The Ones to Watch

Jennifer Marks EDITOR-IN-CHIEFJennifer Marks EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
"Herewith, my list of the top five developments I'm most keen on watching in 2011."

THE YEAR-END is always a glorious time for news junkies. It's a time for looking back and projecting forward. This column chooses forward. Herewith, my list of the top five developments I'm most keen on watching in 2011:
     1. Consumer reaction to the 2011 price increases
     Will she notice that what used to be an eight-piece bedding ensemble is now a four-piece at a slightly higher price? Not unless she's in the habit of regularly buying bedding ensembles. Will she take to the thinner, more affordable "quick-dry" towels, or is she still hooked on the chunkers - and if the latter, how much will she be willing to pay?
     2. Walmart vs. the dollar store giants
     Although executives dance around the subject when asked directly, Walmart's recently announced strategy to accelerate the rollout of smaller format stores and reach inside urban markets clearly suggests Dollar General and Family Dollar are taking a bite. In fact, Walmart's own numbers show little rebound in business from what was originally its core customer. In Connecting Northwest Arkansas' recent survey of Walmart vendors, suppliers named Dollar General and Family Dollar as the greatest competitive threat to the retailer.
     3. Target vs. Walmart
     To repeat a long-cherished rule of thumb employed by the gentleman to my right, you can pretty reliably measure the health of the middle class by seeing whose comps are doing better - Walmart's or Target's. Target execs like what they see coming from Target's remodels, which offer stepped up food assortments to drive more everyday visits. Will it help Target claw back those middle-class shoppers who down-shifted during the worst of the recession?
     4. Springs' global branding initiative
     Anyone who still thinks of Springs as a big American company needs to rub the sand out of their eyes. Springs is a global mill based in Brazil, whose strong growth in its home market is working overtime to offset continuing declines in the U.S. business. But! Springs is clearly pouring major buckeroos into the global branding business headed by Ralph Lauren Home alum Joe Granger - and moving well beyond textiles into hard goods, including tabletop and furniture. It's one of the boldest moves this industry has seen in a long time. Will it pay off?
     5. Welspun marches on
     The future No. 1 supplier to the U.S. market (at last count No. 3). My bet: Within three years.
     Here's wishing the industry a busy and prosperous New Year.

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