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Retailer roundup

Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, May 24, 2004

Well, it's time for another retail road-trip report. This time, the places are Milwaukee, Chicago, Dallas, and their environs.

Getting the major kudos are some conventional home textiles retailers, from department to discount stores, as well as special specialty folks.

Let's look at non-traditional home textiles retailers first.

Room & Board, a primarily furniture retailer, opened its new flagship just off Michigan Avenue earlier this year. Except for Crate & Barrel, I haven't seen sales folks so interested and knowledgeable in a long time. And they have bed coverings for their beds, decorative pillows and rugs.

Then there is Crate on Michigan Avenue, where the culture is typical of all Crate stores across the country — and the sales help is eager without being intrusive. No, they don't have a typical home textiles department, just the stuff that works with the rest of the store.

It's amazing how the couple of Penney stores have held up in their new environment after the first flush of opening — namely the Elmhurst store in New York and the Box One store in the Cedar Hill Mall outside the company headquarters in Plano, Texas. Visits to each after the opening hoopla showed that: 1. Each has a dedicated store manger, and 2. They understand their objectives.

Moving along, there is an obvious chasm between the Sears stores in the Chicago market — namely the one downtown on State Street, and the prototype for revision in the Oakbrook Mall in suburban Chicago.

The mélange of display fixtures on State Street represents an accumulation of some three or four redoes of presentation and not one works with the other. And as an executive said when discussing some errant signage downtown that combined two browns into a topper, "Kinko's is great for store managers."

Moving to the Saks Department store units, both in the Boston store and Carson's, the home textiles department stood out among the rest of the home store, primarily because most of the Jane Seymour Collection was housed there. Wouldst that the rest of the department, including Ralph and others, stood up to that presentation level.

And when in Chicago, a visit to the Bloomingdale's Home Store in the former Medina Temple is a must. The ambience of the building, the presentation — and yes, the affability of the sales people — are top flight.

For Kohl's, the challenge is maintaining standards that appear to be obvious, but not necessarily carried out on the store level. Details like signage, pricing, and product information — an increasingly important part of the purchasing equations — were often missing.

The consumer is in the driver's seat, and retailers that forget this will pay the price.

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