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Jennifer Marks

You Buying or Selling?

The time might be right for U.S. suppliers to begin exhibiting at Heimtextil again.

Non-U.S. Heimtextil exhibitors I've spoken with in the past couple of months universally say the Frankfurt trade fair is the place to hook up with potential accounts from major markets around the world — except the United States.

While making deals with global manufacturers drove the agenda for U.S. suppliers shopping the show in the frenzied quota days, many sourcing relationships had been cemented by the end of the first quota-free year of 2005. That probably accounts for the noticeable drop-off in U.S. attendance over the past two years.

So if Heimtextil is most important as a venue for doing business with non-U.S. global retail accounts, why aren't more U.S. companies taking a bite of der Apfel?

I know, I know, there's a list of becauses:

  • The U.S. market is the biggest in the world — why chase around after small fry?

  • European sizes differ from country to country — it's not worth the hassle.

  • Each country has its own ideas about fashion — it's not worth the hassle.

  • Nobody manufactures anything in the United States anymore, so what would you be selling?

But remember, only a couple of years ago most U.S. suppliers stoutly insisted they couldn't be bothered with any business beyond the handful of major accounts already on their books. A remarkable number of those companies are now hiring reps to pursue boutique business, exploring Vegas as well as the Atlanta and New York gift fairs, and looking for a route into the hospitality segment.

I am told by my more seasoned colleagues that U.S. suppliers were out in force on the exhibition floor for the annual January show from roughly 1987 to 1997, when they reversed course and became buyers rather than sellers. Not that you could fault them. The combined force of a strong dollar and an exploding Asian manufacturing base made the shift a sound strategic move.

But now the dollar is a dog, the quota cat's out of the bag, and the global sourcing scene is shaking itself out. Could it be time to reconsider?

The irony, of course, is that as more U.S. suppliers morph into front-end operations for off-shore manufacturers, they may become de facto Heimtextil exhibitors anyway.

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