Spanish suppliers eye U.S.

Don Hogsett, Staff Staff, January 29, 2001

VALENCIA, SPAIN -After decades of looking inward, content to sell their textiles at home or to European neighbors, Spanish home textiles producers are preparing to aggressively market their products in America, kicking off their campaign with a dramatic presence at the New York Home Textiles Show at the Javits Center in April.

"We want to make a big noise, to let people know we are coming, to show them all that we can do," Jose Manuel Revert, one of Spain's leading producers and a driving force behind the new Spanish textiles coalition, told Home Textiles Today during this month's 32nd edition of the Textil Hogar trade show here.

With upwards of 15 major producers showing their wares, the Spanish textiles producers, with government financial support, are clearly determined to duplicate the highly successful marketing campaigns that helped to launch Spanish sherries, wines, brandies, olives and olive oils into the American marketplace.

And very much to the point, they said, they're working hard to develop a thoughtful, deliberate strategy, a comprehensive long-term vision that can encompass partnerships with American manufacturers and marketers, provide for U.S. warehousing and distribution, and offer the vital electronics systems that link suppliers with their retail customers.

Said Revert: "We know that some people have gone to America with the idea that all they have to do is go there and people will buy their products. This is not our attitude, and we will not make this mistake. We are preparing very carefully, studying the marketplace and preparing a long-term presence; 18 months ago we hired Kurt Salmon Associates to do a study of the marketplace. We know it will not be easy, but we are prepared to be patient and to spend whatever money is necessary to develop the market for our products."

And the market is clearly there, he thinks. "We are realistic. We know it is a small market for us. But it is there; we are sure of that."

Do Spanish producers want to go it alone or to form American partnerships? "We are open to discuss any possibility. We aren't in a hurry. We will do everything step by step. We have agreed to do this for four or five years, to go there for the long term."

Miguel Gil, export manager for Atrium-Induter USA, which generates more than $15 million in U.S. sales, largely through its relationship with Davidson Cotton, said partnerships are vital to the Spanish effort. "This is our general strategy, to work with partners and to use their experience. We try to be considered a local company with local warehousing and local contacts. And to do that we need an alliance, to share the costs, to use their expertise. We need to be connected with a good local organization. That is the key, to be local. With a local organization, you can deliver, you can visit people every month."

Dealing with the larger American market is in many ways easier than coping with a more fragmented European customer base, Gil pointed out. "The sizes, the styles are different for Poland, for Sweden, for France, for England. In America, you have a more uniform market, with some regional differences. It's much simpler."

A steep part of the learning curve, said Gil, has to do with margins. "Here we have very big margins; in America you have very tight margins. So you have to learn to trade in the margin for the volume. But even that size is a problem, The volume is so big that any mistake has huge consequences."

Ana Rios, managing director of Aznar, which produces the widely known Bon Drap brand, said, "The time is right to go to America. The Spanish industry has invested a lot in technology and design in the last five years, and we are getting more aggressive about marketing our products abroad. We now have the confidence, the capability, the capacity and the capital. Now we are making markets, not just selling products."

What differentiates Spanish textiles? "We are selling more the high end, more the design, less the commodity products. Portugal, for example, sells a commodity product. Our competition for the high end is Italy and our quality is almost as good as theirs, but our prices are very much lower," said Rios.

Like Atrium's Gil, Rios thinks, "You must have an American presence. We are now preparing people to go there and to stay there. In a maximum of two years we will have a big presence there." And in the meantime, she said, she's looking to build U.S. partnerships. "We want to share their expertise and knowledge. We do this now in Latin America and Asia."

Deliveries are a critical issue, agreed Rafael Pascual, sales director of Interfabric, which already sells its fabrics into the U.S. furniture market. "We all agree that deliveries are crucial. And we have to tell the American market that we are here to stay. This is not an opportunistic thing, this is a very real commitment.

Alberto Espina, export director for diversified producer Tejidos Reina, said he's making the trip in April "to find out how I should start, with which product I want to take it step by step, to make no mistakes. Eventually I would have a special collection, special designs for America."

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