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Blurring of retail lines

How things have changed!

When we first started the Retailing Giants series 11 years ago, there was a fairly simple distribution scenario.

We had department stores, we had discounters, we had discounters, we had specialty stores — and that was pretty much it. Yes, there was an anomaly or two like the PX system for the military.

Looking over the distribution network for the Retailing Giants 2001 survey, it is certainly much more complex. For the 2001 survey we welcome Lowe's, the home improvement center that is moving more and more into decorative home furnishings with area rugs, bath, window coverings and a new program this year with Waverly. It's a woman-friendly approach to home improvement marketing.

We're also seeing more niche players zooming up the sales volume ladder. Think ethnic, think urban, think lower income — and that's where the Anna's Linens and its counterparts are gaining strength — and customer loyalty. It was an arena that Ames was so strong in until it lost its focus to the expansion/acquisition bug.

If one looks at the Top 50 and analyzes who they are and what makes them tick, there are lessons to be learned from almost all of them.

There are those that are in the Top 50 merely because of their store count, a number multiplied by per-store dollars growing smaller every year and a lack of expertise in a number of critical areas like logistics and knowing who they are, as in the case of Kmart.

Wal-Mart, a logistical powerhouse with low prices the key; Penney. revitalized as it emphasizes "focus," and understanding once again who and what they are; Target, a marketing phenomenon that creates an image appealing to the department store crowd in a discount store environment.

One has to look at T.J. Maxx/Marshalls and its offspring — HomeGoods. When the kid is worked into the bigger siblings' format, it works really well. And when it is a HomeGoods on its own, it's a format that won't stop either.

Just looking at these and some of the others on the Top 50 list, there's no reason why some suppliers in home textiles need to be preoccupied with selling just the Top 10. There's a big world of opportunity beneath that bracket.

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