WPS develops plan for sales, marketing

Marvin Lazaro, September 24, 2001

As it continues to execute the 8-point restructuring plan laid out in summer 2000, WestPoint Stevens also has put together a forward-looking strategy that addresses the issues of where to take the company from a sales and marketing standpoint.

The plan involves focusing on key accounts as well as using imports to expand upon the mass-oriented foundation of the domestic mill apparatus in order to offer a wider menu of fashion-oriented, margin-building products to retailers.

"I've said all along that the only flaw this company has is an over-leveraged balance sheet," president and ceo Chip Fontenot told HTT. "We've put the financial tools in place to accomplish the things we need to accomplish and to focus on the areas we need to focus on. It's basic blocking and tackling."

He added that the business had recently picked up — "better than it has been in a while" — until the United States was struck by the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. The expected fallout-a further retrenchment in consumer spending-comes as a bitter blow to vendors that over the past nine months have been grappling with a heavily promotional, price-driven retail environment.

Fontenot sees one hopeful sign, however: "The industry's inventories have come down substantially," he noted. "It's time now to focus on product that's new and different and fresh."

Among WestPoint's initiatives in that area are the introduction of upmarket lines under the Disney Home license (product for the mass market debuted in spring), the launch of the Designer's Guild license in bed and bath, and the amalgamation of the Velux, Chatham blanket and Liebhardt Mills pillow and pad businesses into one sales and marketing unit.

The company's showroom during the upcoming market will be "very retail-oriented," said Kathleen Cwirko, senior vp, marketing, with new department store and specialty store fixturing on display for Disney Home, as well as new fixturing for Grand Patrician and the blankets/pillows/pads business.

"We're showing a lot of sourced product," she said. "Most of the sheets and towels are domestically produced. A lot of the fashion product is supplemented with sourcing. We've really reached out to all corners of the world."

Cwirko added that the home textiles manufacturer continues to actively participate in and seek business in all levels of distribution. In the long run, she said, the strategy is to show customers a broader array of gross margin products.

"Our goal is to still be a core supplier, but we also want to have products that still cater to upper-end retailers and customers," she said. "We want to have a big umbrella."

WestPoint — the industry's largest vendor in 2000 with sales of $1.88 billion — is erecting its big umbrella just as number-two player Springs exits the publicly traded arena, with umbrella plans of its own. Fontenot said the move by its chief competitor essentially changes nothing for either company.

"They're going to make the same sort of business decisions they've always made. You can't really make too many moves in this industry without the news getting out," he said. "Basically, we'll see which company does it better in the end."

He added, "This company is better positioned today to deal with adversity than it was just six months ago."

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