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At Decosit/TIP: U.S. firms fight export slowdown

Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, August 31, 2001

Brussels, Belgium — Export is a tough battle for American fabric producers, but some indicate that perhaps the global malaise has subsided a bit.

For some, the export experience is one of constant attention to service and the minute details involved as well as product. For others, it is relationships built over many years or more recent alliances that have proved fruitful.

But for others, export is still a tough fight — but one that is considered a key piece of corporate strategies. And hampering the efforts, according to some American fabric producers, is the impact the soft domestic economy is having on activities, such as travel, and the strong dollar.

Looking to Decosit, Rocco Simone, senior vp, Sunbury, remarked, "We have a core Decosit customer business — the United Kingdom and Australia, in particular — and we keep doing our niche business like Crypton and Sunbrella, which are really good."

Overall, Simone related, "export is off about 20 percent, but it's only about 8 percent of our total." For Sunbury overall, "We see business holding and even getting a little better," he said.

For Waverly, this year is about even with last year, said Christiane Michaels, president. "In the next month or two, we think we will be ahead. Mexico is strong and Europe is up."

She added, "We are re-establishing our position in Decosit in the American pavilion — the Department of Commerce has been a good partner."

Overall, Michaels said, Waverly is holding its own in the fabric part of the business. "We've had major place -ments with both the fabric chain retailers and the independents. It's difficult, but we're keeping our share and, in some cases, gaining share."

For Quaker, international sales in its last quarter increased in double digits, outpacing the company's domestic sales increases, according to Larry Liebenow, president and ceo. The sales increases were across the board. Standouts included the United Kingdom, with strong sales in the upper end, and Mexico with strength in the mid to lower price points.

Despite this strong growth pattern, Liebenow said the global situation is "worse overall than it has been."

Critical issues, he explained, are "Do you have the right product, the service and the support systems?"

In general, business for Richloom "is tough but not terrible — but it could fall apart any day," said Jim Richman, president.

For Richloom, export sales have shrunk, and "they're still shrinking. I don't think we've seen the bottom yet," he said.

"We still have customers there [overseas] as well as sources and design [from Indigo]," Richman added.

Overall for Richloom, "retail is okay, jobbers are good and furniture is holding its own" as specific channel segments.

For Valdese, "Export is soft except where we have long-term relationships," said Mike Shelton, president. The United Kingdom, he noted, "is the exception with strong business."

Overall, he related, "Business is a bit better. Jobber business and furniture have been up since early July."

"Export is not nearly as bad as some of our other businesses," said Ron Kaufmann, president of P/Kaufmann. "It's actually picked up off

the floor — but it did the downturn ahead of our other businesses."

And bolstering Kaufmann's outlook is that the company had a "fairly good Proposte [in Italy in May], and a nice bit of our print business did well. But I don't know whether it will last," he said.

For Richard Hanfling, corporate vp, Swavelle/Mill Creek, "export is not positive in sales. And there seems to be no relief in sight." Compounding the situation with the global economy, he said, is "foreign competition, the strong dollar, and we're not traveling as much."

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