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Window Makers See Improvements

Jill Rowen -- Home Textiles Today, April 6, 2013

Arguello, part of the FrescoArguello, part of the Fresco trend from Ellery Homestyles.
NEW YORK - "Cautiously optimistic" was the mood of window coverings suppliers prior to market and that turned into "couldn't be more pleased" post-market for many.
     With housing starts now showing growth, it spells a better mood in the curtain category. Energy-efficiency and black out-style constructions continue to expand, and almost all manufacturers agree that the Internet continues to be a growing avenue for the industry.
     In fact, companies are spending more time - and money - on capturing the online shopper.
     According to Jason Carr, co-founder, Softline Home Fashions, the company has been aggressive in fine tuning its Internet presence. Softline's approach is far from static, and it is quick to change and update products, mirroring what's selling and what's not, agreed Rodney Carr, co-founder.
     "We've elevated our customer service reps to account managers, with a raise," noted Jason. "Customer service is not just answering a phone anymore. It's about serving the customer. That same concern for ease led us to the Simple Shade." Simple Shade is Softline's latest innovation, a peel and stick drapery product. Softline is also making a statement with two visible partnerships: its Sunbrella fabric curtain drapes and a line from designer and HGTV contributor Monica Pederson. Sunbrella is a performance fabric primarily for outdoor use.
     "We had a phenomenal market," noted Louis "Tripp" Hornick III, coo, Louis Hornick & Co. "We got a lot of requests from companies we've never done business with before. There are a lot of online retailers that now want to branch out into soft home."
     In addition, the company used its Facebook page this past market to highlight its past awards. The company expanded its Firefend program with a new lined-drape version. It also introduced an LH bedding program with a high-end matelassé called Lita. The company is now offering high-end decorative hardware from German maker Buchheister.
     "We now have an entire division devoted to online, and they had an exceptional market," noted Angela Boswell, vp design and product development, Ellery Homestyles. "We also had [companies] come in who we hadn't seen before and that was great - there aren't that many out there."
     According to Boswell, the company saw renewed interest in its Eclipse line with intros in its Thermaback, Thermaweave and Thermalayer versions. "We saw a lot of interest in juvenile," she added. Another trend to watch: its Fresco trend offerings, large damask looks with a weathered and worn appearance.
     "Online is the largest growing part of our business," noted Barry Goodman, vp, Commonwealth Home Fashions. "We are continuing to add more products. One of the keys to doing well online is good photography."
     According to Goodman, business has been good the first two months of the year, outpacing last year's results and "bookings for fall are promising," he said. Commonwealth further expanded its Thermologic program with new technology tweaks and new solid colors and print styles. Goodman noted that insulated, energy-saving and blackout styles continue to sell well. "They offer the biggest bang for your buck, and everyone wants to save a buck," he said.
     Speaking of bang for the buck, suppliers still want to make an impression where it counts - the retail floor. Despite promising same store sales comps just announced, it doesn't hide a still fragile economy in the home department.
     "Store traffic is down and everyone is asking, ‘what can we do? How do we get them in the store?'" noted Scott Goldstein, president, S. Lichtenberg & Co., "We're focusing our energy into fashion. The market is excited to see newness." Also new, the company showcased its Zero Sun energy efficiency line.
     One retail trend that C & F Enterprises has noted is the regionalization of business. "There is an emphasis on regional offerings, we're seeing a lot of that," said Nelson Chow, vp, sales. "For instance, we're known for our coastal looks and those are obviously more popular in coastal and resort areas." C & F's window business is primarily as coordinating panels with its bedding offerings.
     While the suppliers HTT spoke to were riding the adrenaline high from market week, there was an undercurrent of potentially sticky issues. Cotton prices have crept up again, and perhaps more impactful for window makers, so have prices for petroleum-based products and yarns. There is also the looming question of JCP, long a leader in the window coverings business. For now, window makers are anticipating a fashionable and positive spring.

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