Upscale Department Stores Tiptoe in Textiles

Nordstrom showsNordstrom shows bedding from its house brand, At Home Nordstrom.
NEW YORK - The affluent consumer has a variety of department store locations to choose from when she needs to pick up another pair of shoes or slacks, but when it comes to upscale bedding or other high-end home textiles, it is a different story.
     While retailers Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale's, Saks and Lord & Taylor appear to target roughly the same type of apparel shopper, when it comes to brick-andmortar stores, the home textile category is largely being ceded to Bloomingdale's.
     Bloomingdale's, a division of Macy's Inc., operates 41 Bloomingdale's department stores with 32 carrying an array of home furnishings deeper and broader than its competitors, and that's by design. Joe Laneve, gmm and svp of home furnishings, sees Bloomingdale's home department as setting it apart from the pack.
     The retailer makes a deep investment in selling home textiles in its stores, and Laneve says the bet pays off, generating high revenue.
     That approach appears to be Bloomingdale's alone, for now.
     Lord & Taylor opened a new home furnishings showcase last fall in its flagship location on Fifth Avenue and is preparing to test the cept in a freestanding format (see sidebar).
     The next greatest selection of home textiles belongs to Nordstrom, which carries a tightly edited assortment of bedding, bath textiles and dec pillows in the home departments at 116 of its 215 total stores, by HTT estimate. Neiman Marcus has 41 stores, but it is not clear how many have home departments, which offer a very limited selection of textiles, mostly decorative pillows, linen napkins and placemats. And Saks labels its home furnishings assortment as a gift department; the retailer says it does not present home textiles. (Nordstrom declined to comment for this article; Neiman Marcus did not respond to requests for comment).
     While HTT focused on a comparison of home textiles at high-end brick and mortar department stores as part of a continuing a series called "Face to Face," comparing similar merchandising classifications at pairs of competing retailers, it bears mention that the Neiman Marcus catalog and website offers a vastly different shopping home experience from its branch locations. The website offers a deep selection of home textiles - in solid colored-sheets, for example, there are 18 collections from brands like Sferra, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Diane Von Furstenberg and more. But bedding, let alone that depth and breadth of selection, is nowhere evident in store locations. sells home textiles in a broad assortment on line, with for example, at least 11 bedding collections from brands Sferra and Matouk.'s home textile assortment appears to be only slightly broader than that in stores. While online, sheets are limited to three pale solid colors in 300 and 500 thread count, there is a more numerous selection of other items, like throw pillows.
     Kristina Westura, a director and an analyst at Telsey Advisory Group who covers department stores, said it's all about knowing what works and for most retailers, it's all about fashion, which has a higher margin than home.
     "They're not trying to meet all needs," Westura said. She cited a Macy's executive, who called home "inventory
Textiles at NeimanTextiles at Neiman Marcus stores are largely limited to dec pillows.
intensive." For that reason, she said, it makes sense for retailers like Neiman Marcus to offer home textiles online rather than in stores, as today's high-end consumer is comfortable buying sheets and other bedding from the Internet.
     "You have to be committed to be in the home business," said Laneve of Bloomingdale's. A bed, for example, has so many components, from the sheets to the pillows to the duvet and so on. "And each sku has its own inventory," he pointed out.
     As a result, for Bloomingdale's, carrying home furnishings in its stores is exactly what sets it apart from its competitors, Laneve said. He said the fact that stores like Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Saks don't carry a large assortment of home furnishings is "an advantage for Bloomingdales."
     He emphasized that sales of home furnishings are a very significant portion of Bloomingdale's revenue, with textiles being one of the most profitable businesses in the store. "It's a very fashion-driven business in terms of color and style in combination with major brand names," Laneve said.
     These are brand names like Diane von Furstenberg and Lauren by Ralph Lauren, which the consumer sees in other parts of the store. Diane von Furstenberg linens, introduced in the spring, have been very successful, according to Laneve.
     Some of these new brands will get new homes when Bloomingdale's flagship unveils its new bedding department at its 59th Street flagship location in September. Space devoted to home furnishings at Bloomingdale's ranges from 18,000 to 65,000 square feet. The new department is the result of a major renovation of 6,000 square feet of selling space on the 7th floor. Updated designer bedding shops will include Ralph Lauren, Hudson Park, Barbara Barry, Vera Wang, Pratesi, Sferra and Frette.
     Unlike Bloomingdale's, Saks does not carry home textiles. According to Sophia Brown, senior manager of public relations and special events, men's & home, "We have gift departments in 20 stores. We have a strong but edited assortment with some select tabletop items included. At this time, we do not plan to carry more tabletop, bedding, linens, or house wares in the future."
     However, at least at the Fifth Avenue flagship store in Manhattan, there is a MacKenzie-Childs store, with a smattering of whimsical textiles, including rugs, throw pillows and napkins, in a room of furniture and a fully-set table.
     The home departments at Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus's brick and mortar stores have a similar gift sensibility, rather than any comprehensive selection. Nordstrom offers more categories than Neiman Marcus, but still a very tightly edited selection.
     "It's the law of dominance," said retail consultant J'Amy Owens, retail consultant and a food retailer herself. "Nordstrom doesn't have enough of the category to be relevant." The retailer, she said, "is not known for home." But, she pointed out, they've had "their toe in for a while with a gift assortment."
     Nordstrom's home department is for impulse buying, not destination shopping, Owens explained, a result likely of the retailer not going in depth or high-end enough for their consumer. So the department probably does not generate enough per square foot as apparel or shoes, Owens said.
     The centerpiece of Nordstrom's bedding collection is its Westin Heavenly Bed, the Westin Hotels' signature bed and bedding collection, which has been sold at Nordstrom since its launch there in 2005. By 2009, an article in USA Today about the Westin bed said that Nordstrom had sold more than $20 million of Heavenly bedding.
     On a visit to the Nordstrom store at The Westchester in White Plains, N.Y, the Westin Heavenly Bed linens are sold open stock and in queen and king sets. There are 500 thread count queen flat sheets with piping for $81.90, on sale from $110. Also available are fitted sheets, euro pillow shams, bed skirts, duvet covers in solid colors ivory, lambs wool, and ballad blue.
     At Home Nordstrom, the house brand of bedding made in Portugal, is white with delicate pin tucks. King duvet covers were $118.90, regularly $178. Also available are shams and tweed dec pillows in colors like celery and ice.
     For consumers seeking organic bedding, there is Holista, 300 thread count sheets in 100% organic cotton percale. Queen sheet sets run $194 and include flat and fitted sheets and a pair of pillow cases in solid colors white, gray and moonbeam.
     For patterned bedding, there are subtle floral-patterns Sea Grass and Night Flower, 500 thread count sheets from Calvin Klein, sold open stock. Queen sheets were $65.90, on sale from $99. Nordstrom also offers Climbing Vine, a house-brand collection of duvet covers and shams.
     In pillows and comforters, Nordstrom's down-filled standard pillows are on sale for $72.90 from $98. Down-filled queen comforters are $245.90, on sale from $328. Micromax, a Down alternative, comes in standard pillows for $49.90, regularly $68; and queen comforters, $147.90, previously $198.
     To warm up, there are also throws in plush and acrylic for $51.90, down from $78, and chunky cable-knit for $51.90, down from $78 and animal-patterned pillows for $146.90, from $198.
     Rounding out the textile assortment are cotton bath rugs in two sizes and 10 solid colors and coordinating towels in four sizes.
     The assortment of textiles at Neiman Marcus at The Westchester is limited to a small assortment of decorative pillows and tabletop textiles like placemats and napkins. In terms of the brands they carry, Nordstorm and Neiman Marcus are very different, Nordstrom is classic luxury from big national brands while Neiman Marcus is upscale bohemian, with artistic but less known (at least to the masses) brands like Anke Dreschsel, Kim Seybert and Andrienne Landau, as well as an assortment of Mackenzie-Childs built around a set table.
     The decorative pillows at Neiman Marcus feature more embellishment, especially embroidery, and prices that are higher than the cost of entire bedding sets at other retailers. For example, decorative pillows with embroidery from Anke Dreschel range from $225 to $385. Furry little Mongolian pillows from Adrienne Landau are priced at $95 for a 9-by-12 to $395 for a 20-by-20. But inventory is limited and the selection is very small.
     "These retailers are being wide-eyed and sober," said Owens. "It's clear they're not going to own the market. In retailing today, if you look at the cost of inventory, it's not a big mystery. These retailers can't afford to do more. All they are doing is nipping around the edges."

Home & Textiles Today Staff | News & Commentary

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