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A-Tisket, a-Tasket and the Market Basket

Jennifer Marks EDITOR-IN-CHIEFJennifer Marks EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
"Sometimes there's just too much to talk about. So here are a few things rattling around in my head this week."

SOMETIMES THERE'S JUST TOO MUCH to talk about. So here are a few things rattling around in my head this week. Martha, Martha, Martha: I was fascinated to learn last week that The Home Depot is the largest sales generator among Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia's exclusive retail relationships.
     MSLO has 20 such arrangements - most notably in the home textiles arena its Martha Stewart Collection at Macy's. Neither MSLO nor Macy's has disclosed the size of the program, other than to say the goal is to eventually generate $400 million in annual sales.
     Kmart and MSLO were never so coy about the numbers. Then again, Martha Stewart ended up cranking out $1 billion for the discounter, so there was plenty to crow about.
     What makes the Home Depot revelation particularly interesting is that the deal has been in place for only 12 months. And with 14 merchandising categories it demonstrates yet again the MSLO genius for finding things to which Stewart's name can reasonably be affixed.
     Big Lots, Big Time: Big Lots has been saying for some time now the recession had driven a more monied customer into its stores. It also said it was improving the quality if its merchandise to keep her.
     Apparently so. HTT's annual Market Basket survey found the total retail on Big Lots' upper-price point basket jumped 45.6% compared to last year. What provided the boost? First, merchandise. Big Lots had a couple of items in stock that couldn't be found last year: a bath sheet and a lotion pump. It also bundled hand towels and wash cloths to a get a higher retail on those categories than it did last year.
     Home has been a strong category for Big Lots throughout the economic calamity, and it came through again during the first quarter. Now the challenge will be to hang onto those customers.
     Here Come the Hedge Funds: Family Dollar became the latest retailer to receive an offer to sell out to a hedge fund. JCPenney recently added activist hedge fund manager (and JCP stakeholder) to its board of directors. And Big Lots earlier this month declined to confirm or deny it's in play.
     I guess not every hedge fund in the world is busy driving up cotton futures.
     Speaking of Which: The ICE U.S. exchange finally moved to tamp down speculation in the cotton market. Effective March 1, anyone who wants to buy or sell 300 cotton contracts (about 30,000 bales) would have to prove the transaction is "economically viable."
     This is being interpreted as meaning anyone who's dealing with a lot of futures will need to demonstrate they've actually got a use for cotton. If it's a swipe at the hedge funds, a harried textiles industry says: Swipe away!
     Market time: The deadline for submitting photos for our new products gallery in the New York Home Fashions Market issue has passed. But there's still time to get your news about new introductions into the market issue or the market daily issue.
     Sooner the better.


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