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Volume surfaces as hot issue in Germany

Agendas at the Heimtextil here last week were as varied as the countries involved in the international home textiles show.

Hot topics included the impact of the escalating euro valuation, Li & Fung's plans for the Royal Velvet license, the lingering fallout of the Pillowtex demise (on the towel industry in particular), and, of course, how the industry will change with the elimination of quotas in 2005.

"Buyers are still cautious, although the U.S. buyers are not as cautious as the Europeans," said Mujdat Gunal, export area manager for Europe and the U.S. for Akman, a Turkish manufacturer of window fabrics, window treatments and shower curtains.

Like many producers of better product, Akman is working to position itself against bottom-feeder price-driven competition. "We have 90 looms at the moment. The only way to make the product cheaper would be to add capacity, and we don't want to do that," Gunal said. "We want to increase the creativity of the designs, which is the key point of reaching better customers."

Springs Industries, whose senior-most executives turned out to shop the fair, believes the home furnishings industry will expand by 4 to 5 percent annually over the next three years.

"As the global economy inches slowly — very slowly — into recovery, sales volume is once again becoming a priority for business," president Tom O'Conner said. He noted that as the economy picks up, the home textiles business is becoming "increasingly crowded with new players."

Springs is focusing on brands and brand-building to differentiate itself from the pack, O'Conner said. However, "First and foremost, we are relentlessly committed to growth in our key accounts. And in this industry, there are only 10 or 12 of them."

Although Springs owns a sourcing operation based in China, it has no plans to pursue wide-ranging exports.

"Most of our international strategy is focused on our key account strategy," O'Conner said. "We have no separate international marketing strategy. Frankly, we don't believe we have the competitive edge (as a supplier to) the Asian market."

Europe and the United States are the focus for towel manufacturer Sharadha Terry Products Ltd. of India, best known in the United States for its MicroCotton brand zero-twist towel. The mill has expanded its capacity over the past two years from 16 to 90 looms.

This year, the mill will expand to 200 looms, according to G. Kannapan, chairman, who noted that the Indian industry was a beneficiary of the Pillowtex liquidation.

"All Pillowtex clients demand high volume, and on a replenishment basis. This will be a benefit to the three or four manufacturers from India that can handle such orders," he said.

Also on an expansion tear is Towellers, a manufacturer of bed-in-a-bag sets, towels and blankets based in Pakistan. Towellers is planning to add another 100 looms to its operation this year , according president Sheik Mohammed Obaid.

During the fair, the company debuted low-twist and Egyptian cotton blankets, low-twist and modal bath towels and microfiber kitchen towels with UltraFresh (a brand name) anti-microbial finish. The introductions were made possible by new equipment acquisitions over the past 18 months, Obaid said.

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