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Seminar: Time to Improve

New York — Home textiles suppliers and retailers should use the opportunity afforded by quota elimination to create better — not cheaper — products.

That was one of the conclusions presented during a special seminar hosted by Home Textiles Today last month during the New York Home Textiles Market.

The gathering, which focused on emerging trends fostered by free trade, featured research by Kurt Salmon Associates as well as reflections of a panel made up of Carlos Samper, director of the global sourcing group at Kmart Management Corp.; Gilbert Harrison, chairman of Financo Inc., and Mac Ryland, principal at Kurt Salmon.

Ryland pointed to the rapid evolution in imports by noting that imported sheets accounted for 54 percent of U.S. sheet consumption during the first quarter of 2005 versus 31 percent during 2004's first quarter.

Corresponding figures in towels were 84 percent during 1Q 2005 versus 62 percent in 2004. For top-of-bed products, imports tallied to 44 percent of U.S. consumption this year versus 36 percent in the previous year's period.

Those figures include goods from importers, U.S. mill imports and retail direct imports.

“In this new quota-free world, companies have got to define their position, get better and faster, and streamline the supply chain network,” Ryland said.

He noted the growing trend toward short-run fashion merchandise, and Kurt Salmon research projects product development cycle times will shrink 50 percent by 2007.

However, Financo's Harrison said such rapid in-and-out programs may not be the best idea for home furnishings departments.

“The consumer who buys bedding will probably expect to go back to the store some months later and find additional pieces for the pattern,” Harrison said.

Kmart's Samper agreed, but noted that the consumer still expects to see injections of newness in the store each time she visits.

In fact, research presented by Kurt Salmon found that 61 percent of home textiles consumers who leave the store empty-handed do so because they can't find the style they want.

More significantly, however, 72 percent said they are generally dissatisfied with the quality of home textiles products, the research found. And 65 percent of home textiles consumers will shop at specialty and independent retailers in the next year, a figure that is doubling as shoppers seek out a new value proposition.

Said Ryland: “You cannot compete on price alone.”

Additional research found that 68 percent of retailers have not precisely defined their target customer. Even among those that have, 74 percent admit they have ineffectively integrated consumer findings into their product development process.

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