A Name for Every Niche

Carole Sloan, September 4, 2006

Home furnishings retailers seem to be accelerating their charge into the world of proprietary names. It seems to be part of the epidemic that has permeated the world of retailing in general, which has seen more and more retailers avoiding brands and names that aren't confined.

The ranks of proprietary “brands” — whether created by actual designers of home furnishings, or one of the myriad celebrities of whatever design imprimatur the retail sponsor attempts to create, have just been increased.

This month we are welcoming the illustrious tennis icon, Andre Agassi, along with his wife Steffi Graf, another former tennis great, to the home furnishings design ranks of Martha Stewart for Kmart and Chris Madden for JCPenney. The couple is launching the Agassi-Graf Home Collection for California-based high-end home furnishings retailer Kreiss. Also announced this month: the upcoming apparel and home collection Very Vera by Vera Wang for Kohl's.

The Agassi-Graf and Vera Wang offerings follow similar proprietary efforts by Rooms to Go with its Cindy Crawford Home Furnishings, Sears with Ty Pennington, and hockey notable Steve Yzerman for Art Van.

These latest moves are in line with other home furnishings retailers' efforts in establishing their domains in the world of self-controlled names, joining among others, Christopher Lowell for Luxury Linens and Nate Berkus for Linens 'n Things.

What this trend means is that the names and brands already in the marketing hopper at the supplier level will have a tougher fight to get floor space and promotional dollars. It also means that the retailers with their own brands or names have the opportunity to enhance price point and margins. But this comes with the negative element of having the sole responsibility for the design, production, distribution and marketing — while the national programs have the promotional marketing muscle of the licensor.

For some suppliers with names that they control, the distribution is a key part of the challenge. To a great many, there are only a handful of key retail players — Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Kohl's, LNT and Bed Bath & Beyond. But there's a vast marketplace of retailers beyond this list, and many have equally strong credit ratings.

One only need look at the Top 50 players on Home Textiles Today's Retail Giants ranking (HTT, July 17, 2006). It would be refreshing to see some more of them in the forefront of the name game.

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