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Jennifer Marks

Jockeying for position

Despite a year that felt fairly painful at the time everyone was bumping through it, more home retailers came out ahead of the game in 2002 than behind it.

In fact, 60 percent of the top 50 retailers on HTT's annual leader board gained share in 2002 — half of them boosting home textiles revenues by double digits.

Even among those that posted declines, 82 percent held their declines to single-digit sales drops. Only three out of the top 50 posted double-digit slides: Kmart, Spiegel and The Company Store Group.

Consolidation may have played hell on the losers, but this year's report provides more evidence that it only made the survivors stronger. To really gauge that, look not at the top rung of retailers but at the bottom. This year's bottom 10 did a combined $917.4 million in home textiles sales in 2002, up 9.5 percent from the previous year's bottom 10 total sales of $837.9.

It was another year in which the Wal-Mart Factor loomed large. Just two years ago, HTT reported that Wal-Mart had overtaken JCPenney to become the country's leading home textiles retailer. The pair's sales for 2000 were separated by a mere $46 million. This week, we're reporting that Wal-Mart is just a hair away from becoming the industry's first $3 billion home textiles retailer. The gap between Wal-Mart and Penney now stands at $555 million.

But we're also seeing a Target Factor emerging. Continuing a string of annual double-digit gains in home textiles sales, No. 3 Target is now within striking distance of No. 2 JCPenney. The retailers' sales in 2002 differed by a relative scintilla: $175 million. Considering Target added $255 million last year, Penney will have to work hard to hang onto its perch.

Not so fast, says Bed Bath & Beyond. Just as Target is swooping up on Penney, so is Bed Bath roaring up behind the Minneapolis discounter's home textiles' ranking. Again, the sales difference between the two was miniscule: $177 million. And while Target has been growing its home textiles business at roughly 10 percent or better over the past few years, Bed Bath has been layering on sales at 20 percent or more.

Which brings us to the really big question of 2003: How close will Bed Bath & Beyond get to the top of the heap before the year is out?

If Target's home textiles department advances at roughly the same pace it did in 2002, and if Bed Bath's textiles gains again accelerate at least 20 percent, Bed Bath & Beyond will become the industry's third largest retailer – after 3 years rooted in the No. 5 spot and just one at No. 4.

Unless … Bed Bath dislodges Penney from the No. 2 spot.

If the red-hot specialty chain adds at least 20 percent, which is a good bet, and if Penney is unable to expand beyond 2 percent (which it last pulled off in 1999), then Bed Bath & Beyond will vault into a position just behind Wal-Mart.

Anybody care to wager?

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