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  • Jennifer Marks

Tips for newcomers

Just as buds are said to be the harbingers of spring, the appearances of new home textiles suppliers on the scene are the harbingers of the New York Home Textiles Market.

Like crocuses popping through the soil, they herald the imminent arrival of the retail flock. And like tender young shoots everywhere, they are straining toward the nourishment of the sun — particularly the rays that shine forth from New Jersey, Arkansas and parts of the Midwest.

This year's crop appears to be heavy with towel and sheet producers. Small wonder. Quota elimination — still on schedule — is just over eight months away. In any event, orders for January shipments will need to be placed before the clock strikes midnight. The fact that the former Pillowtex brands are still in a state of suspended animation (although Royal Velvet, at least, appears to be moving closer to a resolution) sweetens the pot.

Most of these sprouts share a similar background — overseas mill sets up U.S. franchise. Some of them have already done business in the United States by way of U.S. importers or suppliers. A few have had direct selling relationships with retailers, usually on an extremely modest scale.

Nearly all of them, I'm afraid, think it's easier to break in than it actually is. And so, as a public service, some advice for the freshman class of 2004.

Lesson 1: The nature of market.

This is nothing like a traditional trade fair in which thousands of potential buyers pass by your booth. True, there is a trade fair component to the week at the Jacob Javits Center — the New York Home Textiles Show. It receives many visitors. But if you are in the market for alliances with U.S. suppliers — and as a newcomer that's your best entrée — you won't find them scouting you out. They'll be in their showrooms on Fifth and Sixth Avenues meeting with retailers.

Lesson 2: Showrooms.

Unless you are targeting retailers directly, there is little need for you to hire out a showroom. Many newcomers save money by renting out a room in one of the hotels around the market area. Some do this for several years, until they feel they have built up enough U.S. business to warrant a showroom.

If you lease a showroom, don't expect retailers to pour through the door. There are fewer retail companies than there used to be, and most send fewer merchants to market. Their appointments are often made in advance, usually with companies they're already doing business with.

Lesson 3: U.S. retailers

If you're new to the market and you want them to come visit you, nail down appointments in advance. See lesson 2. Also, understand that a retailer may request several samples from you and never give you an order. This may happen more than once — and probably will — before you do get an order. This is one of the many reasons why newcomers often turn first to U.S. suppliers.

Lesson 4: U.S. suppliers.

During market week, they're busy. They're not impossible to book appointments with, but you've got to nail them down ahead of time. You will go to see them. They will not come to see you.

Lesson 5: What it takes.

Consistent quality. A sound supply chain. Reliable deliveries. And increasingly, just-in-time information exchange systems. You may be the lowest-cost producer in your region, but be forewarned that you will almost certainly need to make additional investments in your own infrastructure to do business on any scale in the United States.

Your first time through the market will probably be a learning experience more than anything else. Listen. Absorb. Adapt.

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