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  • Andrea Lillo

Sferra gets 'high' retail marks on 1,020-count sheeting

Though generally all bedding manufacturers are upping the quality of their bed linens, Sferra Bros. aspired to top everyone at market last spring with its 1,000-count sheet.

Called Millesimo, and officially 1,020 counts per inch, the Egyptian cotton sateen sheet uses finer yarns and with a letter from the International Fabricare Institute certifying the count as accurate. Sferra also provides retailers with postcards and brochures for their customers.

After generating excitement among luxury retailers, Millesimo began shipping over the last few months, and retailers have had a chance to gauge its placement in the luxury linen arena.

So how is an ultra-pricey line faring when introduced in the midst of a broad economic constriction?

"Every store that has ordered it has already reordered it several times," said Michael Pappas, vp, sales and marketing. "We can't produce it fast enough. People are looking for better linens, and this has a wonderful feel. Some consumers buy four sets."

And boutique retailers echo the sentiment, saying that their consumers are not turned off by the prices at all. In fact, they claim, Millesimo kicks up the quality in an arena that already has very high values.

"It sets a new standard of quality," said Bobbie Hoover, owner, Cocoon, Greensboro, NC, who is pleased with its response in the store. Her customers have already purchased such high-end sheets, such as Sferra's Celeste, a 406-count Italian Egyptian cotton product that has been in the line for about four years, and "now they want something better." They know how well imported sheets wear, she added, and the Millesimo feels like a stronger sheet.

"People even buy it for their guest rooms," Hoover pointed out. "They have not balked at the price."

Though she has not displayed a dressed bed with Millesimo, due to its price, she has instead offered samples and brochures in the store.

At Pioneer Linens, West Palm Beach, FL, Millesimo has been re-ordered several times already after a slow start this summer, said owner and president George Greenberg. Originally offered at the store in white only, he has since expanded to ivory as well. The store's website has also garnered sales.

"The customer is delighted to find something like that when she finds out about the thread count," said Greenberg, whose target consumer is the more affluent retiree. He started advertising the line in two local papers, and currently alternates between the two.

Though the response in the Mobile, AL-based The Giving Tree store has been positive, owner Carol Teplick said that the response on the company's website has been wonderful. "People on the Internet are the cream of the crop shoppers," she said, since they include professionals, executives and such from across the country. "They're busy, and they know what they want: the best."

Though Teplick is surprised that people will splurge $500 on one sheet, she added that "People want a higher and higher thread count. It's not like it's a higher thread count and [then] people are disappointed. It's a higher-thread-count sheet that is made very well." She added that there haven't been any returns.

Though most of her customers will buy the whole sheet set, she's has also had one who only bought a boudoir sham to test it out, as well as others that purchased several sets at once.

The bar has certainly been raised, she said, remembering when she thought the introduction of the 590-count sheet was a monumental undertaking. On her site, a queen-sized set of Millesimo, including flat and fitted sheets, two shams, two cases, a duvet and a bed skirt with lace inset retails for $3,441, more than three times the cost of Sferra's Celeste set ($1,090) and more than 50 percent more than its Botanica 590-count set ($2,275).

Scheuer Linens, San Francisco, also carries the line, since being a luxury linen retailer requires the store to offer the best, said Mark Scheuer, owner. However, the line has "sold okay, not great."

It is featured in the store's catalogs, and a lot of customers came in just to feel it, he said. But they shied away from it when they saw that they could buy other bedding linens that were a better value.

"It's the law of diminishing returns," he said. "You can pay more and more money. But how much difference does it really make?"

A complete king-size sheet set — which is the size he sells the most — with lace insert, including flat and fitted sheets, two king cases and a duvet, would cost about $2,500, he said. Customers realize that they can buy three sets of something like Sferra's Celeste — "one of the best; really wonderful" — for what it would cost for one Millesimo set.

The Millesimo does offer customers "bragging rights," he added. Scheuer has some customers, mostly men, who come in and ask him to show them the best and nothing else.

Scheuer was planning to draw interest to Millesimo by sending local press samples, but since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, he's decided to forgo the mailing for now.

Some customers reacted to the terrorist attacks in another way. Pioneer Linens' Greenberg had the retailer's dream customer: She bought thousands of dollars worth of linens. "She said she was doing her part for the economy," he said.

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