Calico Corners out to be more than just fabrics

Carole Sloan, August 9, 2004

Calico Corners has shifted gears, moving to provide customers with decorating solutions based on a wide range of fabrics, as it moves away from being just a fabric store.

In addition, said Roy Simpson Jr., newly named president and chief operating officer, "We are integrating more what we show in the catalog with displays in the stores with our inventory."

Simpson, who joined the company full-time three years ago, had long been a director.

He succeeds Bert Kertstetter, who now is chairman and CEO of the company that industry estimates peg at more than $200 million. Roy Simpson Sr. stepped down as chairman and CEO and now is chairman emeritus and a board member. The company is owned by the Simpsons, Kerstetter and other members of senior management. Betsy Burr is general merchandise manager and Barbara Muehr is fabric buyer.

In terms of fashion leadership, the 120-plus specialty-fabric chain "tries to be where our customers are — not to take her where she doesn't want to go," Simpson added. And the stores still emphasize fashion looks such as Tuscany or Provence themes rather than specific fabrics or pattern designs.

But while the company does not attempt to be at the forefront of edgy fashion, "We were the earliest to have spa blue and chocolate and moss green and chocolate. We were there in the beginning and customers responded," he said. More important than trendy, Simpson related, "We want to be fresh, and current and comfortable."

The fabric assortment is the core of the company's business, with custom work offered for a vast variety of window treatments, bedding, decorative pillows, seat cushions, table linens and special order upholstered furniture. Each store carries about 700 bolts of fabric, Simpson explained, although the actual number varies depending on store size and market.

In addition, the stores carry samples for more than 3,000 skus of cut-order fabrics, the majority of which are stocked in the firm's warehouse here "and shipped within 48 hours or less," Simpson said proudly. The balance are shipped from suppliers.

The stores and district managers determine specific fabric needs appropriate to their markets from the core assortments. "We have a great breadth nation-wide, and we make sure the stores stock what they show," Simpson emphasized.

Custom work is critical to the company's growth, Simpson related. "We're the home for custom decorating — we have the processes and the infrastructure. We're selling customers products as they want them made, versus fabrics at a certain cost."

To provide the custom products, the company uses fewer than 1,000 workrooms across the country. The contractors with multi-store affiliations are validated by management here while other workrooms must adhere to corporate quality standards and consistency of product.

The catalog is changed twice a year with a circulation of 2.8 million. "It's mailed to prospective customers as well as a customer list 10 times a year," Simpson said.

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