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WPS cites strength to woo business

AT THE NEW YORK MARKET — WestPoint Stevens this market is rolling forward with a message-oriented strategy it adopted last market, one that emphasizes its capabilities more heavily than new product introductions.

"The theme is 'build.' Build a brand. Build a future," said Bob Dale, president of bedding and bath. "We're back to building."

As the company works toward exiting Chapter 11 in early summer, it's also pushing the theme of credibility — particularly its substantial market share in several categories, a record of product consistency and execution.

Said Chip Fontenot, CEO, "When we come out of this thing, we believe we will be the strongest company in the industry"

In a shift from past years, WestPoint is also raising the profile of its sourcing capacity, something executives say it doesn't receive due credit for. The company will open a Shanghai office by July 1. The office will initially employ three, but the staff is expected to grow to a dozen people "in short order," Fontenot said.

The company plans to open additional overseas offices in the future, he added. "We didn't feel driven to do this until we had a critical mass in sourcing," he said, noting that the company is now sourcing about $400 million in product.

WestPoint also is talking about the longevity of its brand portfolio, and this market has fleshed out the relaunch of the Utica brand it began last fall. Utica is now positioned as a flexible branding program that can be scaled — and priced — to service basic reorder business, special event business, or better-positioned queen/king imported luxury business, Dale said.

Utica's sheet assortment ranges from opening price point to 600-count constructions. An equally broad range of constructions is being offered in top-of-bed, accessories and bath programs as well. "It's intended to be an extremely versatile brand touching on value," Dale added.

Under the Martex brand, WestPoint this market is introducing Martex Elements of Style, a "luxury locker room" bedding ensemble and accessories collection that borrows from casualwear and activewear. Top-of-bed and accessories fabrics include fleece, soft cotton knits, touches of faux fur and supple thin-wale corduroy. The core sheet is a 250-count cotton-rich construction.

In towels, Martex has introduced its first zero-twist construction — Martex Microfine. Sized at 30-by-52 inches and made of ring-spun loops, the towel is produced in WestPoint's domestic mills.

Elsewhere in the towel department, WestPoint has built out the Chormotherapy merchandising assortment it introduced in the fall. Additions include patterned towels that layer in as coordinates to solid colors, a translucent ombre bath accessories collection and shower curtains. "We're trying to create a multiple sales package," Dale said.

The company also continues to push ahead in its decorative pillow presentations. "This is simply a sourcing business," Dale said. "We are the largest supplier in so many categories. There's no reason we can't be a product leader here as well."

In the blanket and utility bedding arena, WestPoint introduced a plethora of new product — including a holiday-oriented gift item, the Whisper Pillow. A mini speaker is embedded in the core of the sleep pillow, attached to a cord that runs out the Velcro seal side. The cord's standard jack can plug into any audio system: DVD, alarm clock or iPod, said Judi Alexander, vice president of marketing, basic bedding division.

Retail on a poly-filled Whisper Pillow is $39.99. Retail on a white down version is $69.99.

The division also introduced a new down alternative fiber called Premium Loft in comforters and pillows. "It addresses the instability in the price of down," Alexander said.

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