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Crystal Ball Issues and Illusions

Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, December 18, 2006

It's been a wild and wooly year for everyone in the world of home textiles.

And just when some things seemed to be on an even keel, there would evolve a significant list to one side or the other. Looking ahead, the crystal ball seems to forecast even more listing.

We're looking at macro stuff — currency issues, energy cost surges, and the increasing awareness by the off-shore employee base of the good things in life and the idea that they would like weekends off, and as the Internet and TV spread across the Asian region a heightened awareness and desire for the same type of consumer goods the Western world expects everyday.

From a micro-perspective, the challenges expand almost every day. Key among them is the issue of the role of suppliers and retailers — at least in the mega-retail world. It's now almost a race between the two groups to snag whatever designer, nameplate, or the celebrity of the moment, to stake out a position of differentiation on the home textiles battlefield.

In this regard, it might just be the right time to rethink where fashion comes into play. It hasn't in this business for some time — with few exceptions.

What for many seems to be an esoteric concept, logistics and speed to market will continue to be at the top of the pile of things that must be mastered both by the domestic and off-shore folks.

And the irony is that there are few similarities in standards among the retail giants in this whole scenario.

Then there is the infallible knowledge level of the retail giants who believe that they know how much Mrs. Jones will pay for any given item in their merchandise mix. Ask if they've really inquired and embarrassed harrumphs come forth.

Folks across the big water are increasingly expecting the demise of the American suppliers, with many perceiving this segment as potential “faces” for the off-shore folks. Not that it won't happen in many cases, but from early reads there's a good bit of life left in a number of these companies.

This face-off could well intensify with the advent of the new year. More retailers are acting as suppliers with few of the credentials needed to make their programs work. And heaven help us if flammability regs are enacted next year!

In any case, it won't be a dull year.

Have a great one!

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