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Out with the old ...

Talk about a buzzword.

Think newness! Then think differentiation.

They're the two words most often heard by retailers of many persuasions during the market in New York last month.

The problem is execution.

If ever there was a word that was repeated over and over — and to the amazement of this home textiles veteran observer — newness was the one.

Whether it is Mike Gould at Bloomingdale's, Steve Jebbia at JCPenney, Alan Holland at Expo or a host of others, "newness" is the critical issue in home textiles.

It is as Penney's Jebbia related, "If we don't have newness, customers think we look old." As a result, Penney is turning merchandise faster. "We can't let it get stale," Jebbia related.

At the other end of the spectrum, Bloomingdale's strategy "is to clearly differentiate us" — and for those that think otherwise, despite its problems, the home area offers a clear differentiation.

Newness is a key to this approach.

One thinks of the almost off-the-radar screen of the Jane Seymour home collection at Saks Department Stores. Has anyone ever heard of customers demanding that a retailer add product — as they did in turning the furniture display items into a retail program. According to reports, the new Jane Seymour bedding is a howling success. Another differentiator.

Differentiation is not just a matter of picking up some so-called brand and having it as a retail exclusive. More importantly, differentiation is a matter of understanding what the store stands for, what customers expect from the store, and how the product or line fits into that equation.

As for newness, it presents challenges to retailers that tend to want to keep old-time best sellers as members of the family for ever and ever. There are retailers that espouse newness yet have items that are the workhorses of their specific businesses — and have been that for decades — yes, decades.

But, to their credit, these retailers are the same ones who are causing a revolution in the marketplace. An extended life span of a fashion item in home textiles has long been a priority for buyers and sellers. And many a buying plan is based on this longevity. No longer.

Think of how these two words are affecting the way the home textiles business is programmed. Big changes.

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