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Jennifer Marks

WestPoint Home Goal: Top Supplier

WestPoint Home president and ceo John Piazza says the company will be running in the black "very soon" and its major stakeholder, financier Carl Icahn, has a clear goal for the company: to be No.1 in the business.

"We're going to be No.1 again," said Piazza, the former Sara Lee exec who took the helm at WestPoint Home four months ago. "I'm not going to put a time on it, but we're going to be No.1 in a period of time here."

The company is now focused on innovation, Piazza told HTT. That includes product, supply chain, packaging and helping retailers sell on the floor. And while WestPoint Home — currently the second largest home textiles producer with 2007 sales of $684 million — continues to pursue the large programs it needs to land to eclipse No. 1 Springs Global ($1.28 billion in 2007), it will also pursue niche opportunities the predecessor company walked away from.

"There are opportunities to go wherever women shop — gift shops, college campuses, food and drug stores, catalogs and direct-to-consumer," said Paul Mischinski, evp for merchandising and marketing, who joined the company from the apparel industry a few weeks ago.

When it comes to volume business, Mischinski added, "There's a lot of upside here. It's so much easier to get business back than it is to get business you've never had."

Reinforcing the innovation theme, the company is making a big statement on the showroom floor this week with its Stay Bright technology, which keeps colors from fading and resists bleach.

"All our fashion top-of-bed is Stay Bright," said Albert Sardelli, svp of design.

That includes duvet covers, comforters, matelassés, blankets and throws in a variety of designs. "When you say 'Stay Bright,' people think of bold colors. We wanted to remind people it can be extremely sophisticated in the master bedroom. And we're trying to encourage people now to take Stay Bright beyond the sheets."

Each fashion bedding statement is being presented with mix-and-match components and specialty accessories such as new yak down throws woven in Mongolia. For the first time, WestPoint is also showing Stay Bright in table linens, kitchen towels, bath towels and beach towels.

Just as the focus in bath last market was about demonstrating the capabilities of WestPoint's terry manufacturing facility in Pakistan, the bedding presentation emphasizes the work of its Bahrain bedding plant.

"We can do all these embellishments and sell them duty-free," said Sardelli.

The Rachael Ray bedding line also received a makeover, focusing on fresh print designs that are contemporary without being outré. The bedding line, which is not yet in the market, will be put up as bed-in-a-bag, said Sardelli.

WestPoint's high-end Charisma line had two of three beds it will be showing on the floor at the time of HTT's visit. Harlow is a white 100% silk ensemble with damask and jacquard flourishes recalling Art Deco. Painted Fern features a fern printed on a rich cotton stria.

The Charisma brand may be headed for some change as well. Iconix, which owns the brand, is interested in expanding its reach, according to WestPoint svp of sales Alan Kennedy. "We'll probably see a couple of tiers of Charisma," he said.

The new leadership team is also exploring ways to burnish its in-house Martex and Vellux brands. And it's thinking about leveraging another name.

"We may be sitting on one of the biggest brands in the home fashions industry — and that's WestPoint," said Piazza. "Eventually we'll use that brand name on certain products we're developing for the market."

Piazza noted that the company has just completed the biggest transition in its 200 years, shifting from a domestic production base to off-shore manufacturing and sourcing. He described the recent selling season as "very successful" in terms of bidding on new business.

"I'm pretty excited where we are when the market snaps back," he said. "What you have to do during this time period is go get as many pieces of businesses as you can. You have to make the right product for the right channel and go after all of it."

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