Positive Trends Emerge As Thread Counts Rise

Michele SanFilippo, June 20, 2005

New York — In the post-quota environment, it comes as no surprise that the sheeting category continues to experience price erosion from an endless quest for higher and higher thread counts, pitching more value for less money. However, several key trends have emerged in the category as well, looking to generate interest among consumers and retailers alike. Some of them include promoting single-ply yarns on packaging, finding attributes that solve common consumer problems, and facilitating a better night's sleep.

According to manufacturers surveyed for the purposes of this report, suppliers are trying to bring newness to the category through: upgrades in packaging; solution products with such features as anti-microbial, moisture-wicking, odor control, wrinkle-free and flammability treatments; a resurgence of prints; and placing more importance on color.

“Solid color has gained a bigger share of the pie that used to belong to prints, but prints seem to be making a comeback because there aren't a lot of good designs available,” explained Rich Roman, president of Revman International. “What the consumer thinks about is how the sheet looks and feels. I think color, fashion and brand are what matter to the consumer, not the thread count number. We find that if you put a really good sheet coordinate to a fashion bedding product, it will sell as a complete fashion ensemble.”

Joan Scotto, senior vice president of the bed division at WestPoint Stevens, added that different hem treatments in cut-and-sew could also represent a domestic opportunity since there is sameness in the marketplace. “The enormous array of top-of-the-bed product and accessories is really driving the interest in coordinating and complementary sheets,” she said, adding that attention to detail in fabrication is becoming more important.

Scotto has also observed an increase in drop-in programs in all channels of distribution and end-caps at the mass level. “As higher thread counts move into the mass channel, the other channels such as department and specialty stores are now promoting other features and benefits of their sheets such as fit, hand and embellishments,” Scotto continued.

Tom Ferrisi, vice president of marketing and sales at High Country Linens, feels that not enough is being done other than the focus on constantly trading up to higher thread counts. “What High Country Linens is attempting to do is create more interesting designs. This could be done with high fashion hem inserts or it could be the creation of more interesting and detailed jacquard designs,” said Ferrisi. This spring, the company introduced engineered sheets with a continuous weave jacquard construction that features several distinct designs on a single sheet plus a complementary woven border.

“In the thread count war, the trend is definitely two-ply, three-ply and even four-ply yarns in order to get to the ever rising higher thread counts,” said Phyllis Moore, vice president of bed sourcing at Home Source International. “A 1,000-count can really be a 250 with four yarns twisted together/four-ply, but the consumer thinks wow a 1,000-count sheet!”

Conversely, Ferrisi sees a move to single ply construction as opposed to double ply. “There may be legal restrictions imposed that will prohibit the sale of two-ply sheeting,” he said. “China is now placing great attention on higher thread counts: 800, 1,000 and 1,200 with single-ply and multi-pick constructions. Triple pick, four pick, even up to eight pick are possible options as the market moves to single ply. The end result is a better quality sheet with a softer hand.”

Moore added that prices are all over the board in sheets. “You can get a queen set at $39.99 for 250-count Pima to $59.99 for 250-count Egyptian, so thread count does not necessarily dictate price anymore. Consumers are still convinced that more is better, which is not necessarily true, so 300-count and above seem to be popular,” she said.

Retailers are offering the widest selection of weave and fabric content at the 300-count level, according to research by Keeco, said Allison Spadone, merchandising manager. “To the consumer, 300-count most likely connotes quality at an affordable price,” she said. “Retailers are also introducing higher thread-count percale sheets and modern jacquards to the assortment and advertising the use of single-ply yarns on packaging.”

Keeco sees packaging playing a more central and critical role in driving sales. “Jacquards are also appearing in greater frequency and sateens are flat as a percentage of the total assortment as retailers seek to add excitement to assortments through means other than high thread count,” said Spadone. She also sees premium natural blends shrinking as a percentage of the market, indicating that they have not performed well in recent seasons.

Moore said prices are being driven down on higher thread-count goods due to the influx of all types of thread count tricks such as plying yarns. “Double, triple, and now even four pick insertions on the loom allow the manufacturer to make a high thread count sheet at the same speed and loom time as he would a lower count, thus buying prices can be low enough to sell the higher count sheet at the lower count pricing since it basically costs the same to make,” described Moore.

However she still believes the trend toward new and interesting options seems to be on the rise with bamboo, the reintroduction of modal, yarns made from soy, etc. “There is a definite trend in attributes for sheets rather than just a pretty color. Buyers are looking for what it brings to the table — wrinkle resist, spill resist, stain release — because this gives the consumer a reason to buy another sheet set even if they are not really looking to buy,” Moore said.

According to Chip Scala, president of Scala International, you can find any price for any thread count at any given time due to three categories of outlets: Internet, department stores and discounters. However, he said blends like cotton-silk, cotton-modal are still on the fringe in the better stores and catalogs. “Price seems to be the driving force with customers, but the consumers are really looking for value and quality,” said Scala. “I believe we have to continue to add to the value of the sheets by doing quality cut-and-sew applications. I guess we will also see innovation as to what a sheet set contains.”

Scala thinks the popularity of 400-600 counts is driven by the ground swell of discounters continually presenting better thread counts. “It seems to be the construction of the day that is driven by customers to get a jump on the competition,” he said. Ferrisi added that 300 has been so deeply discounted that a number of retailers are attempting to focus more activity at the 400 level, which has become very important to better retail accounts.

Keith Sorgeloos, president of Home Source International, added that high thread counts are appearing in both cotton-rich and all-cotton products using various plied yarns to drive up the thread count story. He continued that cotton with various fibers is also on the rise to set the product apart at retail including cotton-silk, cotton-cashmere, cotton-modal and in combination with bamboo. “Sourced sheeting is gaining ground and is probably close to 50 percent,” said Sorgeloos. “It would be higher except for the fact that it is very sku-intensive and requires tremendous inventory so supply chain is still pretty key.”

He echoed Moore's comments about sheets having special attributes today. “A big trend is sheeting solutions for everyday lives that are unique, innovative and differentiated. We are all about finding ways to solve consumer problems with fiber combinations as well as apparel fiber used for sleeping,” he added. “If it can be worn 16 hours of the day, then sleeping in the same comfort for the other eight is crucial for everyday use.”

Joe Gleicher, president of Poly-Commodity Corp., contributed his own twist on the trend by discussing a brand-new type of product. “I think there's a trend towards velour sheets. They have a cut-pile surface and are soft, luxurious, breathable and absorb body moisture,” he said. “People do have problems sleeping at night, so any products that can help them are becoming increasingly important. I think solutions-based sheeting and bedding accessories have real benefits and address the public's growing problem of getting a good night's sleep.”

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