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A matter of trust

Jennifer Negley -- Home Textiles Today, October 22, 2001

The double whammy of the FBI terrorism warning and the anthrax scare that caused some retailers to cancel their visits to the New York Home Textiles market last week came at a particularly ill-timed moment for industry.

From large showrooms to small, from major mills to mid-sized companies to niche companies, there was plenty to see. Clearly, the home textiles community went out of its way to put its best foot forward, rethink core competencies and create distinctive new product.

And, yes, that's the point of every market. But this time it was evident that vendors had made a truly concerted effort to come up with ideas to counter what has been a sluggish year for retail. Although vendor sales reps will fan out now to present their lines at headquarters across the country, the impact won't be the same as a walk through a fully orchestrated showroom where a plethora of product work in tandem to tell a story.

That's a pity for retailers and vendors alike. The challenges ahead for the retail industry are incomprehensible — literally. If consumers begin spending more time at home, will they consequently spend more money on new products for those homes? How rigidly will they tighten their belts — and at the expense of which categories? Is there a way to make them feel like sharp and savvy shoppers without going deeply, deeply promotional? How does one communicate value, comfort and safety?

If ever there was a time to put heads together, toss around ideas and experiment with fresh approaches to merchandising this is it.

Innovation has a thousand fathers, and it is in the best interests of all concerned to open the dialogue. In one step in that direction, JCPenney's Charlie Chinni next month will hold a roundtable issues discussion with vendors at a closed-door session hosted by the HFPA.

Let's hope it's the first of many such exchanges, and that retailers step up to the plate and make themselves available.

The industry also needs more frank conversation between retailers and vendors on an individual basis. A closed door may keep distractions at bay, but it can also bar the way to something truly worthwhile.

Finally, it is time for the return of trust. A vendor who does not trust a buying team not to knock off his big idea or raffle it off to the lowest bidder is unlikely to present it in the first place. And a retailer who doesn't trust a vendor to ship exactly what she ordered, how she ordered it and when it is supposed to arrive is unlikely to commit her reputation or resources. very vendor wants to write an order. At the moment, though, what they really need is an opportunity to tell their story and to be listened to.

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