New York Exhibitors Fight Cautious Mood

Carole Sloan, August 11, 2008

Home textiles exhibitors at the New York International Gift Show and Home Textiles Market here this week are putting a positive face on prospects despite the macro- and industry-wide economic conditions. For some suppliers who have come off of one or more of the recent round of regional markets, business at those events has been mixed. As a result, many are reluctant to predict the outcome of this week's activity.

For Keith Sorgeloos, ceo of Home Source, "We find it difficult to get customers to move from Javits and the Piers, even with the free transportation. We have some appointments here at 230 Fifth — and we're rethinking our strategy."

Sorgeloos added, "To have a space at Javits is pretty high." He commented that while the company did well in Dallas and Atlanta, traffic was down. In Las Vegas, the company had a large space in a big new One Coast rep showroom "and our traffic was very strong, but the traffic in Building C was not as strong overall."

And comparing that market's 2007 results with this summer, he said, "While we were up some 20% to 25% in dollars, we thought we would do even better; we were slightly disappointed."

"We have not been suffering, but we're also not on top of the world — I don't have negative feelings," is the way Ann Gish, head of her namesake bedding company expressed it. And creatively, she added, "I'm on top." For this market, she is featuring six beds — four are pairs, one lower price, one higher priced; one casual, one fancy. "It will be interesting to see which ones win."

For Chris Bradley, president and ceo of Cuddledown, "I expect this market to be the equivalent of February. But I don't know; the wholesale business has been a little quieter this year."

Bradley noted, "We have had strong growth in the last three years; we are focused on branding both to consumers and retailers — not private label."

"I know a lot of people are coming, and they need merchandise — but I'm expecting orders to be small," explained John Rose, president of Textillery Weavers. While business is "fine, we're not setting any records, and hospitality is keeping us steadily busy." Las Vegas, he said, "was just OK. We were in a back corner and had no one across from us. We opened a few new accounts, had a few customers who wanted us to be there, who wrote orders, but it's definitely not a high-end market."

"While people are making appointments for New York, they are also super-cautious," said Cathy Stemmler, national sales manager of SDH. She sees trunk shows as being a new sales technique, "but not a universal one."

At Las Vegas, Stemmler said, "We were really happy, the showroom was gorgeous. We wrote tons of business, both new customers and existing ones across the country; even the Midwest showed up. Vegas was stronger than Atlanta."

Walter Chapin, president and ceo of Company C, said, "We're geared up for New York and High Point. We anticipate lots of designers and fewer home furnishings accounts as well as some catalogs and more gift and accessories people. We write more bedding business than rugs in New York."

He said, "The mood is more cautious. In Vegas, I sensed more 'thinking' than buying. Vegas was definitely a little disappointing, but we continue to make inroads in the western states."

"We're hoping it will be gangbusters, but we have no idea," said Pamela Kline, principal of Traditions by Pamela Kline. "We know a lot of people are going, and that's a good sign." Business is "just slightly up" at Traditions, she said. "The way business is done is changing. We have to find another way to reach retailers whether it is with swatches, the internet or whatever, with all the escalating expenses."

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