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Scheuer Linens Finds New Consumers in the Internet Age

Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, January 25, 2010

The Internet is causing a seismic change in the way home textiles are being marketed to consumers.

“It's the biggest change in this business since the loss of the American textile industry over the last two decades,” said Mark Scheuer, head of the third-generation family home textiles and accessory business here.

The company began, he recalled, in the 30s when his grandfather “made a living selling linens out of suitcases to the German Jews. And I still have the suitcases with the original samples.”

Scheuer joined the company in 1971, a year after leaving the army in 1970. “At first I took a job as an insurance investigator, it was like the adrenalin of Vietnam and I loved adrenalin that much. Basically, I had to figure out what I wanted to do.

Of the changes, personal and general since 1971, Scheuer said, “The biggest was in 1982 when my father died.” It was the beginning of many changes. “We moved from a store of 1,200 square feet to our store now of 3,500 square feet. We had no beds when we started. And the opportunity to work with my parents was a unique experience.” And even after his father died, “there was never an argument between mother and son until she died in 2005.”

Besides the personal changes and the quick start of the Internet on all merchants, Scheuer sees another setback for the business in the loss of the US textiles manufacturing. As an example, he said, “We always were a big Wamsutta and Charisma customer – they represented quality.”

Now, he added, “There is a concern with the environment. The industry change is not a local change and that has to be considered.” Interestingly, based as the company is here, and doing business with many interior designers, “they're not even asking for eco products.”

In March, Scheuer will launch the Vera bamboo sheet from Home Source International, and all other bamboo products will be on sale. “But we missed the Purist program with SDH.”

As for the impact of the Internet, in days gone by “there would be the touchy feely element of the business with the small local stores versus the big guys' branches. Today, it's anyone on the Internet.”

The extent to which the Internet has impacted Scheuer's approach to business is extends to the retailer's promotional efforts. The company used to put out an extensive catalog with photos, product descriptions and generic IDs. “We haven't done one since 2008. We did a study and put a whole lot of catalogs side by side – discounters, department stores, specialty stores – and they all looked the same.

“Before, buying home textiles used to be like a woman's rite of passage. Today, it's different. The Internet field gets level, but we're still very sure that our store looks terrific. More of our vendors are willing to give a bed set to sell off the sample, and then we will order more for the store.”

Gifts and accessories give the store another, broader touch, Scheuer commented. “They can be more stylish and playful and are at the front of the store.”

As for the vendor mix, Sferra is the number one; Home Source with its Micro Cotton towel is another key supplier as are Matouk, Anali, United Feather, 7th Heaven and Royal-Pedic mattresses.

This contrasts, he noted, “with the past when the whole Wamsutta and Fieldcrest lines and Yves Delorme were key players and Bonjour/Schlossberg dropped off because of longer waits.”

With the growth of the Internet business, Scheuer said about half to two-thirds of the business comes from outside the store's trading area. “In the old days, we had a large number of local, loyal in-store customers.

Although most of its business – in-store or Internet – is to consumers, 17% of total sales are done through designers.

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