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Jennifer Marks

Truly honored

If anyone is looking for signs of renewal this market, I can think of none better than the fact that so many A-list retailers have gotten on board for this year's Retailer of the Year awards hosted by the New York Home Textiles Show and the Home Fashion Products Association.

All too often, retail industry awards are handed out not necessarily to those who most deserve them but to those who can best be relied upon to actually show up for the ceremony — and that's not a dilemma unique to the home textiles industry.

It undoubtedly took some arm-twisting to bring some of this year's winners to the party, but the fact that they are making the trip is reason enough to cheer.

Luring awards-shy Target Stores out to accept honors for Product Development Excellence has to be one of the great coups of this year's program. What makes it particularly gratifying is that Target so richly deserves such an award. Is the retailer a bear to do business with? Nine out of 10 suppliers will respond with a resounding OUCH! But does it consistently knock yer socks off with great-looking product? Hands down.

Equally impressive is the Wal-Mart double-whammy being served up at the ceremony: an award for International Expansion for the company's global operation, and an individual award for Outstanding Retailer of the Year that goes to Dick Fish, vp/dmm of domestics. Wal-Mart's attendance at the program is especially sweet since it's not a regular at market.

It's also great to see Costco on the bill for the Velocity of Market Expansion award, as it adds 25 to 35 locations annually. Many suppliers find working with the club a genuine pleasure — and even better news, Costco plans to intensify its penetration of the home textiles category.

JCPenney, winner of this year's award for Product Quality, remains a powerhouse home textiles retailer, with sales in the category topping $2 billion annually. Its repositioning under a new management structure stakes a good deal of importance on home, lending more hope to the industry's future.

Kudos also will be handed to Brylane, whose four-year-old home textiles catalog churns some $150 million in sales a year, earning it the award for Emerging Force in Home Textiles.

Department stores take a rap these days — much of it deserved — but Florida-based Burdines is a highly regarded style and brand leader in the home textiles field. No wonder it nabs honors for Merchandising Excellence.

Z Gallerie, winner of the Visual Presentation award, reminds us that one of the key incentives to bringing a shopper back to the store is to stock it with fresh and delightful discoveries.

So hats off to them all. Certainly retailers are bombarded with requests all year long to attend events like these. But is turning out once a year to rub elbows with business associates in such an important product category too much to expect? It shouldn't be. And happily, this year the retailers didn't seem to think so either.

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