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New Looks Key at N.Y. Event

Carole Sloan, January 26, 2009

Exhibitors at the New York International Gift Fair/Home Textiles Market Week here are putting significant emphasis on product enhancements as a key inducement for retailers to buy.

With a track record of lower attendance at the Atlanta and Dallas regional markets, most exhibitors do not expect that pattern to change for the market here. While hopeful about results, many have no idea what to expect.

One thing is for certain: Product introductions will be tight, with each introduction making a meaningful statement in the supplier's product lineup, rather than just bringing out product for product's sake.

"We had a decent Dallas and Atlanta even though the traffic was down, and we showed in our corporate building, not the Mart in Dallas," said Mary Ella Gabler, principal of Peacock Alley. Looking at the full year ahead, Gabler remarked, "Who knows what New York will bring? All of us want more business, but I see all of us having less business this year. It's not going to be terrible, but tough."

Despite lower attendance, "we were pleasantly surprised by the results in Atlanta; I was happy" said Pamela Kline, principal of Traditions by Pamela Kline. One of the things that made Atlanta better than expected, she said, was, "I reinvented myself with the target — a younger customer. The bed turned out to be my best bed, and even the older customers liked it."

As a result, Kline expects that New York, typically her best show, "will be a pleasant surprise."

For Sferra, this period is one of hand-holding with customers, Paul Hooker, principal commented. "We're giving as much as we can for our customers" in terms of finding discounts on in-line products and have day-to-day items that are always in stock. "We're giving customers a reason to come in. We've always been known as affordable luxury. The discounts will provide higher margin incentives, and they won't be advertised."

Noting that "some retailers are reordering," John Rose, principal of Textillery added, "I have no idea what to expect from New York. Because it's at the end of the month and year-end, it may have an edge on the other regionals."

To bolster the company's product introductions, Textillery is adding a lot of new bamboo, lots of new designs in menswear and spring looks.

"We have to strike a balance, creating a reason to buy new things when there is a natural reluctance" in this period, explained George Matouk, Jr., president of Matouk. "We're emphasizing creativity but taking a narrow approach. We're using existing materials in product development and focusing on existing opening price points."

Matouk added, "We're addressing the aspirational customer. We're trying to give stores an opportunity to expand their reach."

John Fraley, coo of Home Source, sees customers "managing their business with what they have, with the exception of product that is new and different. It has to be really special."

Home Source is hoping to benefit from its new East Coast sales arrangement with One Coast, with the rep company bringing customers from the Javits to the Home Source showroom at 230 Fifth Avenue.

"It's a crisis of confidence," said Ann Gish, president of her namesake bedding company. "We're showing three new beds — and new colors in the other three. It's really good value for what I'm offering." Interestingly, she added, "I'm selling the most of the most expensive items in my new product book."

For Anichini, "We think the market will be terrible, and we're being conservative," said Marti Dollenmaier, president. In addition to the anticipated lack of traffic, she said, "People just don't want to spend money."

Customers are staying closer to home and they're going to markets based on locations," remarked Cathy Stemmler, national sales manager for SDH. The market in New York will be a different experience for the firm, "since we're moving from the Piers to Javits, and we're not doing a fancy booth, to keep costs down."

Click here for a slideshow of product images from the show.