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Heimtex: U.S. vendors see value

Frankfurt, Germany — Last week's Heimtextil international home textiles fair may not have turned up any revolutionary new product ideas, but U.S. attendees nonetheless said they found value in being there.

Although traffic in the aisles was universally acknowledged as being lighter than usual, a number of U.S.-based suppliers sent representatives to walk the show, including CHF, Springs Industries, WestPoint Stevens, Revman Industries, Veratex and Guilford Home Fashions.

Retailers from the United States that sent buying teams or representatives from their foreign buying offices numbered in the mid-40s and included, among others, JCPenney, Target, Federated Department Stores, Linens 'N Things, Bed Bath & Beyond, Kmart, Eddie Bauer Home, Linen Source, Hanover Direct and Pottery Barn.

"Overall, the mood and the outlook depended upon the individual retailer," said George Destole, vp of operations for Sleep Innovations, West Long Branch, NJ. Sleep Innovations had two representatives at the show working from the booth operated by Italian textiles producer Basseti, whose branded bedding Sleep Innovations markets to the United States.

Destole saw retailers looking for alternatives to their current product mix, "but at the right price."

Not surprisingly, sourcing was a big topic at the international show, and multi-national exhibitors with U.S. offices reported a good turnout.

For Gappa Textiles, Roswell, GA, the show provided a forum for introducing itself to the marketplace. Gappa, which incorporated in the United States just three months ago, is a division of Istanbul, Turkey-based Gap Pazarlama A.S., a business conglomerate that manufactures home textiles, designer denim and name brand men's underwear for the United States from its factory base in Turkmenistan.

"You can never plan the right time to introduce something new. Based on events going on around the world, the timing was bad. But the reception from U.S. retailers has been very open," said Scott White, coo, Gappa Textiles.

In the quest to distinguish themselves, retailers are seeking out international sources as a way of finding differentiated product, according to Keith Sorgeloos, president, Atlanta-based Home Source International, which sources and develops product from a variety of countries for sale to U.S. manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers.

But while U.S. companies are keen on locating new sources, they are forging agreements carefully, he added.

"People are picking their spots," Sorgeloos said. "They are more discerning about who they're talking to and what they're talking about."

That sentiment was echoed by Indian towel producer Welspun, which maintains U.S. offices in New York.

"Now we see retailers looking into the entire [manufacturing] process and development for new products," said K.K. Lalpuria, president.

Foreign manufacturers are working to quickly adapt. Jeff Hollander, president and coo of Hollander Home Fashions, noted that, although he saw no innovative product coming from Asian vendors at this year's show, "the presentations from Pakistan and India in particular are much improved. They have taken a step forward in catching up to the market."

Boca Raton, FL-based Hollander's German division was an exhibitor at the show, and company chairman Leo Hollander said business from European and Asian retailers was strong.

That was also the case for Hudson Industries, Richmond, VA, which exhibits primarily to expand its export business.

"I think we're seeing a great deal more optimism than we anticipated from the world market, mostly coming off of the conservatism of 2001 and a feeling that political events have stabilized," said Lonnie Scheps, vp, sales and marketing.

On the design front, no breakout trends emerged, according to U.S. designers shopping the show. For many, it primarily confirmed directions that they already knew to be taking place.

"I still see a lot of color, but it's knocked down a little bit," said Diane Piemonte, vp of creative services, Revman Industries.

The decision not to reach for jarring change was a deliberate one for Zorlu, said design director Lenore Ritter, who operates out of Zorlu's U.S. sales and marketing office in New York. The Istanbul, Turkey-based manufacturing conglomerate produces window treatments and bedding for the United States.

"We're staying in the comfort zone," she said, "both in design and price."

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