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A higher calling

Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, May 5, 2003

Every now and then we come across a situation or event that tries to prove that the world of retailing is not totally consumed by reverse auctions, built-in markdown dollars, replacement of other vendors' goods to get an order, and the like. Granted, it's a tough challenge. But in the last couple of weeks, we came across a couple of signs that this could happen.

First was the feature in this month's House Beautiful announcing the winners of its annual Giants of Design program. Among them are Adriana Scalamandre Bitter and Murray Douglas, both of whom were born into their families' prestigious and design-driven fabric firms, Scalamandre and Brunschwig & Fils. Another winner — for those of you who might remember the once-critical retailing position called home furnishings fashion director — is the incredible Dan Carrithers, designer par excellence and a former home fashion director for Rich's.

Sharing the limelight with these stars are the folks from Minneapolis. Yes, Target is being acclaimed as the "creative" retailer. Besides the usual hype about the company's alliances with the likes of Michael Graves, Todd Oldham and Cynthia Rowley, Target works behind the scenes with projects like a scholarship program at the Rhode Island School of Design and a study camp at the Design Institute of the University of Minnesota.

Then there was a weekend TV show called "Extra" on which the fashionista hostess shops stores, charged with a number of challenges. One is identifying the hot fashion looks in the original models, whether sunglasses or evening clothes, and then finding the same — almost identical model — at a radically lower price.

This episode featured a pair of look-alike fashionistas shopping their way through the apparel departments of a mainstream store — with awesome results. The three-minute spot ended with "It's not your mother's JCPenney anymore."

Think of the impact that each of these activities could have on customers, many of whom wouldn't even consider shopping at a Target or Penney. It might even tilt the coupon-driven promotional frenzy back to talking about merchandise and the benefits of what the store is selling.

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