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Jennifer Marks

Cannon Revs Up, RV Bounces Back

New York — As the Cannon brand prepares to re-launch at the October market, an upgraded Royal Velvet towel program is headed back to retail this month to replace the unsatisfactory debut program that raised questions about the prospects for the industry's most hallowed labels.

The brands owned by the now-defunct Pillowtex Inc. began disappearing from stores two years ago in the wake of the mill's liquidation. The brands' new ownership consortium — Official Pillowcase LLC — acknowledged the time lag between the collapse of the old company and product development by the new one has raised questions in the marketplace.

“We made a decision to roll the brands out slowly, and that's what we're doing,” said Rick Platt, managing director of brand development, Official Pillowtex.

“Unfortunately,” he continued, “that creates an opening for other people to say: 'Ah-hah! It isn't working.'”

Jack Toolan, executive vice president of the home group at Li & Fung, the licensee for Cannon and Royal Velvet's bed and bath development along with several other product categories, characterized the dire predictions as “all part of the game” that home textiles industry's competitors play.

“Cannon is an iconic American brand that goes back to 1887. You don't just have it fade from the American memory. It doesn't work that way,” he said.

Platt and Toolan also batted down two of the more persistent rumors swirling about the resurrection of Cannon: that the brand is going to be distributed in the dollar store channel and/or that unless Wal-Mart takes it on as an exclusive, the brand is dead.

The Cannon brand will be sold into the mass market — internationally — leveraging Li & Fung's global office network, they said. The company is already talking with volume retailers in Europe, Asia, Canada and Mexico, they added. The initial product launch — bath towels, sheets and top-of-bed — can begin shipping within the first eight weeks of 2006.

As for Cannon's viability, Platt said consumer research demonstrates shoppers still think they're buying the brand. Added Toolan, “Statistics show she (the American consumer) is still overwhelmingly interested in this product.”

Official Pillowtex is, in fact, talking to retailers in the dollar channel, but the brands on offer are two of Pillowtex's smaller discount brands, St. Mary's and Monticello, Platt said.

The brand owner and Li & Fung will also be out at next month's New York Home Textiles Market talking about the February 2006 market introduction of the Santa Cruz brand in bath, as well as the re-launch of two other towel brands that previously existed under the Cannon Royal Family umbrella: Royal Touch and Royal Classic.

“Cannon Royal Family (brands) will target the mid-tier,” Platt said. “The Cannon brand is so versatile we can envision going anywhere.”

The upgraded $9.99 Royal Velvet towel — originally intended to be an $11.99 step-up — will reappear at Kohl's by the third week of September. Shipments of the improved towel into Belk's and Gottschalk's will follow. Sears Canada will transition into the new towel in January, he said.

Cannon and Royal Velvet introductions during the October market will take place in a 5,000-square-foot loft space at 122 W. 26th St., between 6th and 7th Avenues. In addition to the bed and bath lines being produced under license by Li & Fung, the showroom will include additional product categories by other licensees, including Maples, Pacific Coast Feather, Faribault and Classic Slipcovers.

Toolan said both Li & Fung and Official Pillowtex are taking the long-term view on the brands' development.

“They plan on being involved with these brands when Rick and I are having our retirement parties,” he said.

The Second Act
October's product introductions

CANNON ROYAL VELVET
Towels Towels
Solid color towels at the $5 and $7 retail levels New palette for core $11.99 towel
Coordinate stripe towel at the $7 level Step-up RV towel program
Santa Cruz brand sheered jac towel Preview of a “best” level RV towel
Solid and stripe bath sheets and beach
Preview of other beach and jac towels
Preview of Royal Touch towel
Preview of Royal Classic towel
Solid color sheets Solid color sheets
220 blend New 300 blend
250 all-cotton New 350 cotton
420 sateen Preview of knit and flannel
Preview of knit and flannel
Fashion bedding Fashion bedding
7 beds (comforter sets) in a variety of constructions Transitional design direction: 5 beds
Previews of 4 to 6 beds for February market Preview of new design direction: 6 beds
Other
Preview of kitchen textiles
Preview of table linens
Preview of bath accessories


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