What's in a name?

Carole Sloan, Staff Staff, February 16, 2004

That could well be the theme of the home textiles world in the coming months, both at retail and on the supplier side.

The name game has become sort of a square dance. Grab your partner and do-si-do.

However, in this wonderful era of home textiles, the word "partner" is mostly misapplied.

Just last week, JCPenney previewed its latest name incarnation — Chris Madden — who at least has a track record in the world of home furnishings and an awareness by a growing number of consumers. But at Penney, she will be competing with another decorating diva in the wedding-planning environment.

Then we have the recent liaison of Nicole Miller, the quirky, fashionista, who has made a full-scale alliance with Bed Bath & Beyond, moving more than a step beyond the scope of the retailer's Nautica program. Whether Nicole or Nautica has a strong pull with mainstream America for bed and bath will be as much a matter of marketing as product.

Then we have Linens 'n Things with its Liz Claiborne nameplate. Liz, of course, is a high-profile apparel brand and, via a number of extensions to launch this year, could well make the transition to the home world notable. Remember, Liz was once with us in home textiles before. This time around it sounds like the 800-pound Liz marketing gorilla will propel the home stuff high profile.

Quietly, and with little market fanfare, the Saks Department Store group seems to have caught the name game right with its Jane Seymour collection, initially for bed, bath and table. That the actress is a willing accessory or partner to the marketing obviously was a major element in its launch last year. Her continued involvement should continue the momentum. And in the odd world of home furnishings, keep in mind that her collection spurred consumers to demand the furniture that was merely used as props.

There's a whole bunch more names — not even including the "designers" like Ralph, Donna, Calvin, Tommy — who may or may not make the cut. Both their sponsors and they at the supplier or retail level must realize that it's a lot more than a name.

Marketing on a consistent basis is critical if these name game programs are to succeed. Otherwise, they will become just another comforter or towel in an ever more homogenized business.

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