Surveying Showtime

Carole Sloan, June 9, 2008

Well, another Showtime has come and gone.

From an attendance perspective, the tally was significantly down. Individual customers brought fewer folks with them. The mom-and-pops on the retail side of the fabric business definitely were conspicuous by their absence. Lifestyle retailers like Williams-Sonoma Home, Pottery Barn and West Elm were evident, despite their low-profile stance; and specialty fabric folks like Calico Corners, and department stores like Macy's were high-profile market shoppers. As is typical, the decorative jobber ranks were well represented.

But overall, exhibitors commented about the dramatic decline in walk-ins that have been a key bonus to this appointment-driven event.

Generally, customers were focused on their specific needs and voids in the product mix. Few were interested in seeing stuff that ventured too far away from their particular milieu. One of the big statements in the product intros was linen — plains, textures, stripes and ditsies. But there's a curious thing happening — as is the case in many trend moves. A classic home furnishings base cloth called Union Linen that has been around forever, is being touted by a number of companies as a linen. It is not.

Eco-friendly fabrics were highlighted across the board. And as one non-believer pointed out as he showed me a recycled polyester fabric, "This is green? We're drilling for oil to make the plastic bottles, that then are recycled as eco-friendly."

Overall, there was a general lightening and brightening of the color palette with purples, pinks and semi-brights showing up in many lines.

Surprisingly, though the cycle has been post-peak, there was an extraordinary amount of chenille stuff among the introductions.

And as part of the product discussions, there is a definite increased need for speed to market at the fabric level, whether produced domestically or off-shore. The mantra from the "good old days" of 12- to 14-week delivery cycles is clearly out of synch with what today's marketplace is demanding. This is sure to put more pressure on suppliers with off-shore sourcing as customers demand six to 10 weeks as a minimum.

Despite the general level of gloom and doom in the home furnishings marketplace, Showtime played out much as most expected it to, with a lower level of expectations — and for some others, the positive results were a surprise.

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