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Royal Velvet returns with a new philosophy

Royal Velvet is returning to the textiles market with a figurative "under new management" banner, but more significantly, with a radically new philosophy and take regarding what its marketplace really is and how its business should be run.

There's even a bit of new product slated to be shown in preparation for a spring '05 launch.

Brand management company Group 3 Design has finalized its licensing agreement with manufacturer Li & Fung for a variety of core bed and bath products, even as talks with home textiles suppliers in other categories and efforts to attract retailers are continuing.

It's all happening at Shop Studios on W. 49th Street, by invitation and appointment only. The sell: Royal Velvet is still the ultimate color authority.

But perhaps most surprising will be an emphasis on a consumer marketing campaign to create a "pull" for the brand and plans for broad line extensions that will, for the first time, take it well beyond bedroom and bath to the rest of the home.

"It's a walkthrough of the brand from soup to nuts from the standpoint of where the mission is, where the vision of the brand is, what it will be comprised of in the different product categories on the drawing board — bath obviously being the furthest along at this point," explained John Hall, vice president of brand development. "We'll actually have a towel presentation there that will really get the message across."

Most of this week's presentations will focus on bath. Li & Fung will show some of its new Royal Velvet towels, and visuals will describe other products in the line, Group 3 said. But already the branding firm is setting its sights on products for window, tabletop, kitchen, paints and fabrics, among others.

"I think this is big," said Group 3 President Mary Gleason. "I think this is a fabulous name and this is the opportunity to be the color authority. One of the big differences between the way we're allowed to operate and the way a company like Pillowtex was allowed to operate is that they were about making product. We're about building a brand and how to extend that brand out to so many product categories that never existed before. Why not make decorative fabrics?"

Added Gleason, "We need to let retailers know how we're thinking about all of this so that when they get involved with us, they know we're not just asking for some shelf space for some towels."

The marketing effort that will be outlined during the meetings this week will emphasize four key areas: a print advertising campaign, in-store presentation and promotions, design partnerships and product placement, said Hall.

The print campaign has already started this market with advertising in the trades, and a consumer print effort will launch in November or December, Gleason said.

"I'm not a big believer you need product in the stores to start the campaign," she explained. "It's a branding campaign. I'm not selling towels in this campaign. I'm selling image and concept."

An additional segment of the print campaign is the development of a special project Hall identified as "Color Without Boundaries" that will feature celebrity endorsements with attention to special charities they select. Mock-ups of the ads feature the celebrity couples clad only in Royal Velvet towels.

"So we've really developed the human aspect of this by making Royal Velvet a living entity," Hall explained.

At least one couple was expected to sign on for the program this week, pre-market, with plans to add others.

In-store promotions will de-emphasize sales, according to Gleason. The effort will involve support signing, couponing and perhaps consumer workshops.

Design partnerships will present an unusual twist for the brand. Group 3 plans to enlist well-known designers to add their names and patterns to the product's positioning as, "XYZ designer for Royal Velvet," Gleason explained. "That's where I might get into some proprietary products for certain retailers."

And finally, the company will seek product placements in a variety of venues, for example, on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," along with finding an appropriate presence on channels like HGTV, the Style Network or Bravo.

"It goes back to letting the retailers know how serious we are about these brands," Gleason said.

Added Hall, "The marketing campaign is really what makes Royal Velvet the first and foremost home furnishings brand in the market for design leadership and quality and good value at the right price points. This is really where we'll be able to win over the consumer and pull this product through like it hasn't been done ever, at least while I've been around."

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