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An Ever-Changing Industry

This is a home textiles market week unlike almost any other I can remember in the years I have been covering this business.

We've got corporate rearrangements and ownerships — not restructurings because that term typically is used in bankruptcy or other dire financial situations; on-going changes in the globalization landscape, which as this issue goes to press could well change even more; and the compulsion of retailers to have their own “label” as a defense against competition. Or could the latter be a defense against its own inadequacies?

Taking the latter point first, in talking with retailers prior to this week's market, one of the main topics was the perceived need to “do it themselves” in terms of sourcing — going direct without using suppliers on these shores that might have more efficiencies because of experience, size of total operations in a specific product and dedication to maintenance of quality standards.

We're beginning to hear horror stories about merchandise backups ordered direct that for one reason or another are still hanging around like a bad smell. It's part of the syndrome oft asked in this space — “Who eats it?”

Looking at the business arrangements, it's becoming increasing difficult to identify which company is American-based and owned, which is based here and owned elsewhere and which might just be like the passing of vermouth cork over a martini — just the essence.

It seems that almost every week there is a partnership of some questionable nature forged between a veteran U.S. home textiles company and a company offshore seeking U.S. expertise at whatever level. How these arrangements will pan out over the first year or so will be interesting to watch. Some already failed in a way reminiscent of the boom in Italian furniture in the '80s, where each partner pledged undying love and devotion, but one couldn't deliver the orders; the other couldn't deliver the goods.

As for the “private” labels, the surge at retail almost is an epidemic. Just in the weeks leading up to market, there were a plethora of labels being attached to specific retailers. How they will market them, perpetuate them and nurture them over a reasonable timeframe are questions that neither they nor the licensors are able to answer.

Many retailers appear to be looking at their counterparts in apparel. But what they have failed to note is that many competitive retailers share the same brands or labels, but with exclusive designs. They all share the benefits of a broad-based marketing thrust. Maybe this week is the time to rethink the “exclusive approach.”

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