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Suppliers see shift ahead

Heath E. Combs, Marvin Lazaro -- Home Textiles Today, March 18, 2002

Although the soft coverings window business contracted slightly in 2001, home textiles specialty chains and discounters' respective shares of the business are growing consistently.

According to HTT's exclusive statistical survey, The Facts: Window Coverings, the size of the entire soft window coverings industry contracted by 5.0 percent to $3.8 billion from $4.0 billion, a figure contested by S. Lichtenberg's Carl Goldstein, Don Johnson of Burlington House and John Witkowski of CHF Industries.

"I don't think the industry declined at all last year," said Goldstein, the executive vp for the New York-based S. Lichtenberg. "I think the window business at retail was good last year."

However, according to HTT's Top 5 Manufacturing Giants study from January, two of the Top 5 soft window manufacturers posted losses of 10 percent each in 2001, while a third company reported no growth in sales. The remaining two companies did report gains of 12 and 14 percent.

Perhaps buoying Goldstein's viewpoint is the market share grabbed by home textiles specialty chains such as Linens 'N Things and Bed Bath & Beyond. This retail channel reaped the benefits of 2.0 percent more of the multi-billion-dollar pie that represents soft window coverings. The home textiles specialty store channel was up $50 million, to $570 million, in business in 2001.

Also grabbing a larger share of the soft window coverings business were discounters. Chains like the "Big Three," Wal-Mart, Kmart and Target, continue to grab the lion's share of available business, with 38 percent, up $4 million from $1.4 billion a year earlier, or 36 percent.

"They're opening up more and more stores," said John Witkowski, executive vp of window fashions for CHF Industries, New York, about the rise in numbers for the two vastly different retail channels. "Some retailers have exited the business, so that represented an opportunity for those still in it to pick up some share, and on the other hand, they opened up a lot more doors, too.

"How could you not grow in market share when stores like Wal-Mart opened up 10 percent of the doors last year alone?"

"It's been survival of the fittest for the last 10 years, and there's been consolidation every single year," said Goldstein.

The amount of sourcing done by manufacturers represents the figure that will probably undergo the biggest change within the next several years. During the past year the amount of importing grew only slightly, to 37.0 percent, while domestic production still dominated, with 63.0 percent. But Goldstein, Johnson and Witkowski predicted that number would change very soon, as the manufacturing power of China is brought to bear and as Turkey, India and Pakistan continue to churn out better-looking goods at lower prices.

"There are almost no piece goods mills left in the United States. The majority of sheers, lace and more and more of the polyester/cotton blend programs and value-added products are coming from overseas," Witkowski said.

"It depends on the category," Johnson said. "Decorative sheers can only be done as imports. Price-sensitive goods are definitely going to come from offshore, but high-style products like drapery weight goods will continue to be produced here."

When it comes to the way those soft coverings looked, manufacturers are still making sheers. Approximately 32 percent of the product mix was devoted to sheers while solids and jacquards were the next largest with 23 percent and 22 percent, respectively. Goldstein said tier curtains were growing, while Witkowski noted more drapery-weight fabrics will make their way to the forefront.

"There is more product being offered today than ever before," Goldstein said. "That's thanks to the amount of countries that we get product from and their ability to bring in fashion goods at popular prices."

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