Towels and sheets in flux

Carole Sloan, April 5, 2004

It looks like the blip in business in this recent quarter changed the mindset of many in the home textiles world.

The mood of market was remarkably upbeat — and the number of retailers in town for market was up in the view of many long-time suppliers.

And this market was the watershed one — the one where suppliers from all over the globe were in evidence, and not as shadow vendors. They were here, showrooms and all, product lines up and ready for shopping. The new makeup of the home textiles supplier base was clearly visible and big was not necessarily the key element.

If ever a product category was in a state of flux, it is towels. Never have so many been vying for any size hunk of the total piece. And never has so little been seen in terms of real product, shipping dates, firm prices, and consistency of quality.

The big question seemed to be who will get the so-called big prizes — the four brands from the Pillowtex stable — and who really wants them.

At this point, retailers have replaced their shelves with new private brands or other name brands.

It's going to cost the winners of the Big Four even bigger bucks than their upfront and minimums to buy out any single retailer's new stuff. And for sure, the retailers aren't going to pay a price that includes all the upfront etc. in a price to them. They need their own goodies to be added in.

The towel business always has been an area of some curiosity anyway. It ranks with mattresses in terms of who buys all these towels and mattresses. There has to be a giant black hole in the universe that is the receptacle for both.

Looking around the market, solid-color sheets seem to be a new hot spot for the designer bedding category. The ones now moving into this classification see them as an extension of their product that can be plus business for every decorative bed and sheet. How stores are going to bring in the solids for each of the designer programs is still to be seen.

If this trend were not enough, in the designer segment, free-standing solid-color sheet programs are emerging fast and furiously at the upper mainstream level.

All this action is coupled with the many programs in solid colors being offered directly by offshore suppliers.

Overall, the market had a lot of good new stuff. We'll discuss some of it next week.

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