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Ga-Ga'd

Warren ShoulbergWarren Shoulberg PUBLISHER/EDITORIAL DIRECTOR
"What Lady Gaga represents is yet another fundamental change in the sheet-and-towel-buying population of this country."

Forget about cotton prices and oil supplies and a billion Chinese people wanting new towels and all the geo-political ramifications and justifications of the worldwide economy and its myriad financial subsets.
     I have seen the future. And its name is Ga Ga.
     Not necessarily Lady Gaga. At least I hope not. The last thing we need is a world in which people dress up in cold cuts, are spawned from giant eggs and wear home furnishings accessories on their heads. No thanks, that's not what I had in mind.
     But what Lady Gaga represents is yet another fundamental change in the sheet-and-towel-buying population of this country, and if this little industry of ours doesn't figure out how to deal with that new demographic it will sell even fewer products and make even less money than it does now ... and that's not called a future, it's called a finale.
     Just as the Baby Boomers represented a seminal change in the taste levels and purchasing habits of the consumer buying base and a generation or two later the rules changed again with Generation X, the Ga Ga Gang - the group formerly known as Millenniums or Gen Y - is about to do it again.
     Home textiles purchases skew older than apparel, so much of this new generation is not quite in the stage of their lives when they are making serious investments in their home furnishings. So, the industry still has a little time to get itself set in place for what's to come.
     But what is to come is going to be very different than what has come. This is a generation with amazing access to information and pretty much zero tolerance for misinformation. It expects to get the correct take on things because if you don't give it to them, they will go someplace else.
     First off, they already have the answers and secondly, they have little if any loyalty to a brand, a store or a business. They will go with whoever gives them what they want.
     So, they are not going to be fooled with inflated, double-looped thread counts and polyester sold under the guise of microfiber and brand names that have absolutely no bearing to the real world.
     They are going to want a great price, but the ease of the purchasing process is going to be just as important. That's what few people understand about Amazon: The prices are great, but they are not always the best out there. It's the one-click buy that is the real appeal and when Amazon combined that with an annual flat shipping charge, they really pulled away from the competition. It's taken the rest of the online world two years to catch on to that and they are only now rolling out their own takes on the concept.
     The GGG (Ga Ga Gang, get with the program here, will you?) is also all about individualization. The Boomers wanted to be different but didn't mind being the same as every other Boomer. Gen Xers didn't much care either way.
But this new consumer wants something that is theirs and nobody else's.
     That is going to represent an enormous challenge to an industry used to cranking out a couple of thousand dozen of the same stuff and having a 6,000-mile pipeline to supply it.
     How it adapts its product offerings to accommodate customers who want a totally personalized product is going to have all sorts of impacts on product development, sourcing and distribution. How the ubiquitous bed-in-a-bag survives this onslaught remains to be seen. Nothing has been able to kill its place in the market so far, but the Ga Ga's could be the ones.
     Finally, there is the design of the product itself. Is this new generation going to want to go to bed in a room decorated like a Victorian bordello? I fear for the very future of dust ruffles.
     At market this week, we'll start to see which companies get the Ga Gas and which ones just stumble around muttering "ga ga" under their breath.

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