Better Ask Mrs. Jones

Heath E. Combs, Carole Sloan, January 8, 2007

Had an interesting chat recently with Mary Ella Gabler, the dynamic force behind Peacock Alley, and it ranged from product and trends, to what consumers really want and think about product. Her company, which focuses on luxury bed and bath products, now is moving up to super luxury, and in planning ahead, they did a lot of consumer research.

But the eye-opening piece of the conversation – and something that apparently too few retailers and suppliers dig into — is that the "gap-osis" between what the marketplace thinks and what consumers think is far bigger than most anyone realizes.

Those conversations and studies have led to a program that will be launched later this month, heeding the comments from consumers, rather than preconceived notions from industry players.

We talked particularly about home textiles stuff. But I'm sure that the lack of real understanding goes deeply into any consumer product area.

How often we hear the mantra, "So and so retailer can't sell a comforter like this for more than $XX." Our typical rejoinder is, "Did anyone ask Mrs. Jones?" — or is it merely that retailer X or retailer Y has broken price and so now the market price is newly established? Downwards, of course. No one has thought to ask Mrs. Jones if she would pay a buck or so more for added fashion, value, quality.

Now it seems this pre-guessing Mrs. Jones syndrome is happening even before the stuff gets into the store. Heard the other day about a soon-to-happen MAJOR LAUNCH by a MAJOR RETAILER that purports to foster "affordable luxury" in its mix. A particular product has been developed at significantly lesser than "affordable luxury" price points and with all of the "bennies" that this company has to build into pricing a product, its quality level would be that of a mass merchandiser, at best.

Market week is just around the corner — yes, they seem to happen quicker and quicker as time goes by. This might just be the time to step back and talk about quality, fashion, value — and what the consumer really wants and will pay for. Of course, to find this out it will cost a dollar or so. But the return on this investment could well be the long range health of the industry.

We didn't have folks knocking one another out at holiday to buy a $400 plus PlayStation 3 in this industry. As a matter of fact, few bed ensembles even hit that price point.

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