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Carole Sloan, Staff Staff -- Home Textiles Today, June 18, 2001

It's amazing how the American consumer products producers and retailers have been so slow to recognize the buying power of the diverse ethnic populations of this country.

As a country we typically have a one-size-fits-all mentality about consumers.

But as one studies the ever-growing analyses of Census 2000, and the breakouts concerning ethnicity, the impact of the changes in population in this country is nothing short of mind-boggling. And even more amazing is how widespread the diverse population clusters are across the country.

And virtually no one supplying these consumers has targeted marketing or product to them. They basically all are part of the whole, and if the towels and sheets, furniture, fabric, clothing, or whatever isn't exactly right — well, so be it.

Long ago, both JCPenney and Sears had significant merchandising and marketing programs targeted both through their catalogs — and in Penney's case through merchandise assortments in specific stores. To a lesser degree today, each of these majors has a program for specific ethnic groups, but nowhere as broad-based as in the past.

Just recently, WestPoint Stevens began a program that translates its Martex ad campaign into Spanish — almost a radical concept for a mainstream American company.

Now we read that one of Mexico's major retailers, Famsa, is moving into the U.S. market to do just this with its first outpost scheduled to open in the Los Angeles market. Famsa has a broad mix of merchandise from clothing to appliances to furniture, with sales of more than $500 million U.S.

Some years back we saw an influx of Asian furniture suppliers that also were going to become chains of retail furniture stores, especially on the West Coast and in New York.

That effort fizzled for a number of reasons, from lack of financing to pure exploitation.

Of late, a couple of major general merchandise chains have begun the tiny steps of posting in-store signs in Spanish and even running some commercials and ads in Spanish.

But these efforts certainly won't be enough as these segments of the population become more articulate about what they need for their lifestyles.

Everyone dealing with consumers needs to start moving in this direction.

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