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Retail execs remain positive

Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, January 22, 2001

NEW YORK -Voicing concern about the overall performance of the domestic economy this year, leading retail executive are nonetheless positive about their home furnishings businesses and outlook for 2001.

One factor that will affect retailers across the country for the first quarter is the going out of business sales being held by Bradlees and Montgomery Ward.

"Consumers slowed their spending overall, and it will be a while before this situation recovers," explained Alan Lacy, ceo of Hoffman Estates, IL-based Sears. And impacting the first quarter, Lacy pointed out, will be Wards' going out of business sales. "It will suck business out of the first quarter," he said. Lacy also expressed interest in some of Wards' sites.

In home textiles specifically, Lacy cited the company's private brands, and especially the Whole Home program that began with Sears Canada, as strong. Overall, he said, "bed, bath and window sales are mixed."

For Gordon Segal, ceo of Northbrook, IL-based Crate & Barrel, "January is going to be OK, flat or slightly up." And despite the economy, Crate & Barrel is about to launch its largest California unit next month, a 40,000-square-foot store off San Francisco's Union Square that marks "an evolution in its design, it's laid out differently," Segal related.

The company's fledgling CB2 store will be joined by one or two more this year, Segal said. "We're increasing the space in the original store in Chicago from 6,000 square feet to 9,000 square feet."

In addition, Segal said the merchandise mix has been changed dramatically "to have merely a 5 percent to 10 percent overlap with the Crate merchandise mix, down from 50 percent overlap when CB2 opened in January 2000. It's down to 20 percent now."

Home textiles business "is steady and good," said Marvin Girouard, chairman and ceo of Pier 1 Imports, Ft. Worth, TX, who added, "We're expanding our inexpensive rug assortment."

Pier 1, he noted, has a limited home textiles business, since it views the bedding segment "as highly competitive" and concentrates on windows, decorative pillows, cushions, throws, rugs and other textile items.

This year, Pier 1 will accelerate its new store openings with about 80 scheduled to open.

At Downers Grove, IL-based Spiegel Group, "home furnishings has been strong in all three of our divisions (Spiegel catalog, Eddie Bauer and Newport News)" said Mike Moran, chairman of the office of the president. "We expect more growth in soft home [in all three] but even more so with Newport News."

For Federated Department Stores, "home is one of our biggest" areas for growth and differentiation, said Terry Lundgren, president of the department store group.

But, he emphasized, "there needs to be more product excitement in home," and he is challenging each division to make it happen. As an example, he cited the housewares show in Chicago, where store principals were working the show as well as the buying teams to push for more newness.

Home textiles, he said "is not bad" concerning newness. He cited the company's Charter Club private label as "strong" and pointed to the new Ralph Lauren Home also as "strong" and Tommy Hilfiger as "good."

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