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Consider the Source

Listening to the many executive presentations at last week's JCPenney annual analysts meeting, one of the key messages that came forth was the growing sophistication, and streamlining — for efficiency and competitive advantage — of its sourcing operation.

While the company is very focused on direct imports, perhaps more so than some of its major competitors, it has narrowed the field geographically. It's looking at doing business in 11 or 12 countries vs. some 60 that it has used in the past.

And as a company that is product-driven by fabrics, whether for apparel or the home, it has reduced the number of fabric mills used from 800 to 150 to enable it to pre-position greige goods needs and purchases.

Even more important, it has squeezed days and weeks out of the concept-to-store cycle, cutting the calendar for all private brands by a minimum of 41 days.

One of the interesting things about the JCPenney scenario is that while it views China as the long-term linchpin in manufacturing, it already has established a diversified sourcing network where manufacturing could quickly move from one country to another as the need required.

The sense emerging in the home textiles world is that although some of JCP's key competitors — namely those folks in Bentonville and Minneapolis especially — are intensifying their efforts in direct imports corporately, some of the home textiles campaigns to "do it all" may be tempered by some of the realities of merchandising and competition.

We're beginning to hear that some of these programs are coming back to more conventional suppliers that are based off-shore but provide other elements needed in the merchandising and marketing of home textiles products.

Over the last year or two, it appears that Penney has been more intensely dedicated to internal product development for home, as some of the others may be moving a bit back, but not retreating.

In home textiles especially, where there is a redundancy because everyone seems to want to do what the other guy is doing, total concentration on self-created product could be a danger signal.

Perhaps it's time to step back and remember who brought them to the dance.

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