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Ralph's world sees multi-tracked tiers

As Ralph Lauren Home builds the Lauren Ralph Lauren brand through new category launches, it's drawing a sharper distinction between Ralph Lauren Home product and Lauren product — part of a larger strategic plan to tier the business.

"For us, the launch of Lauren is just as important as the launch of Ralph Lauren Home 20 years ago. This isn't just another idea — it's a big idea," said Ken Rood, president of Ralph Lauren Home, a division of Polo Ralph Lauren Corp.

The Ralph Lauren Home brand has become exclusive to Polo Ralph Lauren stores, which corporation president and coo Roger Farah has identified as a significant growth vehicle for the company. Eventually, the company may open a free-standing home store, although Rood emphasized that there are no concrete plans on the table right now.

Lauren, under various licenses, will pursue expansion in alternative channels: department stores, independent furniture retailers and giftware specialty stores.

"Ralph Lauren stores tend to be more expressive in taking a leadership role — whether through design, quality or price points," Rood told HTT. "Anytime we enter a new category, our strategy is to enter at the high end of the business and then trickle it down."

Lauren debuted two years ago with separate bed and bath offerings. Last fall, the division began stepping up the line by presenting Lauren as fully coordinated bed and bath ensembles. Later this week, Lauren Ralph Lauren furniture will debut at the High Point Furniture Market through a license with Hendredon. As Lauren furniture begins rolling out to retail in the fall, Mikasa will preview the inaugural line Lauren tabletop for spring '04 delivery.

Domestics sales have been and will continue to be driven primarily by department stores, Rood said. Tabletop and gift programs are aimed at "the sweet spot of the department store market," although they will also be offered to independent tabletop stores, Rood said. Lauren furniture, which takes a younger, more eclectic approach to design than the existing Ralph Lauren Home furniture line, will be sold primarily through independents, although Rood sees incremental growth opportunity in department stores.

"Building a comprehensive brand is very, very, important to us," he added. "We are developing categories that will all come from the same points of view in that great way that Ralph is able to pull the world together."

New domestics introductions in Lauren this market include a greater variety of throw pillows and decorative accessories for each bedding design, an assortment of towel offerings for each and the emergence of Lauren quilts as a classification business.

Lauren quilts retail at $199 queen, roughly in the upper-middle range for department stores. Although they continue to be presented as a layer to specific beds, they will also be offered as a stand-alone product, according to Joe Granger, vp, bed and bath.

"The classification business is an opportunity going forward," he added. "Hopefully, the business has bottomed out as a price point issue, and consumers will be looking for quality again."

Lauren this market significantly expanded the palette of its solid color Avenue towel, which logged double-digit growth last year to become Lauren's leading towel program, Granger said. By injecting 12 new colors into the line, the division hopes to extend that run through 2003.

This market, Lauren also added camel and loden green to its new Estate 370 sateen solid color sheeting program, which has essentially completed the rollout begun in January. Constructed of compact yarn from read-to-wear to improve the hand and reduce pilling, the line is performing "very positively," Granger said.

Overall, Lauren is focusing on detailing to ratchet up the perceived value of the goods. The Chandler group, for example, consists of a comforter or duvet cover of 100 percent cotton gray flannel with inset gross grain taping around the edges, a heavyweight corduroy throw and shams, a silk foulard pillow that reverses to flannel and a log cabin quilt.

Coordinate bath offerings include a ribbed jacquard towel with plaid borders, a university striped towel with a striped edge dobby and a vertical stripe towel with an embroidered Lauren logo.

"We're making a conscious effort to build lifestyle into bed and bath," Granger said.

Elsewhere across the Lauren collection, interesting touches include a reversible cotton bath mat, a glazed canvas shower curtain with contrast stitching, a faux fur throw reversing to velvet, needlepoint dec pillows on a softened burlap ground and quilt moleskin shams.

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