The Contract Segment Beckons

Carole Sloan, November 17, 2008

It was interesting to see the narrow assortment of home textiles products at last week's International Hotel/Motel & Restaurant Show here in New York.

The most dramatic change was the non-presence of the decorative fabric folks — once a mainstay player segment for this event. And since that category was in absentia, there was no presence involving the higher end jobber community.

Next in impact was the enormous presence of the basic bedding folks — the ones that supply bed pillows, comforters and duvets as well as some decorative bedding. If a hotel/motel purchasing agent or designer or specifier could not find what they were searching for, it probably doesn't exist.

Overall, considering the current, near term and even longer term outlook for home textiles sales at retail, it's a wonder that more companies are not actively exploring opportunities outside of their typically narrow focus.

The American supplier base has traditionally been narrowly focused. Times over the last decades have been typically good or great in traditional, so why even look to develop business elsewhere?

With domestic shipments for this year already down by double-digit estimates in many cases, it might give one pause to think about other avenues for business development.

One channel that comes to mind immediately is the contract segment, especially the hospitality piece of the business. Yes, there are projects that have been slowed down — but many are at least three to four years out.

And yes, there are some — and probably there will be more — that are put on hold for a year or so, but the opportunities for business begin now. These companies don't wait in their planning until the anticipated setup dates.

Tying in with hospitality is the whole arena of international sales. American manufacturers have long been reluctant to move offshore. But the pickings are good; the dollar, for now, is fairly favorable. And yes, home textiles can be shipped from any sourcing country to any other place in the world without having to be sent back from source country to the United States and out again. It's a great opportunity — especially in these times.

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