and Jo-Ann Stores, each originally based in the Cleveland area, have had a casual working relationship ever since the retailer provided some products for Lowell's earliest television venture in 1996.

Now the Emmy-winning designer has licensed an entire pre-coordinated home décor fabrics program to Jo-Ann, and early indications are positive.

“The program is above plan,” said Tim Wriggle, merchandise manager, home décor fabrics at Jo-Ann told Home Textiles Today, noting it is “now in 600 of the 815 stores and also on Jo-Ann.com. It will go chain-wide by next spring.”

A core attribute of the partnership is the comfort level Lowell brings to consumers.

“He is a home decorating authority,” Wriggle emphasizes. “He eliminates their fear of decorating. With high price points, consumers are leery of making a mistake. Christopher's simplified approach, his 'Seven Layers of Design' system, lends credibility” to the merchandise and to consumers' self-confidence.

Wriggle worked closely with Lowell on the décor fabrics program, which launched in July and now features 10 design collections, all pre-coordinated including trims. In recent weeks the program introduced drapery hardware. The next step, Wriggle said, will be indoor-outdoor fabrics, followed perhaps with adaptations for bedding products.

As with most Lowell initiatives, consumer education is a key component. He is not so much selling yards of fabric as he is encouraging consumers to choose from a menu of updated classic, “evergreen” room solutions, “luxurious for her, tailored for him,” as Lowell likes to say.

In the tradition of such how-to authorities as Martha Stewart, Lowell's television series, books, DVDs and other materials encourage consumers to trust their likes and dislikes on color, texture, and coordination. These how-to materials are offered alongside the fabrics at Jo-Ann, and the more enthusiastic shoppers have signed up for decorating classes held in the stores. In some cases Lowell has been on hand, as he barnstorms the nation to promote the new line.

Jo-Ann plans a holiday sweepstakes, the four grand prizes being virtual home makeovers to be completed on Lowell's website.

Jo-Ann, which operates 646 Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts traditional stores and 169 Jo-Ann superstores, currently offers a range of brands in its good-better-best home décor fabrics assortment. In good: Waverly, Better Homes and Gardens, and Nautica are instantly recognizable. In best, there is Platinum from Richloom and a Robert Allen program. The Christopher Lowell program aims at building a strong presence in the better selection. The designer's multimedia expertise — soon to be bolstered with a new syndicated radio show — is likely to provide a constant awareness for the brand, and for Jo-Ann Stores.

On Lowell's side of the partnership, the benefits start with the opportunity to establish a national platform for home décor fabrics. But bedding will likely come next, both partners said. The existing licensed Lowell program at Luxury Linens, a division of Burlington Coat Factory, is “unwinding,” confirmed Dan Levine, principal of Christopher Lowell Enterprises.

Meanwhile his lifestyle footprint continues to expand.

Flex Steel offers his upholstery fabric designs on its furniture, while 3 Day Blinds features his Collection in window treatments including woven woods. Office Depot debuted its Christopher Lowell exclusive in November 2003; it rolls on today with furniture, organization and storage goods, lighting, home décor and desk accessories, plus executive gifts such as travel pillows.

Lowell told HTT he is hungry to “infiltrate” any and all departments at Jo-Ann to “make the store a balance of home décor and crafts.” Wriggle said that accent products under development include “decorative trunks, lighting, and floral.”

Across them all, Lowell said he will keep out all the “scary” patterns and colors, while providing “Room Recipe” mix-and-match ideas and products.

And while the broader home textiles products Lowell has in mind are destined for a wide range of retail distribution, it is clear that Jo-Ann has a special place in his heart.

Lowell and Levine said they are in discussions with a variety of bedding and bath resources, some of which may soon be supplying at least one retailer they have never before considered part of their business model.

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