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Table linens suppliers look to add value

Table linens is at something of a standstill in terms of growth as vendors face the challenge of boosting sales volume in a maturing category that has seen price points continue to erode.

Pat Rudavsky, director of merchandising and design, fashion, Louisville, KY-based Louisville Bedding Co., said she expects "minimal growth" over the next year or so in the category, which comprises about 8 percent of the company's total sales.

Added Kurt Hamburger, president and managing dir., New York-based Lintex Linens: "Table linens is not a growth industry." All the same, the category makes up more than one third — 35 percent — of Lintex's total sales, he said.

According to HTT research, the category had sales level off at $660 million in 2001. The majority of suppliers categorized the table linen category as fully developed.

"In general, the category is mature and only growing about 3 percent per year," noted Frank Scalice, executive vp, New York-based Town & Country Living. He added that table linens makes up the "largest" portion of company sales.

Echoing that sentiment was Mark Siegel, president, New York-based Elrene Home Fashions: "With respect to dollars, it might be a mature category now."

And yet many of the category's suppliers remain hopeful that strong seasonal offerings, innovative product development initiatives and competitive pricing will help them grab a decent portion of the available market share.

Scalice believes growth in the runner portion of the business has helped spike sales.

"Bright spots in the category include increased runner business due to broader assortments at retail and seasonal growth," he said.

Cecil Saydah's revenue increased by more than 25 percent with the acquisition of Louisville/Saydah Home Fashions, its table linens division, which was completed earlier this year.

"The overall market is quite large and competitive, and we fully expect to double our tabletop business in three years," John Shawger, vp, sales and marketing, Los Angeles-based Cecil Saydah Co, said.

Carol Altes, merchandise manager for table linens, New York-based Ex-Cell Home Fashions, acknowledged that the market for table linens "has really not grown at all," but Ex-Cell nonetheless projected it will grow its own business "by taking additional market share through the use of innovative products and design."

Increased importing efforts are being applied by many, like Elrene.

"It can be a very versatile category," Siegel said. Table linens makes up 70 percent of Elrene's sales. "Because of the relatively low cost of labor [overseas] to produce the product, we can push the envelope and continually introduce new and exciting things. Fashion risks that are hard to find in other textiles categories are often experimented with in our collections."

Richmond, VA-based Ashford Court said it, too, expected growth to be "significant" based on the company's new initiative to add Chinese products to its table linens offerings, said Amy Bell, executive vp, design director. Table linens makes up 10 percent to 15 percent of Ashford Court's total sales.

As Windham Weavers, based in New York, now begins working with new factories in China, Thailand and Vietnam, aside from its current supplier in India, executive vp Lance Orlick expected its table linens category to grow in sales in the next year by 5 percent to 10 percent. The category currently comprises the bulk — 60 percent — of its total business.

New York-based Terrisol Corp., West Conshohocken, PA-based The John Ritzenthaler Co. and Portland, OR-based Newport have high expectations for their respective table linens businesses, with growth potential to range from 15 percent to 25 percent.

"For 2003, we anticipate our Susan Sargent launch into table linens to add about 6 percent to 8 percent in sales," said Chip Steidle, vp, sales and marketing, The John Ritzenthaler Co.

Chris Mooney, Braintree, MA-based Avonhome's vp of design and marketing, said if retailers were "focusing on clever merchandising and better looking product as much as they do numerical analysis," they might add 15 percent to the category. Table linens contributes $40 million to Avonhome's sales, Mooney said.

"At every level of retail, the ultimate goal should always be to get the consumer to buy the more expensive product and to increase the average ticket," Mooney continued. "It is in these higher price points that there is differentiation, added-value, larger volume and greater margin potential."

Altes observed that basic price points have "bottomed out" but that there is the opportunity for higher price points for products utilizing better design and construction.

As more retailers experiment with working directly with overseas factories in an effort to avoid the middleman, or supplier, price points for table linens will remain low at many stores, Scalice said.

"This will show up as lower retails in some cases or as higher margins for the retailer," he said. "Some retailers are maintaining opening and mid price points but are also pressing the higher price points with a small percentage of the assortment."

Newport's president Corey Faul described the current status of table linens price points as "not great," giving the cause as "the greater influence of imports to the mix, contributing to further lower price points."

"There seems to be more concern with the volume of the business and disregard for quality, and, therefore, price points have not accelerated to any extent," Hamburger said.

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