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  • Andrea Lillo

Home performs AOK in early Holiday buys

Home-related merchandise seems to have warmed customers' hearts — as well as rung a high note at cash registers — this holiday season, showing a strong start over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Whether chasing values or decorative looks, or simply sticking with cold weather products, customers are telling retailers that the category is one they are happy to pay for, said several retailers.

Consumers tend to purchase things that "won't go out of style" early in the holiday season, such as home items, said Ellen Tolley, spokesperson, National Retail Federation. Shoppers wait to buy the more fashion-related items such as apparel, she added.

An NRF survey of Thanksgiving weekend sales showed home decor or home-related furnishings placing fourth on shoppers' lists, with 20.5 percent of respondents buying such items. The home category was also cited by a number of retailers as a strong performer in November.

Target's Mervyn's division saw customers heading toward high-end looks for this season.

"What are doing really well for us is the luxury fabrications [in home textiles products] that are not Christmas specific. Instead, people want jewel tones in silks, satins, jacquards — everything that is very luxurious but at a smart price point at the mid-tier level," said Steven Sunyog, trend manager, home, product design and development division. "These looks are what are driving sales after Thanksgiving. The Christmas selling season started earlier, but for us it really picked up after Thanksgiving."

Decorative holiday items is proving the leader at Big Lots, versus the basics. "A lot of people are looking for items to decorate their homes," said John Johnson, gmm. "Chenille products of all kinds are selling especially well, in particular our throws priced at $7.77. Also, chenille pillows and rugs are selling well. And our faux fur throws at $19.99 and pillows at $9.99 are popular."

In addition, Big Lots continues to see strong sales in its coordinated kitchen textiles. "This trend started in the fall, which we call harvest season, and it seems to be continuing well into holiday," Johnson said. "Our basic window treatments — sheers, decorative rods and panels — are doing well, too."

Anna's Linens also had a strong start to the holiday season. "We had the biggest weekend [Thanksgiving weekend] in our history," said Alan Gladstone, president. "It handily exceeded our expectations across all parts of the country."

Cold-weather products led the pack in domestics, Gladstone said, followed closely by decorative accessories. "We continue to give customers more choices and better values...and we expect this sales momentum to continue throughout the month."

Coming off of an "extremely healthy second half," soft home at Belk had a "just incredible" Thanksgiving weekend, and "we expect the remaining weeks to be the same," said Elizabeth Moore, dmm, home textiles. This season, Belk has aggressively gone after the top-of-bed business, as well as key items in cold weather products, which have performed extremely well, she said. Basics such as sheet sets and comforter sets did better than normal. Overall, "there wasn't a bad category in the group."

With its home business performing so well, Belk has focused on how the area looks in the stores this year. The signage and presentation have both been "great" and the category is supported by more powerful advertising. "Our customer says she loves the home" and it's paying off, said Moore.

At Domestications, the season started off slowly for several reasons, but has since picked up, said Jim Whitehead, vp, merchandising. Domestications dropped its first book the weekend that all holiday items were on sale, and that business picked up. "We definitely got a nice bump from that."

Customers also responded to its free shipping email campaign. "It was strong last year but it's very strong this year."

As a catalog retailer, Domestications doesn't see the traditional lift in sales that brick-and-mortar retailers do over Thanksgiving weekend, he said, though it does see an effect. Its Internet business, which has seen steady growth, had a "great" weekend.

Domestications' licensed juvenile business also performed well, notably the Cat in the Hat and Spiderman products. Jacquard and quilted beds-in-a-bag are also doing well. Flannel is "okay" but down has been "exceptional," which he believes because over the past few years the down market has been oversaturated. Retailers are not using "down as the big door buster" this year.

"The customer is responding to value; where we are making a value statement," he added.

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