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A gift for all: Show pumps up hopes

Though high-end manufacturers still feel somewhat insulated from the troubles of the economy, they see no reason not to seek other pockets of retail opportunity, especially since the number of retailers continues to shrink.

At the New York Gift Show last week, most suppliers added that sales have been strong.

"As long as you have quality, the business will always be there," said Michael Pappas, vp, sales and marketing, Sferra Bros., adding that this year's business has been good, while last year — so troubling for so many — was the company's best ever.

Sferra will also be soon exploring a new channel of distribution — furniture stores. As part of an agreement with furniture retailer Drexel Heritage, Sferra is the manufacturer of bed linens for the license for "Under The Tuscan Sun," a movie starring Dianne Lane to be released next month. The collection includes cotton sheets and linen top-of-the-bed in warm, Tuscan colors, which layer back into the company's Celeste program.

For Espalma/Cobra Trading, with all of the consolidation happening in retail — including the loss of Stroud's, which was "perfect for our merchandise — we're always looking for new opportunities," said Rae Blum, vp, national sales manager.

One of those directions for the company is hotel boutiques and spas. "If you stay there, you want the bed and bedding," Blum said. And some of these hotels have their own catalogs as well — "They're taking away from retailers." In response, her company has developed a spa collection, including robes, slippers and turbans. "It's not the typical towel collection, but we thought, What can we do to make it a bit more special?"

She continued, "If a salesperson today is only going after retail stores, then he is not forward thinking. There are other ways to sell products — you have to create a niche business."

Matteo has also developed business in this area, working with several boutique hotels, each of which may purchase the company's bedding, decorative pillows or bolsters, and other items, or a combination. The company recently bowed lounge mats in microfiber ultrasuede or nylon, which hotel guests can use to perform yoga in their rooms, said Lucy Close, marketing coordinator. The company also attended the Hospitality Show in May for the first time. At the Gift Show, it premiered new sheet patterns Yoko and Xavier, both 600-count stripe patterns, and Zeus, a solid charcoal style.

Triangle Studio is also contemplating crossing its merchandise to other channels, including interior designers and apparel, to expand its reach, said Howard Thorton, designer. At the Gift Show, he added that he saw a lot of buyers that he hasn't seen in a while — and they were buying.

Linen manufacturer Libeco Lagae has found the last few shows to be good, said Anneli Bailey, sales manager. "All the orders we wrote [at the Atlanta Gift Show] were with new clients." Adding to its product lines of bedding and table linens, it also recently introduced a new linen throw collection, ranging in size from 72 inches by 92.5 inches to 108 inches to 92.5 inches, and in wholesale cost from $68 to $98, which has been received well.

"It's been an interesting year because of the unpredictability, but it's getting better," said Vicki Sorrell, spokeswoman, ABH Design, a table linen company that expanded into bathrobes and towels a year ago. "Because we're high end and specialized, we're doing well." All of the company's products are made to order here.

Business has been good for Italian manufacturer Signoria di Firenze, said Denia Masti, sales rep. At the show, it introduced its big striped Pontormo and quilted Canaletto bedding products. "They've done very good, especially the color — we're famous for color."

Ann Gish felt the show overall was good, especially since her booth was now at the front of the hall. "People feel better. This is the best show in a few years."

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