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Kitchen sales status quo

Not much has changed in kitchen textiles in the last year — flat category sales of $440 million in 2001, slightly more than half of that generated at discount stores, for product that was mainly imported, solid in color and made of 100 percent cotton.

HTT's annual survey, "The Facts: Kitchen Textiles," offers suppliers a statistical analysis and trend forecast for this segment of the home textiles industry. This year's findings weren't very surprising to suppliers.

"There are several reasons for the category's flatness," said Frank Scalice, executive vp, New York-based Town & Country. "First, there are all the outside influences, like the economy and the number of Chapter 11 filings at retail and all the sales lost because of those store closings. Also, I see a real push to reduce prices. When you lower prices you will get some incremental increase in units, but you won't make up some of those lost dollars."

Scalice also noted something of a "lack of innovation" in the category.

"Kitchen textiles is not that big of a category as it is, and retailers are not taking some of the necessary risks to help it get bigger and better," Scalice added.

Chip Steidle Jr., vp, sales and marketing, West Conshohocken, PA-based The John Ritzenthaler Co., said department stores grabbed a nominal 5 percent of the industry's market share because "the space they give us is almost non-existent. [The home textiles specialty chains] do more each year for the category, even though some of these chains closed down this year. I can also understand the reason discount stores are the leaders — they are the ones that dedicate the time, energy and space to the category."

Following discount stores, which had a 56 percent share of the market, were home textiles specialty chains, which garnered 20 percent — albeit 4 percent less than in 2000.

Park B. Smith Jr., president and ceo of New York-based Park B. Smith Ltd., said his company primarily targets the home textiles specialty chain shopper because "these stores are able to devote a good area to the product and show the whole category well. Discounters have their price point and generic product selling points and, therefore, obviously sell more, but the [home textiles specialty chains] really capitalize and have a better customer who buys kitchen not just for necessity but on impulse."

Windham Weavers, based in New York, considers itself a design house, therefore not necessarily a discount store supplier.

"The discounters are driven more by commodity items, whereas our customer — the specialty chains — are more driven by style. And style is what we do," said Howie Mallow, executive vp.

Another finding that came as no surprise was the steady growth of sourcing in kitchen textiles.

Dan Harris, vp of marketing, Niles, IL-based Revere Mills, attributes it to the recent eradication of the quota.

"Importing will continue growing with the end of the quota," Harris said. "The cost of the quota was fairly expensive, and now it's gone. With the quota going away, we can maintain price points and put some quality back in the product — heavier blanks, better-quality fabrics and better fill."

"The quality of product is getting better overseas, and certainly there's a cost advantage," said Steidle, who added that a considerable amount of Ritzenthaler's goods are imported from overseas.

All of New York-based Arlee's chairpads are imported, said Bud Frankel, president.

"It's a tremendous business for us, and it's all made overseas of 100 percent cotton, either woven or cotton prints," he said.

Smith outlined some of the other advantages provided by importing.

"It isn't just about a cost advantage; it also makes it possible for us to bring better value to the customer," said Smith, who added that all of his company's kitchen textiles are imported from India.

One of the few industry players still able to remain "99.9 percent domestic" is Laurinburg, NC-based Charles Craft Inc., said Dwayne Ayers, national sales manager.

"We've become almost completely automated with automated air jet looms, sewing machines, packaging and folding machinery and our ability to produce tucked selvages," Ayers said.

In the kitchen textiles category, prints made up 45 percent, or $198 million, vs. solid, at 55 percent, or $242 million, which was 34.1 percent higher than in 2000.

For Charles Craft, prints represent only about 3 percent of the company's kitchen textiles business, with solids dominating.

In contrast, solids are not a big business for Windham Weavers. "For us, prints are very big in kitchen textiles. We find people don't even want to look at solids," Mallow said.

Cotton remains the most widely used construction for kitchen textiles, with an 80 percent share, or $352 million, which actually is a 3.6 percent decline from 2000.

Most of the product produced by Charles Craft, 98 percent, is made of 100 percent cotton. But the company did recently add microfiber kitchen towels to its mix.

Ritzenthaler's bulk is also 100 percent cotton, mainly because of its large business in kitchen towels and dishcloths, Steidle said.

Likewise, Park B. Smith strictly produces 100 percent cotton goods.

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