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Softline Riding Retail Upswing

In 10th year, window treatment vendor thriving

Call it a “mood swing,” suggests Jason Carr, founder of window treatment manufacturer Softline Home Fashions.

“With retailers reporting big profits, it's putting buyers in a better mood, and they are more inclined to look at good product,” Carr told HTT. “It's not a 15-minute meeting anymore.”

Referring to such key merchandisers as Bed Bath & Beyond, Kohl's, Target, TJX and others that have in recent weeks reported major upswings in revenues and profits, Carr said the Softline team has noticed a change in approach by various window division buyers. “This is giving them the opportunity to put in the best product — not just look at the best price, the best deal,” he said.

The company of course welcomes this approach. Softline, which in August 2010 will mark 10 years in business, has built its reputation on “fashion-driven products at affordable prices,” said Carr. “We've done some risk-taking things, we've been sku-intensive, with lots of colors. We've offered novelties, newer looks.”

Launched in California with his brother, Rodney Carr, in 2000, Softline now employs 95 and has showrooms in New York, Atlanta, and their native Montreal, where the company opened a warehouse-and-showroom facility just last year.

For this season's New York Home Fashions Market, the range of new looks by Softline will include additions to its all-recycled Evidence of Evolution line and its Energex blackout collection.

Carr said the woven Energex line is differentiated from the competition by virtue of special textures, and by a robust palette of at least 26 color choices. Retail price points on the line have found a sweet spot of $24.99 for a pair of panels, he said.

The Evidence of Evolution collection, made from recycled polymer drink bottles is “very strong for us,” Carr said, “with broadening placements.”

Along with novelty sheers, novelty embroideries and many additions to its main faux silk lines, Softline is also seeing new vigor in its decorative pillow offering, he noted.

On the issue of pricing and commodity cost changes, Carr said there has been much fluctuation over the last six months. Now, yarn and cotton prices have trended up again, but Softline plans to absorb the change for now. “We are facing some price increases, but we're not passing these along to our customers — you can't change a program every six months,” he said.

Carr also observed, “Being what the Euro is right now, China is doing better with European customers than with U.S. and Canada” on price-sensitive business.

Having “weathered some storms” over Softline's first nine-and-a-half years in business, he said, “We've reserved cash for the storms.”

“We're very, very proud of what we've done,” Carr said. “We have expanded in a bad time, and we've put a lot of time and energy into marketing a reputable name out there.”

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