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  • Andrea Lillo

Retailers: textiles could have happy holidays

New York — Ready or not, the holiday season has begun, and retailers hope that the widespread belief that people will concentrate on the home this season will ring true.

With indicators pointing to a cozy, comforting Christmas, home textiles may have an inherent advantage to become the gift of choice, as well as an affordable, quick way to decorate the home, probably more so this year. Throws, kitchen textiles and decorative pillows are among the top choices cited by retailers as drivers for the season.

When Macy's East, New York, was planning the 2001 season a year ago, it felt that it was going to be a "warm and fuzzy" type of Christmas, said Joe Denofrio, senior vp, fashion director. Recent events have only reinforced that belief.

"Soft home will be more important to the total home mix than it has in the past three or four years," Denofrio said.

Bette Kahn, spokesperson, Crate & Barrel, Northbrook, IL, agreed. "Things that are soft and fluffy, like pillows and throws, will do well this year, as people are looking for comfortable things during these times. They're cocooning at home." Crate & Barrel's seasonal pillows, throws and table linens always perform well, she said.

Customers will be searching for simple and inexpensive ways to redecorate their homes, as well as easy gift items, Denofrio said. It won't be as glitzy as in the past, when the emphasis was on entertaining and hostess gifts such as barware and champagne flutes, he said. Instead, customers may purchase four embellished towels for themselves or friends, Denofrio said. "We are now seeing a traditional shift."

He added, "The soft home world is usually overshadowed by bedding," but this year will see the "exclamation of the classification."

Macy's East has seasonal offerings for the bath area, including embellished towels, rugs and accessories, as well as an increased concentration on holiday kitchen, including hand towels, aprons and table linens. In past years, there was a limited assortment of kitchen textiles, but now there is "a real push this year," he added. Parent company Federated has announced its Spirit of America patriotic-oriented holiday collection in almost all classifications, including quilts and tapestry throws.

Business for seasonal textiles usually peaks before Thanksgiving, Denofrio said, but this year he believes that window will be extended. "All quick pick-up items at affordable price points for gifts or decoration — I think that's what people will latch onto this year," he said.

Kmart, Troy, MI, is another retailer counting on this season to be a jolly one. The holiday season has always performed well for the discounter, and this year will see the expansion of several categories, such as plush pillows, fleece and an applique program in the kitchen textiles area. In addition, last year's Peace, Love and Joy corporate program will continue this year, as well as a mixture of Martha Stewart Everyday fleece throws and flannel sheets. Overall, Kmart expects a seasonal pickup from basic bedding, such as blankets and throws, juvenile bedding and promotional categories. In the store sets, a large portion of the soft home holiday program will be positioned on endcap displays.

ShopKo, Green Bay, WI, is already running ahead of last year on a comp store basis for the season, said Doug Wurl, vp, dmm. Cold-weather products such as down comforters — a new thrust category this year — throws, electric blankets and mattress pads have been the key drivers, he said. Christmas motif products were another thrust category for the fourth quarter and is off to a strong start, he said, with kitchen textiles, table linens, throws and decorative pillows driving sales. A key initiative for this year was to execute a major gift-giving strategy in the mall aisle, as well as a front-end Christmas shop for seasonal and other home products, along with a major visual collateral and advertising effort.

ShopKo's fashion bedding business has maintained double-digit percent increases for the season, Wurl added, and he expects that trend to continue through November and December due to its focus on private-branded and basic business, under the Willow Bay label, and the cold-weather flannel business.

IKEA USA, Plymouth Meeting, PA, is taking two approaches to Christmas looks this season; one, Julfrid, will be warm and fuzzy, while the other, Julnytt, is the extreme opposite, with metallics and bright looks. Julfrid focuses on a folksy Scandinavian feel that uses traditional motifs and the strong Scandinavian handcraft background, while Julnytt is a very tactile, metallic modern theme, including the use of a snowflake abstract on bed linens. Though these holiday looks were touched on in the past, this year it is more pronounced, said Janice Simonson, product and design director, IKEA USA.

Though the amount of products in each category is relatively unchanged, Simonson did say that throw pillows have increased this year. Holiday duvets and fabrics, however, declined this year to two and none, respectively.

"Our items are quirky and unique," she said, which is why consumers turn to IKEA. "You're not going to see it everywhere else."

Eddie Bauer Home, Redmond, WA, has been happy with its sales in the soft home area so far, though it has been "pretty erratic," said Harvey Kanter, vp and managing director, home, with comp sales swaying from a negative 6.0 percent to a positive 45 percent.

Though the business overall has been soft, Kanter said, "the winners are still the winners," including some novelty patterns in flannel sheets. Down and flannel also went through a minor shift earlier, he said, with surprisingly soft down sales, which picked up inexplicably in mid-October. In the stores, window graphics tout textiles when appropriate, and "roomscapes," areas in which coordinating bath or bedding products are pulled together in one look, have been emphasized more this year than in the past, he said.

"Customers are responding to the total theme," he said, which includes big-ticket furniture items.

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