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  • Jennifer Marks

Exhibitors Chart New Quota-Free Course at Show

Frankfurt, Germany — The Asian pavilions at Heimtextil were buzzing last week as exhibitors looked to gain market share that had been held at bay by quota restrictions; and Western buyers from vendor and retail companies sought to step up their sourcing operations.

Some Top 15 U.S. supplier companies sent teams of more than a dozen to scout the show, and one Top 10 retailer turned up with a posse of 55. While Asian suppliers from China, Pakistan and India agreed the environment presents a short-term opportunity of adding more customers, they already anticipate vendor consolidation following on its heels.

“In China, there are many, many factories — huge factories. It can be very confusing (for Western sourcers),” said Wayne Wang, president of Yeelein Textile Co. Ltd. of China, which exports quilts, comforters and table linens to the United States through wholesaler customers.

He foresees a period of six months or so during which U.S. sourcers will experiment with new resources, then settle on a group of steady partners.

“They don’t need 10 or 20 vendors; they need two or three good vendors,” Wang added. “They need to get closer to the vendors they work with and cooperate to create new products.”

Iqbal Ebrahim, director of Pakistan’s Al-Karam Textiles Mills, a bedding manufacturer, noted that quota policies forced sourcers to seek out a broader array of factories in order to tap all available capacity. With quotas no longer a consideration, he expects U.S. buyers to become more selective. Overseas manufacturers, he said, will soon be jockeying for position.

“The size of the U.S. market is not growing, so it becomes a matter of one company taking share from another,” he said. “This is why you see so many mills expanding capacity. You may be pleased that you grew 46 percent, but not if the market opportunity was available to grow 125 percent but you couldn’t take advantage of it.”

P.K. Markanday, joint managing director of towel manufacturer Trident/Abhishek Industries Limited of India, said now that textiles has become a truly internationalized industry, “It’s going to be survival of the fittest.”

He added, “Companies that are the most cost-efficient, that are able to change quickly and who don’t rely only on their size will do the best.”

Companies that produce several product lines need to leverage their core strengths before they attempt to build share across several categories, advised Zhang Junhua, president of Zhejiang Multi Glorz Group, a Chinese manufacturer of down products, sheet sets and blankets that does business in the United States through wholesalers.

“Because down is our primary product, we need to build that business first and, as a factory, we need to determine where the level of sales for this product will be,” he said.

Although some Asian manufacturers said there is currently a great deal of pricing confusion among products just freed from quota, many more said they believe pricing will sort itself out quickly.

A few mills said they had been asked for price breaks, but most contend that pricing overall is about as sharp as it can get.

“If I offer a price of $20, my competitor might be able to offer it at $19, but nobody can offer that same product at $10 — not at the same exact quality level,” said Yahya Yousuf Bari, director of Bari Mills, Pakistan, which manufactures bedding ensembles, sheets, kitchen towels and bath robes.

“Everybody now is at the same price point,” he added. “What customers need is quality producers, on-time shipping and customer service. That’s what makes the difference.”

Exhibitors also said despite the fact that several prominent retailers have set up buying offices in textiles producing nations, factories still need to forge relationships at the U.S. headquarters level.

“If we make contact with the U.S. office, the company will have a better impression of us, and they can make a decision faster,” said Vicky Wang, general manager of Shanghai Jasmine Home Textiles, a Chinese manufacturer of kitchen textiles, bamboo table mats and bamboo floor mats.

“If you are talking directly to the U.S., the ideas and the information come more quickly,” she said.

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