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Tunnel vision

Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, June 17, 2002

Over and over I hear conversations from suppliers about how they have to sell the Top 10 retailers in order to be successful and grow their businesses.

Then I hear in conversations with retailers that rank way below the Top 10 but still in world-class slots that American suppliers don't want to deal with them because they can't or won't give the size orders the suppliers demand.

And then there are the hundreds of retailers that most of the biggies and hope-to-be biggies don't even consider as part of their universe.

And yes, these folks won't make the Home Textiles Today Top 50 rankings, but they sure can offer collectively a mess of sales and even better — fewer headaches and more profit than the Top 10.

Just the other day, while lunching with a home textiles executive, it was clear that his level of exasperation had reached almost the breaking point. The cause — a packaging issue with one of the Top 10; the same packaging had been in practice for years, now it was an issue with a punitive fee.

We proceeded with a conversation about the other guys — the ones that don't make the Top 10. "We're not set up to deal with them," was one response. "They can't make our minimums," was another — and on and on.

Talking with a retailer for our Buyers' Choices post-market feature, the highly acclaimed senior executive, whose company is being closely watched by many in the home textiles world, straight-out said, "I can't pick any company for an outstanding product because we don't shop the market that way. The market doesn't want to provide us with the product and quantities we need since we don't meet their parameters, so we just go elsewhere" — meaning offshore.

There was a time, and not so far in the past, when the major mills had departments set up for specialty stores, and "onesies" were looked upon as a positive part of business — and a profitable one to boot. Those times are history.

Now some of the Top 10 guys are beginning to feel the pain that vanilla merchandising is producing on both their top-line and bottom-line results. There are a few cracks beginning to form, as they open their eyes and ears. But there has to be a great deal more happening before there is any positive effect on this marketplace.

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