U.S. Fabric Firms in Export Mode

Carole Sloan, September 3, 2007

As the headlines continue to mount about off-shore companies acquiring American home furnishings businesses, there is a small but determined coterie of American companies that still are looking to do business around the world.

And some of them are doing it very well, thank you.

As Decosit, the international fair for fabrics and furnishings, opens later this week in Brussels, Belgium, there is still a dedicated core of American decorative fabrics companies working the international market. But things have changed radically from the glory days of the 1980s and early '90s.

Over the decades, American companies have been known as fair-weather friends. When business was tough at home, they looked off-shore for business. When business was tougher still at home, global business became a significant target. That formula no longer exists.

While the American presence at Heimtextil in Frankfurt, Germany has been declining dramatically in recent years, there too, one still finds a hard core of players doing good business — thank you.

And while the American presence at Decosit has diminished, the companies still playing in that arena have developed targeted marketing goals. Most are featuring product that are distinctive to them, and that offer what has been called an American flavor in terms of coloration and design.

A better than typical example of this approach is the expansion of the Waverly fabric brand in — of all places — China. While not exhibiting at Decosit, Richloom, via its China-based company, is developing global business activities for both fabrics and manufactured products.

And as the non-residential market becomes more and more a piece of American companies' business, global sourcing is considered a basic business mode.

And then there is the American decorative fabrics maker whose products were desirable even in the areas where it was being knocked off. This company continued its energy in the export world, noting that the ships that bring all that stuff over here tend to go back empty. The cost per yard to ship in reverse, this company executive explained, was a mere 13 cents a yard — not much when you're talking premier goods.

Decosit should give a telling update as to the potential for American companies in the global marketplace.

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