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The balloon pops for Top 15 vendors

NEW YORK -Hobbled by stalled-out retail sales in a chilling consumer environment, and absent the extra kick provided by high-profile acquisitions, sales of the 15 largest home textiles suppliers virtually hit the wall in 2000, inching up a skimpy 1.5 percent, to $8.4 billion from $8.3 billion last year.

It was the smallest increase recorded in the seven-year history of Home Textiles Today's annual ranking of the Top 15 home fashions suppliers. And it falls way short of the whopping 14.2 percent gain recorded the year before when the industry's largest players added more than a billion dollars in aggregate sales through a combination of strong internal growth at a handful of mid-sized companies and the sudden, explosive lift provided by acquisitions.

In a measure of the trough in which the industry finds itself overall, last year the rate of sales growth subsided across the board, from top to bottom. Only one company among the Top 15, Louisville Bedding, managed to exceed prior-year growth, as it pushed its sales higher on the strength of a small acquisition.

Of the 15 players ranked by Home Textiles Today, 11 managed to boost their sales, compared with 13 the previous year. Looking at the flip side, three posted declines, while none lost ground the preceding year.

That's not to say that all the news was bad or that everyone was stuck in neutral. It's just that no one, with the exception of Louisville Bedding, was growing as fast as they had.

Even Pacific Coast Feather, still enjoying explosive growth-some of it at the expense of a wounded rival, Pillowtex Corp.-grew its sales by almost 24 percent. But that's not as high as the 31.4 percent recorded a year before.

Putting it into perspective, in 1999 five companies recorded sales growth of greater than 20 percent. Last year, only Pacific Coast Feather managed to scale that height. In 1999 seven companies, almost half the entire ranking, boosted their sales at a double-digit pace. Last year, only three could do the same, one in every five on the list.

The biggest gains in 2000, as in the preceding year, were reserved for nimble, mid-size companies like Croscill, which plays the fashion card; Glenoit and Mohawk, both of which built on earlier acquisitions; or Pacific Coast Feather, which continues to tear along like a juggernaut, building its business organically, and taking advantage of the weakness of a rival.

Growth slowed the most last year among the very largest players-the three major mills-which depend on long runs to satisfy the nation's big mass merchants. But it's those big mass merchants, with their fine-tuned information systems, that are quick to turn off the faucet when they sense their stockpiles building and consumer demand slacking off. Particularly hard hit was Pillowtex Corp., where sales actually dropped by 5.8 percent, or $88 million. Nor did business come easily at WestPoint Stevens, the nation's number-one bed and bath supplier, where sales were virtually flat, edging up just 0.8 percent. Springs Industries managed to drive sales higher by 3.5 percent, on the strength of a massive roll-out of Springmaid products to Wal-Mart. Sales would likely have declined at Springs were it not for the big new program.

The Home Textiles Today ranking of the Top 15 suppliers measures sales of home textiles products, excluding hard window treatments, upholstery, broadloom carpeting and mattress ticking.

Results of public companies measure trailing 12-month sales through the Sept. 30 close of the third calendar quarter.

Top 15 sales breakdown. Up just 1.5%, after 1999 gain of 14%


2000 1999

Total sales (in $mil)

$8,402

$8,277

Number of sales gains

11

13

Number of sales declines

3

0

Number of sales unchanged

1

2

Average gain

7.6%

28.1%

Average decline

(7.1%)

- 1

Newcomers to Top 15

1

2


( ): Denotes loss

1 No sales declines were recorded in 1999.

Source: Home Textiles Today market research and public documents.

FIVE BIGGEST SALES GAINS


2000 %change 1999 %change

Pacific Coast Feather

23.9%

31.4%

Louisville Bedding

10.9

9.9

Maples Rugs

10.6

45.5

Mohawk Industries

8.3

17.5

Glenoit Corp.

6.8

125.0


Source: Home Textiles Today research and public documents

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