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Nautica charts new retail waters

Andrea Lillo -- Home Textiles Today, May 14, 2001

PARAMUS, NJ — Previously a department store brand exclusively, Nautica is now charting new waters in the big box channel as its revamped home collection rolls out in Linens 'N Things and Bed Bath & Beyond simultaneously.

The timing of the program, hitting Bed Bath and LNT in early May, offered a rare opportunity for a side-by-side examination of their merchandising philosophies and execution. HTT visited LNT locations in Paramus and Totowa, NJ, a Bed Bath unit in Paramus and Bed Bath's 60th Street unit in Manhattan.

While both retailers carry nearly identical pricing on the line and offer many of the same skus, the merchandising treatment suggests that Nautica's place in their assortments serves different strategic ends for the rival chains.

As seen at both retail locations, Nautica is treated variously as a high-profile collection (LNT) or salted throughout the bedding department to broaden the scope of brand offerings (Bed Bath).

Linens 'N Things, which is installing Nautica as one of three key initiatives to drive top-line sales and boost margin in the textiles department, carries seven patterns at its Paramus location. The Nautica section is given high visibility, with placement off to the right of the main aisle of the store, and called out with suspended signage.

The heart of the Nautica section is a 20-foot long, floor-to-ceiling bay with three freestanding, double-sided 5' by 3' displays, and a display bed featuring the St. Tropez pattern. St. Tropez is also the lead pattern shelved on the bay, being placed nearest to the aisle, and followed by South of France, a bright blue floral; Crew, a red plaid; and Blackwatch, a blue and green plaid. Each has 4 feet of space stocked with coordinating sheets, comforters, decorative pillows, shams, cases and window treatments — tab-top drapery for Blackwatch and valances for St. Tropez. Bedding from Croscill and Richloom lines the opposite run.

Three double-sided freestanding gondolas hold additional patterns. Montana, a red plaid pattern, faces the aisle and is merchandised with black denim items. A pinstripe pattern called Boardroom has duvets and shams and a coordinating blue window plaid 210-count sheet ($49.99 for a queen sheet). A 190-count coordinate to the 310-count St. Tropez sheet is also found here. The sides of the freestanding units display coordinating sheets and shams.

Nautica also makes an appearance in the general bedding area of the store, where a display bed dressed with the Cambridge plaid pattern is accompanied by a sign introducing the collection.

The Nautica set in Totowa is virtually identical, although its two dressed beds are featured back to back. Neither store had received the bath portion of the program at the time of HTT's visit.

In the nearby Bed Bath, the store calls attention to the arrival of the collection right at the front entrance, with a stand-alone sign introducing Nautica, above another sign introducing Wamsutta's Supima Cotton 320-count sheets.

Although Bed Bath puts Nautica on more beds than LNT — four displays as opposed to two — those beds are spread throughout the bedding department. Individual components such as sheets and comforters are merchandised by pattern in the vicinity of each display bed; but here, too, they are interspersed among bedding collections from other manufacturers, including Bay Linens, Laura Ashley and Sheridan.

The format suggests that Bed Bath is using Nautica to help pull traffic through the department rather than throwing a spotlight on the label as a featured brand.

However, the Paramus presentation stands in stark contrast to Bed Bath's merchandising of the program in Manhattan. There Nautica is given the department store treatment, merchandised in a stand-alone section approximately 16-feet wide and 12-feet deep, and anchored by a single bed dressed in the Blackwatch pattern. The Manhattan store carries more bedding patterns than the Paramus unit — eight vs. five. And the store's four-sku program of shower curtains is cross-merchandised on one side of a four-way pole display in the bedding area. In addition, the Manhattan store's bath department features the Nautica program prominently, merchandising the shower curtains alongside two collections of Nautica-branded coordinate bath accessories.

In a further contrast, the Paramus store also offers several Nautica quilt patterns in the quilt area, something not seen in the Manhattan unit.

The bath collection in Paramus is not called out in any way in the bath area. The Cambridge and Indigo Blues fabric shower curtains fill almost three shelves, and the Ottoman, offered in white or navy twill, is stocked on a separate shelf. The store carries no bath accessories or window treatments.

Nautica pricing at both big boxes is similar, with pricing on twin sheets ranging from $9.99 to $14.99 and retail on queens from $31.99 to $44.99. The sole exception is the pricing on king-size shams, which LNT prices $5 less than Bed Bath's $49.99.

The program is still rolling out at both retailers, as well as at department store accounts, so the extent to which each treatment will ultimately differ from the other remains to be seen. As both companies weave the program into the mix, tweaking is likely to continue. But the early results suggest that Nautica is settling comfortably into its new channel.

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