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A Few Small Steps Forward

Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, April 12, 2010

The latest ripples in the ocean of mainstream retailing indicate that things are perking up. And they are — bit by bit by bit.

But some of the indices of recent weeks have been dramatically underplayed. Granted, these tidbits are not the stuff that you could take to your local banker – but they are hints of things to come.

The first is the teeny tiny return of the luxury market — and in the home textiles world, this segment relates to high, high end decorative fabrics as well as custom bedding. And each of these segments — small as they are — is significant in what they portend.

Discussing the High Point (N.C.) market that begins this weekend, a number of decorative bedding suppliers were using the term COM to describe what interior designers are asking for. To the uninitiated, this relates to “customer's own material,” where a designer has the bedding or window or whatever supplier use the customer's fabric choice for an in-house high end design.

More and more high-end bedding suppliers are offering this service, and the process has nowhere to go but up. It's a plus for the bedding suppliers as well as the interior designers, who are increasingly going to markets as well as the high-end fabric suppliers.

And go to market they are. Virtually every market sponsor this year has indicated that interior designers are an increasing part of their visitor mix. Luxury boats and planes are back — albeit more subtly than in the go-go days. Clients are not walking the shopping avenues with a galaxy of super chic designer shopping bags on their arms. Today, things at the luxe end are more discreet. The interior designers are doing the schlepping.

Then there are the fabric suppliers that are launching more and more luxe fabrics with a luxe story behind them, rather than just high price.

An example is the bedding fabric collection from Sunbury, a company now in its third generation, that defies conventional retail wisdom about what customers will or will not pay for a product.

To the retailers that insist that consumers wont pay more than $XXX for an eight-piece bedding set, the price of the fabric alone is more than the alleged “what they won't pay more for.” And they're selling a lot of those fabrics.

Maybe it's time for mainstream retailers to give their customers a vote as to what they will or will not spend — rather than dumbing down the whole business process — a process that erodes credibility for the entire industry.

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