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Wake up Rip

Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, July 26, 2004

Well, anyone looking at the Top 50 home textiles retailer rankings for 2003 has to see how the landscape has changed.

Just looking back over a decade or even less, there are players on the rankings that no one would ever have thought of as power players in stuff like sheets and towels. And today, they are among the major decision makers in this business.

And without giving away what could happen next year, there may be more surprises. Anyone who thinks this business is static, in terms of who is selling what, has been asleep as long as Rip Van Winkle.

As an example, looking at the Top 10, there's a whole lot of what had been considered "unconventional" retailers in that segment. Conventional in days gone by would have been the discount store chains and the department stores.

Not only are the big box retailers challenging the conventional players — there are many who believe one or another may rise to the top of the heap in the home textiles world.

Then look at which is No. 10 — Pottery Barn — a retailer that but a few years ago had a couple of decorative pillows, a few rugs and throws and some sad relics of rags purporting to be window coverings.

How times change. Today Pottery Barn is looked at as a fashion leader for the younger set but with a very focused approach to product.

Moving down the list, there is Ikea, a company with enormous global influence and sales. But in its earlier days in this country, Ikea didn't understand that if you wanted to sell sheets and bedding to Americans, they had to be in American sizes. The same held true for many products across the home mix. Today, with a change in attitude at the top management level, Ikea is now No. 22, up from No. 24. Next year, who knows?

Mention QVC to folks in the home textiles world, and typically you'd get a, "What, them in this business?" comment. Well folks, have a look; they're No. 28. Yes, the naysayers will tell you about what they sell. But the point is — they are selling it. And every pillow, comforter, window covering and on and on that they sell is one less that a "conventional" retailer will have a shot at.

Similarly, Sure Fit, a manufacturer with a strong retail following via catalog and Internet, also has touched consumer needs. Its financial straits aside, there is something it is doing that links to what people need and want.

All you big, conventional guys out there — and you mostly are guys — better look around at who is your neighbor. It could be your high-powered home textiles competitor a year or so out.

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