Sheets and Pillowcase Market Turns Down

Suppliers Scramble for Share

Jill Rowen, May 19, 2008

Sheets and pillowcases were pulled in all directions as a difficult retail climate culminated in an 8.1 % decrease in sales for the category in 2007, to $2.135 billion.

The third in HTT's trio of bedding reports, activity in the sheets and pillowcases category fits the overall pattern. The cumulative results for all three categories point to consumers who are buying mostly what they need, and have less disposable money for bells, whistles, color schemes or thread counts.

In reports HTT published on Top of Bedding (March 10, p.8) sales were down 1.4%, while Utility Bedding (April 7, p.6) was the bright spot, showing a gain of 4.1 % as the practical consumer was willing to spend more on functional goods.

Innovation has been trumpeted as the key factor buttressing all three areas, with fashion taking a back seat; this was certainly evident in Sheets and Pillowcases.

"Certainly, everyone faced a challenging marketplace and data sources all suggest that the market was down last year," said Leslie Gillock, vp brand development, Springs Global US, Inc. "While macro-economic factors — gas prices, food prices — are affecting our country's discretionary spending across the board, our innovative approach to product development keeps our brands top-of-mind for the consumer."

According to David Kaliski, president, Royale Linens, the years-long thread count battle put pressure on many makers, but now seems to have stabilized, with the bulk of the sheet sets in the 200-400 range. Kaliski admits a slowdown in sales, but is optimistic going forward, as Royale's parent company Yunus Textiles forges entry into new markets, particularly with discounters.

For Dream Fit, its unique approach to distribution has helped its business expansion plans stay on track. "We produce fine linens and market them to the solutions side," said Kenny Hines, president, domestic retail at Dream Fit. "Our products are sold in non-traditional outlets like furniture stores. Our results were flat for 2007, but given the economic climate, that's good. We have a very loyal customer base."

That is not to say that the company is avoiding the marrow of the market. According to Hines, Dream Fit is creating a new line of products that will be offered to mass and big-box stores later this year.

The discounter channel of business, which saw a decline in dollar volume from 2006 to 2007, nevertheless had the largest gain in market share, and currently accounts for 48% of category sales. Mid-price chains also largely held their own last year, while the burgeoning direct-to-consumer (catalog and internet) business gained in dollar volume.

The fall-off in volume and share at department stores was unsurprising given the merchandising challenges faced by consolidating retailers such as Macy's Inc. and Bon-Ton Stores. And off-price operators, which look to post impressive gains in 2008, were not able to capitalize fully on the category last year.

There were winning episodes for vendors in 2007, especially in some of the higher-end products which more than held their own. According to Jeff Tauber, ceo, Royale Heritage Home, the company's overall 2007 sales were up 27 % from 2006. High thread counts did best, noted Tauber, with 600, 700, 800, 1,000 and even 1,200-count sheets in the mix.

Tom Ferrisi, president of marketing, High Country Linens, reported about a 10 % increase in sales. "We get credit for having one of the most extensive assortments in the business," said Ferrisi. "That's what we play up. We want to continue to offer new products and constructions, and take the discussion away from just price."

"We definitely saw a trend up," agreed Shay Zamir, vp, Divatex. "We found prints are picking up, and weaves, though not higher in count, are getting better in quality. It's a rough time, but that is when you have to be smart about servicing your customers. It sounds like a cliché, but that's when you see results."

One component in HTT's overall Bedding data that is watched carefully by suppliers of sheets is the continued power of bedding sets, which include coordinating sheets and pillowcases.

Ferrisi of High Country Linens said that though not a threat to cannibalize sales of sheets specifically, bedding sets had a market-wide impact. "You're offering deals that are difficult to sustain," he said. "It puts more pressure on an already tough market."

"This marketing idea, similar to the introduction of bed-in-a-bags in the early 1990s, has very little impact on the core branded sheeting business," said Gillock of Springs. "Consumers use solid color sheets as coordinates to their top of bed, keeping a place for stand-alone sheet sets."

Sheet makers are also looking ahead to the greening of the marketplace to give them a boost. Kaliksi said that Royale Linens is working on a number of new constructions and organic fabrics. According to Gillock, the Springs "Wamsutta Zen Comforts sheets made with bamboo appeal to the environmentally-conscious consumer and the growing trend to be 'green.'" For its part, High Country Linens is offering products with inherently 'green' fibers such as Tencel, modal and soy-based fabrics.

Distribution Channels
2007 total retail sales: $2.135 billion down 8.1% from $2.324 billion in 2006

2007 2006 % change
* Other includes interior designers, military exchanges and other channels
Discount department stores $1,024.80 $1,065.00 -3.8%
Home textiles specialty chains 405.70 472.00 -14.0
Mid-price chains 384.30 394.00 -2.5
Department stores 64.10 116.00 -44.7
Off-price chains 64.05 93.00 -31.1
Variety/closeout 64.05 69.00 -7.2
Other* 42.70 46.00 -7.2
Direct-to-consumer 42.70 23.00 85.7
Single-unit home textiles specialty stores 21.35 23.00 -7.2
Warehouse clubs 21.35 23.00 -7.2
$2,135.00 $2,324.00 -8.1%

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