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Merchants Head Upmarket as Showtime Repositions

Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, December 19, 2005

High Point, N.C. —Chasing the lowest price points is not the answer to the Chinese challenge in decorative fabrics.

A number of exhibitors at last week's Showtime here are definitely moving upmarket in response to customers' increasing preferences for better goods and better print base cloths.

Key to last week's activity, pointed out Jack Eger, vice president of Craftex, “was a lot of trading back up by customers across all channels. They see it as a means to differentiate themselves.”

Similarly, Mark Aizawa, president of Chris Stone, noted, “Customers are asking us to put our prints on better base cloths.” Aizawa, who was concerned about attendance at the start on Sunday was “happy — both with the turnout and the response to the line.”

While there is still debate over the timing of the change in Showtime dates, exhibitors reported strong business activity throughout the week. Many of the major furniture manufacturers were in attendance, although there were concerns about the absence of many specialty retailers and specialty manufacturers. Overall, most exhibitors did acknowledge a general drop in attendance.

“It was great,” said Eger, noting, “We were concerned at the start about the slow attendance.” He observed that home textiles suppliers were down “but we have key relationships with some and they were here; retail was strong and there were more from the hospitality area than in the past and that's a growing part of our business.”

“This was the best Showtime I've had in a number of years,” averred Andrew Purcell, president of Purcell International, which represents Sadhwani International and Spandauer. “We had good placements with jobbers, furniture manufacturers and retailers — especially in our top-of-the-line items.”

Disappointed with the new dates was Tom Hilb, president of Heritage House and ITC, who emphasized, “We had more than 100 appointments, but that was only half of the usual number. These new dates don't work for us. We're a major supplier to retailers, manufacturers and jobbers — not furniture manufacturers — and they're turning this back into a furniture show.”

Still, added Hilb, “Most of the customers were optimistic about business, despite the external conditions.”

At Valdese, the response to the line and especially the new multi-purpose collection “was fantastic,” said Mike Shelton, president. Most customers were from the furniture and distributor channels, he noted.

“Attendance was about the same as usual — around 200,” noted Roger Gilmartin, executive vice president of Covington. He added, “I was a little surprised about the interest in prints from people who typically aren't.” Important were cottage looks and, for non-furniture customers, “Shine is fine, especially luster in color.”

At JLA Home Fabrics, its Showtime debut, “was beyond expectations — and they were high,” stated George Kerr, president.

Jack Cobb, president, ADF/HFI and also president of the International Textile Market Association (ITMA), organizer of Showtime, admitted, “Attendance was probably down a bit. We saw all the furniture manufacturers, jobbers, big fabric stores. It was the small fabric stores that were missing.”

At American Century Home, “We had a lot more retail customers than before — fabric stores and chains — as well as furniture manufacturers,” said Tom Finneran, president. The company also is looking to expand its business with decorative jobbers, and will not mix its in-house jobber books with designs sold to other jobbers, he emphasized.

“We are quite pleased,” said Mike Rice, executive vice president of Barrow Inds., adding, “We worked hard on our contemporary offerings and they were accepted.”

At Quaker, “Showtime was just fine,” said Tom Muzekari, vice president. “Everyone who was supposed to be here was. In home textiles we have little top of the bed business but we have a good pillow business.” Overall, he noted, “Business is a lot better, but not very good.”

For Brad Harper, president of Highcraft, “It was good for us, but we had too much new product. Attendance was definitely down.” Agreeing that the major furniture people were all seen, Harper noted, “We were missing the specialty people like handbags, retail, and luggage.”

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