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  • Jennifer Marks

In '06, Partner Up and Take a Walk

Tis the season for fresh starts. As we vow once again to get more exercise, eat more fruit and improve our work/life balance, we also assess the fundamentals of the business.

Despite 2005's challenging business environment and the 11-month tussle over import caps, some commendable work was done. Retailers made an effort to inject more new product into the stores more frequently. Sheet and towel manufacturers pushed the envelope on new fiber blends in their quest to de-commoditize basic products. Utility bedding manufacturers leveraged “sleep solutions” to turn their product into more of a luxury item. Product designers in all categories broadened their palettes and their lifestyle offerings.

But that, as they say, was the year that was, and a new year is at hand. Looking ahead, we offer a few starter resolutions for the various constituencies in the home textiles industry.

U.S. suppliers:

Firm up overseas partnerships. If possible, take an ownership stake.

Look for new channels of distribution, even if they're incremental.

Consider moving into markets outside North America. As has been noted in this column before, major manufacturers in other countries balance a portfolio of non-domestic markets.

Strongly consider consumer-direct selling — particularly if your company is a niche supplier.

Walk away from unprofitable business.

Off-shore manufacturers:

Frankly assess the need for additional capacity. (Start with the history of U.S. home textiles manufacturing from the late 1980s on.)

Put boots on the ground in key countries of distribution.

Take a stake in a U.S. partner.

Understand that to become a major player you will have to move beyond OEM orders, then invest accordingly.

Walk away from unprofitable business.

Retailers

At least once a season, take a risk on something your gut says is great — even if your spreadsheet doesn't have a cell for it.

Recognize your limitations. Just because the organization has the ability to handle great loads of in-house product development doesn't mean it will always produce the best product.

Remind yourself every now and again that Wall Street is only interested in today's stock price, not in the long-term health of your business, and should not be considered your primary customer.

Everybody:

Eat more fruit. It's good for you.

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