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Place mats, tablecloths battle for dominant share of market

NEW YORK -In addition to the growing trend in importing also experienced by its sister industry kitchen textiles, the table linen business is increasingly driven by today's casual lifestyles that call for more place mats, fewer tablecloths.

In a survey conducted by Home Textile Today's research department, respondents said that tablecloths and place mats are now more than ever "neck and neck," as described by Elrene Home Fashions president and ceo Mark Siegel.

"The tablecloth business has somewhat stabilized-it hasn't gone down, but it's not really moving," Siegel said. "But place mat sales are growing."

Siegel noted that at the retail level there is added emphasis for manufacturers to expand their place mat offerings.

Ron Taylor, national sales manager for The American Fabrics Company, concurred. "In the day-in/day-out sales, place mats outdo tablecloths."

Which brings up another issue-price points. Some manufacturers expressed concern because price points for place mats are considerably lower than price points for tablecloths.

George Kouri, president of Braintree, MA-based AvonHome, believes that place mats' popularity is the trend now. "It's cyclical, like everything else in this business."

But Lance Orlick, executive vp for Ridgefield, CT-based Windham Weavers, said that because "most customers usually buy six to 12 place mats and matching napkins," the end result at the checkout line is the same or more than what that customer would have spent on a single tablecloth.

Gretchen Dale, executive vp, marketing for Bardwil Linens, based here, said place mats are catching up and close to exceeding tablecloth sales for three main reasons.

"Mainly, as an industry we've done a horrendous job of educating young consumers about tablecloths," Dale said. "They think it's something their mother uses."

Secondly, she added, place mats are easier to care for and clean.

And finally, casual dining "is very big these days," Dale noted.

Kurt Hamburger, president and managing director of Lintex Linens, augmented Dale's list with his own observations.

"In the Southwest area [of the United States], especially California, place mats are by far more important to consumers. Outdoor dining is more prevalent there, and place mats lend themselves to it," Hamburger said. "In the Northeast and parts of the Northwest, indoor and formal dining is more common, creating a greater need for tablecloths. But even in those areas, people prefer place mats for breakfast and lunch."

Anthony Abbadessa, vp, product development for Edison, NJ-based Stone Brook Linens, said he thinks furniture trends are having a direct impact on the table linen industry.

"Many people have nice, wood dining room tables and they want to show that off and place mats allows them to do that," Abbadessa said.

According to Stacy Toner, director of product development and design at Louisville, KY-based Louisville Bedding, the company has seen its place mat sales "bump up in the past year" because "from a fashion standpoint, people just aren't as formal anymore."

Lorraine Ragland Maberry, vp, sales and merchandising for New York-based Trendex Home Designs, agreed with that assessment.

"Lifestyles have gotten more casual, and tablecloths are associated with more formal dining," Maberry said. "Place mats are casual and for everyday use. We see place mats the same way we see a woman's accessory, like a scarf. A place mat is an easy and affordable way to redecorate a kitchen as well as enhance a tablecloth. Many people use tablecloths and place mats together."

Answering to its concern about properly educating young consumers, Bardwil Linens, whose core business is solid-colored tablecloths, launched its bridal registry through its Royal Velvet license, which "put our [tablecloth] business through the roof," Dale said. "We've been very successful with it."

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