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C&B at home in SoHo

New York — Home textiles may not be a major product category, but it is an increasingly significant decorative accessory at Crate & Barrel.

As an example, Gordon Segal, Crate's founder and ceo, pointed to some 15 beds in the new SoHo store here that are dressed with exclusive product, including the Marimekko Collection used as fabrics, table linens and bedding. Among the more significant bedding items are handstitched quilts embellished with velvet squares or flowers. This represents almost double the number of beds the company previously had on the floor and decorated with its exclusive product.

Rather than sequester home textiles to some remote destination, Segal explained, they are tossed on sofas as decorative pillows and throws, used as bed coverings and integrated in dining settings with tabletop and dining tables as well as in housewares with related kitchen textiles.

As Segal explained the approach "we are carefully increasing textiles on beds, and increasing our textile collection in housewares as accessories. But we're not into textiles as a promotional business — a gimmicky sort of business," he emphasized.

New to Crate in home textiles is its rug fixture, a 30-unit swinging arm setup that lets customers see the large sizes — not previously available on the floor. The fixtures hold 40 items — about twice as many as could be displayed before — and 38 are currently filled. For the approximately 10 stores that have the fixture, rug sales have more than doubled since the fixtures were installed two months ago, Segal reported.

The SoHo store, with 28,500 square feet of selling space, was a landmark built in 1884 by McKim, Mead and White. It was gutted and brought back to its former glory as the second Manhattan store for the company. "We're looking for another Manhattan location on the upper West Side," Segal said.

New full-line home stores for next year are scheduled for Seattle, Cleveland, Beverly Hills, CA; Richmond, VA; and perhaps Paramus, NJ. With this store's opening, there now are 36 full-line home stores.

Crate also is moving forward with its offspring — CB2, now a one unit test on the North Side of Chicago. With major changes in the merchandise approach, the company expects to sign leases for another Chicago unit, two in New York and one in Boston for 2003.

With the reconfiguring of the merchandise assortment, Segal said "almost all of the merchandise is unique to the store, more contemporary, more edgy, more urban and more furniture. That is its look; Crate is more classic." A significant move, Segal said, was the development of a different buying team. But he emphasized "everything in this company evolves from inside — the taste and sense; it's an emotionally driven company."

Catalog and Internet sales continue to increase, now representing some 17 percent to 18 percent of the business, which last year totalled $744 million. That percentage, he said was a significant jump from the 8 percent to 10 percent in the last several years.

Business this year, Segal related, "was the best ever in the first half; then it slowed through September, and October got better." Holiday, he projects "will be a decent season — up 3 percent or so."

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