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Fashion Bedding Feeling Price Sensitivity in Slowly Improving Market

Jill Rowen, Staff Staff -- Home Textiles Today, December 7, 2009

The fashion bedding sector is cautiously optimistic for 2010. But the buzz word — no surprise — is value. Consumers are spending on colorful bedding and comforter sets that hit the right price points, but not necessarily investing in the highest end goods. With added pressure from rising commodity prices, the progress is slow. Also in shorter supply are the everything-but-the kitchen-sink ensembles. The numbers of pieces in a set are decreasing to a more sensible standard with renewed interest in traditional comforter sets.

"We anticipate the first quarter being somewhat difficult at retail, followed by improvement particularly in the back half of the year," said Joe Granger, president, Springs Branded Business. "I think we all hope for the beginning of some normalization in the back half, due in large part to growing consumer confidence."

Mesh Gelman, vp, Extreme Linens, concedes that price sensitivity is an issue across the board. "Everyone is looking for a bargain in their own relative space," he noted. "You're not necessarily going to see $99 bedding in Neiman Marcus, but that customer is paying as much attention to price these days as is a Walmart customer." Gelman says the fashion side of the business will make slow progress until the overall job situation improves.

"The white good area is steadier than the fashion side," noted Arthur Henderson, vp, sales, Zheng Zhang. "Though business is picking up slightly, replacement bedding is not the first thing on people's minds these days." Henderson said the company has seen improvement in its comforter business as it continues to expand beyond quilts, but admits that retailers are playing it close to the vest with smaller orders and already established vendors.

"In terms of the number of pieces in an ensemble, different retailers want different numbers," said Kathleen Conway, vp, director of design for bedding, Sun-Tech. "Sun-Tech concentrates on 4-, 7- and 8-piece sets for the better/best segment of a retailer's assortment." That could be a 7-piece set at $99 in one place or a 4-piece set for $179.

Kevin Finlay, president, Ellison 1st Asia, agrees. "The configurations can vary from a standard comforter set to a 20-piece set, but the bottom line is that everyone is looking for value in the right configuration," he said. "2010 is going to continue to be a very value-oriented year."

According to Amy Bell, evp, Home Fashion International, 8- to 12- piece sets are among the best sellers. "Business is definitely improving, but the market is extremely price-sensitive and challenging," said Bell. "Our meetings all start I love this, but this is the price it needs to be...', and we work backwards." Bell notes that the "magic numbers" seem to be $99.99 for an 8-piece set, moving up to $129 and $149, depending on the specific retailer.

Frank Snow, vp merchandising and operations, Royale Linens, noted that the bed-in-a-bag business is still good, but consumers aren't investing in higher-end goods. "It remains a very promotional market," he said, pointing to rising commodity prices, cotton from Pakistan and India, for instance, as a growing market issue.

Keith Leal, vp sales marketing, Venus Group, echoed the value' sentiment. "It's not about the price as much as consumers seeing value in the bedding offering," he said. Venus Group focuses on 7- and 8-piece bedding sets, and hasn't participated in the larger packaging. Inside the packaging, Leal noted that multiple fabrications in bedding ensembles and new and different embellishments in expanded applications are giving the company's bedding sets some push.

"I would only say that I hope we are [moving away from mega-piece packs]. I'm waiting for the mega set that includes the house as well," said Granger of Springs. "In our brands, we are focusing on no more than mini sets with shams only, or sets including bedskirts as appropriate. I don't believe the mega sets are a good thing for our industry in the long term. Today's consumer is smarter than that. They know, especially in the case of mega sets, that more really isn't more. They're looking for more honest value in the brands they adopt."

Price sensitivity and configurations aside, each vendor reports a distinct trend story is taking place — a move that Granger says is essential to growth in the business. "There are a number of trends we feel are important, but the biggest opportunity we see is the return of the classics: a more traditional aesthetic on a broad scale," he said. "I would say the biggest challenge with traditional product for the home, over the last 10 years or so, is that it hasn't really moved aesthetically or innovatively, while the consumer's lives have changed dramatically. In order to successfully capture the opportunity, we need to bring a traditional design aesthetic that is more relevant to our consumers. You will start to see that evolution appear in our brands in 2010."

Coway said Sunway is taking a clean, modern approach to developing Sun-Tech bedding, using a lot of cotton and other natural fibers, including Tencel, bamboo and cotton. "We're really focusing on a soft and supple hand on fabrics," she declared. "We're doing a range of brights for the new line with happy colors of yellow, oranges and pinks. We're also doing a muted range of colors, with dusk blue, washed greens, oxidized greens, and yellow as an accent, as well as neutrals of sands, bisques and ivory."

At Royal Linens, Snow revealed the traditional geometric patterns are doing well, echoing a cleaner, more modern look in the bedding marketplace.

Anderson at Zheng Zhang pointed to an interest in safer prints and solids doing better, as well as an uptick in all shade of purple.

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