Vendors See a Hit-or-Miss Showtime

Carole Sloan, June 2, 2008

Despite the strength of the contract segment of their business, decorative fabric suppliers are viewing this year as challenging at best, if not a fight.

Few exhibitors at Showtime here this week are expecting a barnburner in terms of attendance, commitments or order writing. The hospitality customers were addressed in Las Vegas last month; retail fabric stores are expected to have a minimal presence as they have in the last few markets; decorative fabric jobbers are expected in their usual numbers; and many furniture companies will be seeing fabrics at their home bases, exhibitors reported.

While the situation in decorative fabrics mirrors the business malaise across all segments of consumer goods, the luxury or super high end of the fabric business remains healthy. On the level of the mainstream consumer goods business, foot traffic in stores is down, discount promotions are epidemic, and early season promotions are impacting the way fabrics are being bought.

For Rocco Simone, senior vp, Sunbury, "I think this will be a good Showtime. It should be 60/40 furniture and other customer segments, which means it isn't totally dependent on furniture — that's smart."

Simone added, "The new buzz word is interior designers; we're not involved with them but there is a buyer for better goods," like the decorative jobbers, a major business segment for the company.

"It's a tough, challenging year," said Ron Kaufmann, ceo of P/Kaufmann. The bright spots, he said, "are that contract remains strong and Clarence House [the company's division dedicated to the interior designer market] is strong. I have no reason to be optimistic about 2008."

Discussing Showtime specifically, Jack Cobb, president of Westgate by adf commented, "We're showing many of the North Carolina companies on the road, not here. The jobbers are coming but the retail fabric stores have been fewer and fewer in the last several markets. Showtime doesn't seem to be as relevant as in the past — but we will continue to support it."

"Contract is way up, residential including furniture and jobbers is very strong, but furniture orders have been a bit slower. May overall was not as good as April, and together they were not as good as the first quarter," said Mike Shelton, president of Valdese. He added that the general situation in the fabric business "is dwarfed by the lack of activity at retail."

"We have a strong number of appointments, but fewer mom and pop stores," commented Michael Day, vp, Textile Fabric Associates, who added, "I really don't have a feel for the mood. Retail is really soft, but furniture seems stronger for us."

"It's a fight," conceded Jack Eger, senior vp, Craftex. "We have the same number of appointments, and we see furniture stable, not terrible, decorative jobbers are strong, and overall it is stable, not great."

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