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Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, August 18, 2003

Has anyone looked of late at a Wal-Mart newspaper circular? Their Back-to-School one was truly a doozy, especially in terms of fashion presentation.

Cut out the page of home textiles in a room setting called "no boundaries" and it could easily have slipped into some of the hautiest retailers' promotional efforts.

Then there was a recent happening called "customer appreciation sale and event" proffered by the folks at Macy's East. Does this mean that we're only appreciated during the couple of days of this event? What happens to us during the rest of the year?

Now we all know how Target deals with its supplier base. But who could top its consumer appeal in the two-page ads in newspapers a week or so ago touting the big red bull's eye contribution to schools across the country — all from a cut of customers' usage of Target Visa or Target Guest credit cards.

How many of you out there have heard about retailers' "trend books." This is the newest in commoditization of design in home textiles. As a seasoned and highly successful designer of home textiles and myriad other products put it, "There are these 25-year-olds sitting in front of their computers all day long, bringing everything down to the lowest common denominator and then sending the trend books out to all their major suppliers."

Apparently, if you can't force a design into a so-called trend, fuhgettaboutit. What a way to drive a fashion business!

And now we have the retail leasing phenomenon. It's enough when highly specialized stuff like diamonds and emeralds are sold in mainstream locations from leased space. But when the likes of a Marshall Field's with its hometown reputation, and ABC with its quirky and oftimes fashion leadership role, start leasing out the store to suppliers, something seems wrong.

I'm probably the last person in the marketplace to voice a comment about Pillowtex's demise, but here goes. A lot was self-inflicted: a refusal to acknowledge the big bug called off-shore sourcing, but moreso it was the ennui concerning the brands, which if one looks at them realistically are more in-trade-driven than consumer-driven.

So that brings us to another controversial subject...the surge in retailers' direct import activities. Speculation is rampant that retailers will acquire the brands and source them overseas.

It's not all beer and skittles. And how many retailers are going to allocate the needed financial and personnel resources to make these activities happen, especially with all the new government regs?

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