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Jennifer Marks, Staff Staff -- Home Textiles Today, October 28, 2002

This publication did something new during the recent market. We asked a group of overseas manufacturers to participate in a closed-door panel discussion about issues related to global sourcing and the U.S. market — as they see it from their hemisphere.

Much of what they had to say flew in the face of what is considered conventional wisdom on this shore. [Note: An edited version of the panel discussion will appear in HTT in November.]

For example, most folks here are justifiably worried that overseas suppliers are itching to shove U.S. suppliers aside and deal with their retailers directly. The majority of our panelists said their companies have no interest in such a template. For one thing, they view U.S. retailers as disloyal, prone to cherry-picking single items from overseas manufacturers, interested only in the deal of the moment and ready to jettison the relationship as soon as the order has shipped.

More significant from a strategic standpoint, most of the panelists also said that manufacturers in their countries cannot afford to invest in the technology and distribution infrastructure that would make them capable of fulfilling the role played by U.S. suppliers.

Instead, most said they are looking to forge long-term alliances with established U.S. players. Their ideal scenario marries what they see as the best of what they have to offer — product development, construction technique and relatively inexpensive labor —with what they see as U.S. supplier strengths: marketing know-how, world-class distribution systems and established retail relationships.

And it was in this discussion that perhaps the most surprising counterpoint to what is considered conventional wisdom in the United States emerged. They believe in the enduring value of U.S. mills. Certainly, they don't believe that it is logical for mills here to maintain the levels of capacity currently available, but it was clear that many of them see mills as the holy grail among potential U.S. partners.

Further, while it is all but a foregone conclusion on this continent that there is no longer any such thing as a home textiles brand, most of our overseas panelists cited brand strength as the linchpin of the U.S. supplier community's attractiveness. They acknowledge the growth of private label, but at the same time, they believe that U.S. companies are best equipped to interpret and market private label programs. They also feel, however, that their mills are best suited to produce the product that feeds the pipeline.

That said, they were critical of the mills' cumbersome decision-making process, noting that while mills are often the first to be offered innovative product, they are often the last to embrace it. And at the end of the two-hour session, they said they wanted to come back and do a panel discussion again in the future — but they want representatives from U.S. mills to take part in the exchange as well.

Intriguing, no?

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