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Royal Vellux debut tells only part of WPS story

WestPoint Stevens came to market over the weekend with new product stories to tell: a licensing agreement with S. Lichtenberg that will extend its brands into window; the debut of the Royal Vellux brand in blankets and towels; and a re-launch of the Utica brand that revisits the label's roots in luxury.

But none of those items are among the company's primary thrust this market. Instead, WestPoint conveyed its introductions within the framework of a larger strategic message intended to demonstrate how deep its knowledge of product development runs and what it brings to the party in competitive terms.

"The point is to distinguish this company as the premiere provider of market solutions. If we can win on the concept of what's in it for the retailer, we know we can win on the product," said Bob Dale, president of bed and bath.

"We've been around for more than 200 years," he added. "Part of our goal is to educate this market."

WestPoint set out to demonstrate four strategic points:

Marketing solutions: Demonstrated most vividly in its presentation of solid color towels and sheets along walls that married color families rather than presenting standard vertical color presentations. The idea is to make a small shift in merchandising that can drive additional skus into the market basket. "This could be demonstrated at any price level and executed at any location," Dale said. "This business needs to give the consumer a reason to buy. This is a more graphic demonstration of color — which is always the first driver."

Brands and alliances: The Grand Patrician brand was very much front and center in WestPoint's showroom, a bid to suggest to the trade that alternatives already exist to Royal Velvet and Charisma. Ditto the launch of the new Grand Patrician Seduction sheet program, which uses a proprietary compact spinning process to create a finer hand. The Utica re-launch, which seems positioned to address higher-end special event programs, includes sheet sets in single-pick counts of 400, 500 and 600 threads. "These types of sheets are all over the market — but most of them are two-play and none of them are branded," Dale said.

Global services: WestPoint does in the neighborhood of $300 million to $400 million in global sourcing annually. "It's not a new division for us," said ceo Chip Fontenot. "For some reason, we haven't been given credit for it."

Systems intelligence: "We have incredible sortation systems that can reduce costs and reduce the retailer's liability. It speaks to the question of 'Why choose us?,'" Dale said.

The new Royal Vellux blanket is a step-up version of the venerable Vellux line — thicker, softer and more drapable than the original. The new label also allows WestPoint to delineate the line by channel. In blankets, it developed a soft-twist yarn system to create a new ultra soft assortment under the Grand Patrician label.

In the towel area, WestPoint jettisoned the traditional presentation of individual towel lines to focus on the range of constructions in its towel arsenal: low-twist, supima, pima, Egyptian, California and Upland.

Product-oriented displays were directed at the new and differentiated: the new Royal Vellux brand, available as a loop cotton or as a fully sheered cotton face; the new Martex Snap towel, which employs a touch of elastic; and the Martex Retro Rub, a ribbed chenille.

"All this industry does is change the faces and lower the prices. We're trying to change the business," Dale said.

WestPoint also introduced a collection of seasonally themed pumps and gift items — some of them presented as gift baskets.

"We haven't been as strong as we might have been in gifts and novelty," Dale said.

Its year-old bath accessories collection expanded to include a variety of fabrications, including metallic, resin, ceramic and wood offerings, an assortment intended to demonstrate its ability as a fulfillment house for any retail channel.

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