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  • Jennifer Marks

Something strange is in the air

At the Mini-market in New York last week, the aroma of uncertainty hung in the air.

No, it wasn't the usual "what happened to all the retailers?" fuss that kicks up around markets. The fact that there were few retailers around — and that most of those who turned up live within driving distance of the market — was deemed par for the course.

Most textilians I spoke with expected to see seven to 10 accounts over the course of the week, although a handful of big guns had 18 to 25 appointments on their books.

The uncertainty wafting through the under-populated showrooms up and down the avenues had more to do with where the industry is headed.

Questions I was asked most often had to do with quota elimination, WestPoint Stevens' reorganization, the ultimate disposition of the former Pillowtex brands and, on that subject, what's up with Li & Fung?

It's awfully hard to plan around uncertainty. One executive said he no longer worries all that much about his established competitors — he worries about companies he's never heard of coming out of nowhere and biting into his shelf space before he knows they're on the scene.

Another executive predicted all replenishment businesses would finish the year with a sales decline of 10 percent to 15 percent.

His reasoning: escalating raw material costs, escalating quota costs and retailers' refusal late last year to order replenishment at higher prices.

Some sheet and towel suppliers continue to predict product shortages later in the year — particularly if nothing is done about carry-forward.

Copyright protection remains a concern. A supplier of accessories said the factory he works with in China sent him a couple of impressively designed samples that were spot-on in terms of trend.

Upon closer examination, he realized why they were so trend-right — the construction in question was already out on the market under another company's name.

Elsewhere on Fifth Avenue, a supplier hauled out a shopping bag that had been distributed at Heimtextil by a European trade commission.

Problem was, the imagery on the bag was identical to imagery in his HTT ad campaign. The trade commission had dropped in another woman's face, but everything else — right down to the jagged part in her hair — was identical to his ad photography.

On the subject of quota, the consensus appears to be that you might as well proceed as though it's going away as planned.

Even if it doesn't happen Jan. 1, 2005, it will happen eventually.

If there was some frustrated hand-wringing at Mini-market, there was surprisingly little teeth-gnashing. The industry is pushing ahead and bracing for impact.

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