• Jennifer Marks

Tiny Steps Toward Recovery

Between talking to people working the upper end of the market at the Gift Fair and parallel high-end home textiles week last month and talking to those preparing for the volume-oriented September market next week, you get the sense that business is improving generally, though not yet broadly.

A lot of people report pops of better business, but those pops are not consistent enough to indicate a pattern. I've not yet had an "ah-ha!" moment at which I could conclude: "The opportunity of the moment is X." Certainly, some of those opportunities arise from the fact that retailers have kept inventories so lean they've reached a point where they have to buy something.

The consensus seems to be that business is off 30% to 40%. Opinions about consumer shopping behavior range from "It's going to take a long time before they start spending the way they did before" to "They'll never spend like that again."

More than one industry exec has observed that the Macy's customer is shopping Kohl's, the Kohl's customer is shopping TJX, and so on and so forth down the pricing spectrum. In the same way, some suppliers who never would have given the discount channel a look have now warmed to the idea. Others are considering if there's a way they could do some business with the dollar stores. And everybody's swimming toward TJX like it's the finest life boat bobbing in the sea.

Even at the high end, duvet sets and sheet sets are now being offered alongside open stock programs. More suppliers are packaging for giftability.

In the volume segment of the market, the number of pieces in a multi-piece fashion bedding set is, happily, coming back down to earth. But prices continue to drop to the extent that an eight-piece set is becoming the home textiles equivalent of a Happy Meal.

The good news is the everybody is still plugging away. There's a surprising amount of optimism out there, albeit of the pragmatic rather than the starry-eyed variety. As this column has noted before, the home business went into the ditch well before Wall Street did. The industry has had a while to adjust.

Plato gave us the axiom that necessity is the mother of invention. But given the fact that we're headed into market week, perhaps we should consider the perspective of another old-timer, the Roman poet Horace, who wrote: "Adversity reveals genius; prosperity conceals it."

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