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  • Cecile Corral

Dec Pillows Look to Stand Alone

Trends in home that encourage more eclectic lifestyle looks rather than direct coordination are breathing new life into the decorative pillow business, and retailers are jumping on the opportunity to spur sales.

“What’s happening is that decorative pillows are being bought by different buyers from different departments who want to create an impulse sale,” said Toby Weinstein, vice president of sales and marketing, New York-based Creative Home Furnishings.

As a result, decorative pillows have become more pervasive throughout the selling floor and more powerful at the cash register. With shoppers treating decorative pillows like fashion accessories for their sofas, beds and armchairs — the way they would a brooch or a lapel — retailers have realized that positioning the product in vignettes throughout their stores, beyond the usual departmentalized shelves, translates to more rings at the register.

At its new home reinvent stores, Macy’s, for example, showcases decorative pillows in almost all of its departments, merchandising them alongside not only sheets and comforter sets but also picture frames, scented candles and vases to tell complete color-coordinated stories.

It is clear the shift is allowing suppliers to gain placement in new departments with existing retail customers and with new distribution channels, sometimes earning higher price points.

“We see an opportunity in the marketplace to sell better product at better price points using unique cut-and-sew embellishments,” said Evan Melnick, vice president of sales and merchandising for Waverly Home Fashions.

Waverly, a longtime decorative pillow supplier, recently pursued new customers — boutiques and gift stores — with the launch of a high-end standalone decorative pillow collection. The 80 sku line comprises product made using multiple Waverly print, woven and novelty fabrics that mix and match by color.

“The customer wants to decorate around color, so we show multiple fabrications and techniques in decorative pillows to achieve multiple sales,” Melnick said.

Arlee, the second largest pillow supplier with $74 million in sales in 2002, unexpectedly carved out a new and lucrative business working with bedding buyers from two major retailers — one discount department store and a mid-tier chain.

Bud Frankel, president and CEO, said Arlee was approached by these retailers to provide a broad array of decorative pillow looks that share color schemes and themes with the stores’ bedding collections.

“Some (of the decorative pillows) come from our regular stock,” he explained, with others being developed to coordinate by color and construction.

“It’s a new business, and it’s all plus business for us,” he continued. ”We’re very happy with the way it’s going. It gives us double the exposure.”

Creative Home Furnishings, based here, recently added several new contemporary styles that can marry to traditional looks as it continues to woo more furniture store customers.

“Furniture stores are utilizing decorative pillows as another way to ring their registers,” Weinstein said. “They are treating it as a shelve-able classification.”

Sugar Valley, Ga.-based Mohawk Home — which last year generated $31 million in decorative pillow sales, setting it in third place of the top suppliers — recently revamped its throw and decorative pillow offerings, slotting them into various lifestyle looks that all can work together, but do not directly coordinate.

“Our pillows have improved since we began focusing on trend and lifestyle looks,” said Merle Johnson, Mohawk vice president of marketing. “We’ve evolved it and created product that can hit a more mid-level price point.”

Mohawk Home’s current key decorative pillow price point range is from $14.99 to $19.99 — a notch above its more aggressively priced and promotional offerings that hit $9.99 to $12.99.

Suppliers admit that accessory items to bedding collections, like decorative pillows, represent higher margins for both the supplier and the retailer.

“It’s in the accessories where most, if not all, of the profit is made,” said Neil Zuber, president of Richmond, Va.-based Ashford Court, which is also a vendor of top-of-bed products that coordinate with its decorative pillows. “There’s always a markup in price for decorative pillows that go with bedding because the captive audience is there.”

Added Corey Faul, president, Portland, Ore.-based Newport/Layton Home Fashions: “When the focus is a $100 comforter, buying the coordinating $20 decorative pillow doesn’t seem like such a big added expense.”

But the trick is to make a product that can move in and out of different rooms of the home, which explains why the core business for the category lies in standalone offerings that follow unrestricted lifestyle trends.

“The customer has spoken, and she no longer wants whole coordination,” said Loren Sweet, president of Carson, Calif.-based Brentwood Originals, also a supplier of throws and window treatments. “No one is making coordinate decorative pillows that are doing well at retail. The bulk of the business is in the standalone items that are used as accents in family and living rooms.”

Sweet said Brentwood — which earned $121 million in decorative pillow sales in 2002, positioning it as the top supplier nationwide — is experiencing “a record year” and attributes it to the success of its fashion basics “that emphasize color and texture and not direct coordination to anything.”

Faul said Newport/Layton’s decorative pillow business is also mainly driven by standalone pillows, which make up about 80 to 85 percent of the company’s total category sales; pillows that coordinate to the company’s top-of-bed offerings comprise the remaining 15 to 20 percent.

“The truth is that so much of the business comes from eclectic matching of products,” he explained. “We work with a decorative pillow buyer and create collections around different beds because they know that is the best way to get advertising space. They are more likely to get it advertised if they merchandise it on a bed or chair than if they just did a separate decorative pillow ad.”

At Fashion Industries, based in Griffin, Ga., 90 percent of the decorative pillow sales stem from free-standing — not coordinate — product, despite the fact that the company also produces and imports top-of-bed collections and quilts.

Al Whiten, Fashion Industries senior vice president, said that while the company expects flat sales in the category this year, it is paving the way for stronger results in 2005. Among shifts to achieve this goal are increased importing and somewhat reduced cut-and-sew operations at headquarters.

“There are still some things we can do domestically,” Whiten said. “There are still many more fabrics available to us domestically. There is by far a greater selection of fabrics here in the States than in China.”

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