Setting Limits

Carole Sloan, March 21, 2005

There's an old theory that Mother Nature fills voids when things begin to turn one way or another in extreme.

It seems that now this theory is being put into practice in the world of home furnishings in general, and home textiles in particular.

We're beginning to see a mini-move towards very limited distribution. Not the kind of limited distribution that a Federated with 400-plus stores refers to, but something really more confined.

Think Kelly Hoppen from Sferra and the way that program is being marketed via the company as well as Century Furniture. There will be the Barbara Barry bed and bath through DWI Holdings, again tightly controlled through DWI and Henredon, the furniture licensee.

And Ralph Lauren has been explicit in pegging the company's strongest growth opportunities to its own limited distribution Polo stores with its exclusive merchandise vis-a-vis department store distribution, which it still is encouraging.

And then there are the companies in mainstream home textiles that are exploring — in-depth — the potential of some $8 billion in home textiles business that isn't done with most everyone's top 10, 25 or 50 retailers in this business.

Even one of the majors mentioned a program that is being developed with extremely limited distribution — quite contrary to the company's typical approach.

With all the griping about the abuses of these top 50 retailers and their creative accounting programs that probably bring in more revenue than selling product, one would think there would be more energy expended in the direction of these smaller accounts and the customer base that appreciates their uniqueness and quality.

There are those that are beginning to do this, mostly not on anyone's radar screen in order to keep others from knowing what is happening. And there is an entire supplier base that doesn't even acknowledge that New York exists as a market that deals with the mom and pops on a personal level.

It takes a certain business mentality as well as the realization that some business practices have to be altered when moving from the big guys to the little fellas. But the latter can bring in a lot of profits — and for the folks selling them — a lot of fun and personal rewards.

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