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A Long, Strange Trip

There's a strange but interesting happening this week in Frankfurt, Germany.

There will be bunch of Americans in attendance at Heimtextil. But there is one humongous difference: this year the Americans are buyers; very few are sellers.

There will be an abundance of supplier types — no longer to be called manufacturers — seeking to enhance their positions with existing producers and stealthily seeking out enhancements or replacements for those they already are doing business with.

Sound familiar? Sound very much like a typical big-time retailer? Of course!

As suppliers in all those emerging countries proliferate, as existing ones that have been primarily in the yarn spinning or apparel weaving business add equipment for home stuff as well as sewing machines, the availability and competition will become even more intense.

Even now, we are hearing fact — not legend — about the dramatic drop in minimums.

It's happening not just in decorative fabrics where the minimums had been in the thousands of yards per color. They dropped down to the high hundreds, and this week, smart money would bet on minimums in the hundreds of yards — thereby opening up this business to a whole new audience of American customers.

Then there is the almost radical change in the manufactured product segment of the home textiles world. Again, minimums are dropping but even more important is the attitude of the supplier base.

As one high-powered retailer recounted last week, “We don't have to go there as much; they are here more often, if not on a full-time basis.” Admitting that having their presence here obviously adds cost, he noted it costs his company to send X number of people regularly from here as well as maintaining a full staff off-shore.

And while minimums, and who-goes-where, and when, are merely pieces of the equation, the major issues are quality, innovation, design and execution.

Stay tuned.

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