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Bottom-Fishing for Design

Well, now the home textiles world has truly reached the bottom of the barrel.

One of the ultimate close-outers in the home furnishings business has declared the home textiles world riddled with "a lack of innovation and creativity." This has been the lament of key retail players in the department store and specialty store segments for at least a year or two.

Now we have Steve Fishman, ceo and president of Big Lots, saying at a recent retail analyst conference, "The biggest concern I have … is that where traditionally you've driven a customer into the home parts of the business, which is linens and domestics, it's absolutely gone …. There is no innovation and creativity coming out of any of the mills. [In fact] there is no such thing as a mill …. So, as good as the retailer is at creating looks, quality and values, that's what's happening."

If you read the rest of his comments in our May 5 issue (page 6), he had some other succinct things to say about this business. This from a man who has traveled the retailing path from a department store environment to the discount store segment to Big Lots, which is one of the key players in the pick-up-the-pieces arena.

From conversations over the last year or so, the feeling is growing that the trend toward retailers setting the pace of design, color, quality and fabrication standards in home textiles by speccing their own stuff has been a major downer.

And by using the China syndrome as the basis for this business during this decade, the retailing community has been swallowing the Kool-Aid by the gallon. It's going to be a tough ride to offset the price deflation of this period, no matter how hard anyone tries.

More and more supplier companies are putting "Not Welcome" signs on their doors directed to specific retailers — who for the time being shall remain nameless. The reason? These retailing goliaths send their "design teams" to market for "inspiration" that then becomes a knockoff of the suppliers' creations, albeit diluted for pricing concerns — the devil with quality or fashion.

As one major supplier expressed his view of the situation: "A retailer may have 10 or 15 design people working in home textiles, but their broad base of key suppliers probably numbers 20 or so, with a design team of upwards of four or five each. That's a lot more creativity at work than at the retailer's home base far from the fashion centers."

Maybe it's time to listen to folks like Steve who now see the home textiles world as a big bottom-fishing site.

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