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Decorative fabric firms eye 2000 sales levels

New York — Despite an economy that elicits lingering doubts about its strength, decorative fabrics producers are feeling an uptick in business across all channels of distribution.

But there still are problems or challenges, many acknowledge, including a reluctance to bulk up on inventories, to put big money behind new yarn developments or to extend commitments in greige goods and printing orders.

And the challenge for the fabric suppliers is to meet and exceed the sales levels of 2000, considering that 2001 was a wipe-out year, most said.

Business has improved in almost every distribution channel for decorative fabrics, suppliers reported. But the challenge in the jobber channel is in new placement vs. repeat orders, a number of suppliers said.

"We're seeing overall business very good, and there's the normal May/ June slowdown. But it's still strong, not an unusual occurrence," said Larry Liebenow, president of Quaker Fabric. "We're tracking very nicely over 2001."

Jack Eger, vp, Craftex, said, "Business from January til three weeks ago was really solid; then every week has been up and down. Until that point we were up from 2001 and near our level of 2000."

"Our biggest strength has been in jobber placements, but we need repeat business," Eger said. The High Point furniture market produced good results, jobbers were strong. And in bedding, both new placements and repeat business were strong.

At Sunbury, "while the different markets remain difficult, we are ahead," said Rocco Simone, senior vp.

"But most of it is due to our move into casual and contract with our Crypton and Sunbrella lines. It's created the plus for the year."

At Barrow Inds., "business is good. Home textiles still has some price pressure, but most of our customers are fairly optimistic. Furniture is fairly good, and retail is good," said Mike Rice, executive vp.

At Costa Blanca, "it's not boom times, but not bad," said Jack Korngold, vp. "Retail is pretty strong; home textiles is doing pretty well. And we're finalizing April market programs, and furniture has had a surprising recovery."

Acknowledging that it's still a tough year, Ray King, president of Mastercraft, added, "Business is a lot better than last year. We're working with a new approach to packaging product and with key retailers. Top-of-bed has skyrocketed, but it's a new business, so small in the total. And jobbers have continued to be a good business."

"We got things together and as a result business is up fairly well over 2001," said Mike Shelton, president of Valdese. "Home textiles is our best channel in terms of improvement in product and sales. Jobbers are not as good as I really want it to be, and furniture is the best improvement we've had."

Shelton said, "I'm extremely upbeat, even though the summer will not improve till August or September."

At Richloom, the first quarter was rated "reasonable to very strong" by Jim Richman, president. Among the distribution channels, "contract was a little weak, but everything else was okay."

At Chris Stone, "business has been very good — probably up 25 percent to 30 percent over last year, which now would bring us to 2000 levels," said Mark Aizawa, president.

The company, he added, "has had good results in higher-end price points, especially with our silk collection. Retail has improved, and jobbers are up." Substantial increases are in motor homes and furniture, primarily in solids. But also prints are coming back.

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