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Vendors hopeful for '02 reversal


New York — With a year of retail turbulence coming to a close, home textiles suppliers are looking ahead to the first half of 2002 with a degree of hope tempered with battle-forged wariness.

The combination of retail consolidations and inventory cutbacks during 2001 kept vendors scrambling. Lost over the past 12 months were some 677 stores doing approximately $666 million in home textiles business. Gone in the process are four of the Top 50 home textiles retailers: Montgomery Ward ($216 million), HomePlace of America ($202 million), Bradlees ($182 million) and Sterns ($66 million).

With consumers tightening their belts after a steady succession of corporate layoffs, retailers shifted to margin-crushing price rollbacks and/or promotions, expanded their use of reverse auctions and began demanding more on terms.

And yet, several vendors polled by HTT see reasons to expect an improvement in business next year - albeit modest. Even the pessimists foresee some turn in the business in the coming months.

Bud Frankel
president & ceo
Arlee Home Fashions
'I honestly believe the retail business will be soft. I believe it will be driven very much by promotions and tremendous values and very low prices. The textile industry will be worse next year than this year. I don't honestly feel the retailer puts a high priority on home textiles sales. Their money will be going into other categories, not home textiles. If money is tight and business is slow, money will go to other areas - ready-to-wear, sporting goods, housewares, those kinds of categories - but not home textiles.'

Loren Sweet
senior vp sales and marketing
Brentwood Originals

'Absent any other calamity, the first half should prove to be a decent but not great season. Low interest rates, the strength of home over apparel, and some comfort level that World War III is not about to begin - [all these factors] should result in some renewed strength. I believe that retailers have been so focused on inventory being in line by late January that they have thrown the baby out with the bath water. Replenishment orders dried up in mid November through December. However, we have a very strong order position for late January. This inventory flow speaks volumes to me and bodes well for spring 2002.'

Roy Brunton
president
Brunton Intl.
'The first half and second half will be soft at retail. I do believe that home textiles will be a stronger piece of the business than ready-to-wear. In the second half I think things will start to pick up. We're going to see more creativity on the vendor side to stimulate the business.'

Kea Capel
director of marketing and creative services
Capel Inc.
'Partly cloudy vs. rain in the forecast. I'm now guardedly optimistic. I've never witnessed such a yearning for hearth and home. Merchandise with a point of view, a singular piece which transforms a room, or a nostalgic, romantic gesture - our industry supplies these things. These are now the components for happiness that consumers are seeking. Deliver on the 'Home Sweet Home' promise, and I believe we'll see things turn around by October.'

Roger Gilmartin
executive vp and coo
Covington Industries
'I'm very optimistic about the next quarter and especially in furniture, which was soft. Retail and jobber business has been good all year. And with the previews of the new line we launch in January, I think we will continue to see growth.'

Kevin Finlay
president
Ellison
'I think that purchasing will go hand-in-hand with corporate earnings. Once the year-end numbers come out, that's going to have a drastic impact on consumers' purchasing behavior.'

Steve Mazarakis
president
Hellenic Rugs
'My outlook of the first half of the year for retail and textile companies is positive. The chain reaction begins the 5th of January. Retailers involved with the home industry will see a definite increase in business for the first and second quarters. This directly relates to wholesalers and manufacturers. I think manufacturers will be scrambling to be able to supply product for the increase of the needs of the retailers.'

Lonnie Scheps
vp, sales and marketing
Hudson Industries
'Business until November was great, then it softened and now we're enjoying a December order streak for January/ February shipments. We're very bullish for 2002. We're a fringe business, but a lot of our customers are seeing our products as an important support to their core business. And we have a lot of new product in the hopper.'

Phil Haney
senior vp, marketing and sales
Karastan
'We expect consumers to continue the positive trend we are experiencing in November and December. The strength of 'home' will be evident as consumers finally begin work on previously postponed projects, starting with soft home domestics and culminating in larger project and big-ticket purchases. An increase of 5 percent in the first half is realistic.'

Wendy Reiss
key account manager
KAS Rugs
'I think that, although price will play an important role in the consumer's mind, design and color will continue to be a priority. Making the home a sanctuary and special place to relax has become more and more of a priority. Consumers want to feel good about their surroundings.'

Park Smith Jr .
president and ceo
Park B. Smith Inc.
'I believe the first quarter of 2002 will continue to be weak, with spotty breakthroughs in retail sales. In the second quarter a base will have been reached from which a recovery will begin to be realized. The third and fourth quarters should prove to be much stronger on both sides of the fence [manufacturing and retail]. The good thing is that I believe that home textiles sales will continue to outpace sales in other areas. There has truly been a shift in buying habits all across the country, and the consumer truly wants her home to be a haven.'

Bob Woodcock
president
Lanscot-Arlen
'I'm an optimist. I see a good first quarter and a great balance of the year for 2002. We have lots of new product, and if there are no new major problems, it will be a strong year. This year was a decent year, but it wasn't what we wanted or expected. But we were profitable. And we had better placements with our new products.'

Larry Liebenow
president and ceo
Quaker Fabric
'Business will be okay in the United States, but not easy. We'll have to work very hard to get it. Our jobber business is significant and growing, and we have a good start in the top of the bed in home textiles and a terrific base in accessories - decorative pillows and throws.'

Don Harris
vp, marketing and product development
Revere Mills
'Judging from what we are seeing at retail during that last quarter of 2001, the slowness will probably last through the first half of 2002.  It looks like a lot of retailers are coming out of the last quarter of 2001 heavy in inventory that they will have to work off. After the first part of the year, while most retailers get back into  gear, it will be a very competitive marketplace, as everyone will want to recover sales and margins.  That is where new, well-designed product at aggressive pricing will become even more important.  We see the back half of 2002 to be very strong.'

Stan Fradin
president
Rockland Mills

'As a fiscal year, 2001/2002 is slightly behind but I sense a loosening for home refurbishing and contract in the second half of the fiscal year [ending July].'

Michael Fux
president and ceo
Sleep Innovations

'Frankly, I think it's going to be difficult through the first three quarters. It's going to be a matter of fighting to keep what you've got. It's not going to be bad, but it's going to be tough. And from the supplier side, we're doing it to ourselves. We're beating each other up on price.'

Eric Vergucht
executive vp and
general manager

Terrisol
'It will be challenging, but I feel that if you work hard at it and try to make a difference, you can make it. As the retail picture is changing, we need to change also.'

Carolyn D'Angelo
vp, marketing and licensing
Waverly
'We plan an increase and are cautiously optimistic. We're on a good trend. Our Tuscany collection is selling well, and Echoes of Ireland has booked well. We also will have more newness with Target.'

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