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Ferment in Formats

Carole Sloan, Staff Staff -- Home Textiles Today, July 14, 2008

Despite its size and international allure, New York has long been considered by many in the home textiles world as under-served in terms of the diverse range of retailing opportunities that a city of its size and prestige would seem to offer.

Well, several events in recent months are beginning to change all that. And it seems especially relevant with this issue that features the annual Home Textiles Today Top 50 home textiles retailers.

New York, as one of the largest markets, can readily be viewed as part of the challenge because of a lack of diversity in retail offerings — from fashion direction to price points.

Just last month, IKEA finally came to the city with a major unit across the East River on the edge of Brooklyn. From the crowds that gathered for the opening, it seems that the company's promo message was heard far and wide.

Granted, the awesome IKEA promotional machine was hard at work for weeks — nay, months — before the big launch. But nonetheless, pulling several thousand customers into the store in the first couple of hours was a testimonial to what can happen if you want to make it happen.

The array of home textiles made most department stores' headquarters units and discounters look like child's play in terms of emphasis, assortment and breadth of product.

A week or so later, Ethan Allen launched its prototype Design Center — a concept that had been germinating elsewhere in development, and now ready to burst forth on a national platform with a site just across from Bloomingdale's mid-Manhattan flagship.

Granted, the upper-mid-scale retailer closed two stores in Manhattan to coincide with this design center's opening, and last year shuttered another — but management anticipates this new concept will set it apart from the pack.

And in the prototype, Ethan Allen was not bashful about touting its home textiles capabilities. Beds galore were bedecked in sumptuous fashion bedding, and each was priced and presented for easy understanding by consumers walking through on their own.

Design help is featured at the Design Center and accessible for custom window treatments and bedding — a hint to more conventional nearby retailers whose furniture floors show exotic bedding but no specific product/price info.

Though at first blush it might appear to be a response to all the newcomers, Bloomingdale's redo of its major fifth floor furniture department at its 59th Street flagship is part of a top to bottom redo of the entire store — and fashion bedding is an important element on the department's broad range of beds.

At the same time, the Bloomie's home textiles area is becoming more and more a fashion/quality/luxury floor, moving away from mainstream market labels.

Each of the newbies in Manhattan merchandising will impact the existing retailing community. With new blood, and new formats, and new approaches to retailing, New York may emerge as a leader once again.

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