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  • Jennifer Marks

The Threshold

Five years ago, the publisher Little, Brown released a book called “The Tipping Point” by New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell.

The central idea behind the theory of a tipping point is that there is a moment when a confluence of events forces a sudden change in the order of the things. In the words of the book, “The Tipping Point is the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.”

It has become clear in recent weeks that the supplier community has begun cresting over its tipping point.

Start with the Springs/Coteminas merger, which likely includes headquarters relocation to Brazil and the orderly shutdown of large portions of what remains of the U.S.-based operation. A probable Phase II: joint ventures with prominent manufacturers elsewhere to create a global manufacturing operation that sells to key retailers in the global markets around the world.

WestPoint Stevens becomes WestPoint International — its U.S. business renamed WestPoint Home. Joint venture announcements are on the horizon — perhaps sooner rather than later.

U.S./China hybrid bedding supplier PHI has acquired a towel mill in China. Chinese towel manufacturer Sunvim is expanding into bedding. Indian towel maker Welspun has already added sheeting; can top-of-bed be far off? Home Fashions International — the relatively young finished products division of another U.S./China hybrid, fabric manufacturer American Decorative Fabrics — is positioning itself to become a major global supplier adding $100 million in sales a year for the next 10 years.

The New York Home Textiles Show at the Javits Center late next year will bifurcate into two shows: one for global home textiles manufacturers that will attach itself to national shows for housewares and hardware and one for luxury home textiles producers that will attach itself to the high-end New York Gift Fair.

For one-stop-shop suppliers (or large manufacturers that hope to join their ranks), the way of the future is snapping into focus. It's an offshore, multi-country bricks-and-mortar strategy that seeks to sell to the world.

How the scenario will shake out for niche suppliers hasn't become evident.

This is particularly true for those targeting the luxury end of the business — a broad but widely fragmented landscape of single-store retailers. As the era of independent sales reps wanes, how will the unique suppliers and risk-averse community of specialized retailers find one another in between trade shows?

That is a tipping point we have not reached.

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