Decosit/TIP represent export opportunity

Heath E. Combs, Carole Sloan, September 2, 2002

Decosit and Textiles d'Interieur Premiere (TIP) 2002 are viewed as the potential turning point for global business for American fabric companies.

With the slight drop in the value of the dollar this year, some American fabric firms have seen a slight uptick in what has generally been a flat or even downward trend in export.

Among them are Waverly and Chris Stone, as well as Quaker, which has seen some increase in its export business to date this year. Quaker last month reported a 10.5 percent increase in export sales for the first half.

The key to any growth for the American fabric community, all agreed, is to be in the forefront in both design and product development. But the knockoff problem is becoming an increasingly significant factor. (See story below)

As for the business that may be done here this week, few American executives are expecting strong results. For many, their participation is as much a matter of presence and working toward the future as it is about immediate sales returns.

Looking at exports from a company-specific perspective, Dale Williams, president of Waverly, observed, "Interestingly enough, we're ahead. It seems to be a combination of a good line and the currency exchange."

Williams added, "As a branded house and with our own point of view in design, our look travels successfully into many markets, in Europe in particular."

Overall, he noted, "there certainly is a real regional and national preference in color direction."

Larry Liebenow, president and ceo of Quaker, said, "Our export business is terrific considering the state of the world. Going forward, the decline in the dollar should be helpful, and we have lots of product we can compete with internationally."

Liebenow also added, "The President now has trade promotion authority, and new trade agreements will open new markets. It looks like Chile and Singapore will be the first, and later Australia, Central America and then all the Americas in free trade."

Looking ahead, Liebenow sees even faster international growth. "Over the long term — five to seven years — it should accelerate."

"We've had a small uptick recently in our export business," said Mark Aizawa, president of Chris Stone. As for Decosit, he believes "the turnout will be less; we don't expect a large business. But we're there to show support for the show, for our presence in the international market and for Sept. 11."

On the other hand, Roger Gilmartin, executive vp, Covington Inds. remarked, "We're hoping to do well," he said. "It's the first time in a number of years that I'm feeling positive about our international business and results from Decosit."

In addition, Gilmartin said, "Export is doing a little better. It definitely has bottomed out. And the general mood for prints is good worldwide."

Taking the opposite view, Mike Shelton, president of Valdese, said, "I don't see much positive about export at this point. Our export business is stagnant and the strength of the dollar still hurts."

"We're thinking long term, and we don't know what to expect from Decosit. New opportunities are tough to come by, and reorders are not great."

While traditional customers remain, "export is slow, the exchange rate has dwindled the business, particularly in Asia," said Rocco Simone, executive vp, Sunbury. "We're keeping our hand in because things change. We do Proposte and Decosit and they're paying for themselves, but they're not strong. It will be quite a while until things change."

The key, Simone emphasized, "is to have compelling product." As for the show here, he added, "We're getting mixed reactions from our customers. Our jobber/distributor market is still sustaining itself, but it's not like five years ago."

"Decosit will be a good indicator. We've had much more interest from many countries about product. And as a result of the drop in the dollar, we're back in the game," said Pete Thompson, vp, Mastercraft International.

But Thompson also pointed out that "the drop in the dollar doesn't address the impact of the Asian problem."

International business for Mastercraft and sibling divisions Home and Circa 1801/Doblin is on a par with last year for the company's first half, which ended in June, Thompson said. "July and August were very soft. It's historically soft because the Middle East and Europe are on vacation.

"Decosit will tell a lot. We see 2003 where there will be a lot of improvement."

The drop in the dollar "will make things easier, particularly at the high end," said Roger Berkley, president of Weave. However, "while the dollar has dropped about 10 percent since the last Decosit, we need another 10 percent to make it meaningful."

Similarly, Bob Woodcock, president of Lanscot-Arlen observed, "Export business is extremely flat. I don't yet see any near-term growth. And to add to the problem, some of our customers are going direct."

Although Richloom is showing at Decosit, "export is a small market," according to Jim Richman, president. "Foreign customers can go overseas to get similar fabrics."

"Our strength is all design, and we package and color differently," Richman added.

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