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YoPros Mix it Up With Textiles Vets

Barry Leonard WelspunNEW YORK - The Home Fashions Product Association's Young Professionals group - also known as the YoPros - hosted a panel discussion earlier this month during which they presented a volley of questions about the industry and its future to a quartet of home textiles ceos.
     The panelists included:
     ● Chris Baker, ceo of Hollander Home Fashions;
     ● Louis Hornick II, chairman and ceo of Louis Hornick & Co.;
     ● Barry Leonard, president and ceo of Welspun USA;
     ● Norman Savaria, president and ceo of WestPoint Home.
     The YoPros were ready for them with queries about a host of subjects.
     One of the first questions addressed the recent wave of despecing product to meet a predetermined price. Had the practice finally hit a floor? The YoPros wanted to know.
     The answer: Yes. The execs noted that soaring raw material costs and higher labor prices in manufacturing countries had reversed more than a decade of steady price deflation.
     "I think what happened over the last decade was an anomaly," said Baker. "I don't think we'll see it again."
     Added Hornick: "Nothing goes down forever."
     The panelists agreed that the good/better/best merchandising configuration is an entrenched formula that is likely to endure.
     "It's an easy way to communicate with the consumer," said Savaria. "If [the message] is clear, it's going to win."
     A fair amount of time was spent on the subject of branding. Do brands matter if they're not already household names? What is the future of private label brands? How does one assign a value to a brand?
     "It's really about how the consumer values a brand," said Leonard. He also cautioned: "Brands built around celebrities can be risky, as we've all seen. You have to have someone you trust will be around."
     Baker discussed Hollander's launch six months ago of its own brand, Live Comfortably. He was a skeptic, he said. "Now we've got the brand in 12 retailers - with meaningful volume."
     Savaria offered three criteria for establishing a brand. "A brand requires discipline, vision and patience," he said.
     He noted that his daughter shops very differently than he does. She doesn't shop one brand. "She shops 10 different stores and puts together [her own brand]."
     Hornick identified new media as a game-changer for brand development. "The social media phenomenon makes it much easier to promote a brand. You don't have to spend $200,000 for a page in a shelter magazine," he said.
     When asked if they saw another big-box retailer emerging on the horizon, all agreed the internet was the place to look.
     "I think it's more interesting to ask what Amazon is doing to Best Buy than what Best Buy is doing to other retailers," said Hornick.
     Added Baker: "For companies like ours, the question is how to respond to that." The internet is increasingly the place to go for basic goods, "especially if you're buying solid colors and it's not a fashion item," he said.
     It's possible to grow a bricks and mortar retail concept with a well-defined niche, said Leonard.
     "Anna's Linens is a good example," he said. "They've got about 300 stores, but they've got a laser-like focus on ethnic consumers."
     None of the panelists believe domestic production will return in any meaningful way. What they do here, each said, exists simply because it is the most cost-effective way of producing that particular product.
     "It's really the products of the future that you people need to think of and conceive that will create the opportunity for domestic production," said Hornick, addressing the young crowd.
     Added Leonard: "You have so many ideas that we need, and you need to be bringing them forward all the time. Sitting up here as ceos, we're great at history. You're the ones who are going to bring us forward into the future."

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