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Dec Pillows Deflate

Cecile Corral, Staff Staff -- Home Textiles Today, December 5, 2005

New York — Decorative pillow suppliers have spent the past year fighting deteriorating price points and shrinking shelf space at retail.

The once palatable $29.99 ticket, which regular and mid-tier department stores and specialty chains offered a few years ago for an embellished variety of decorative pillow, has dropped to the $19.99 to $24.99 range, with a stronger focus on the former.

“These retails are due to competitive pricing and retailer direct importing,” said Bart Hill, general manager for the bath and textile division of Mohawk Home. “We’re not selling less pillows — it has just shifted toward shrinking retails and promotional opportunities.”

The buoys keeping the industry at a healthy $750 million level in total sales have been the trends that call for better fabrications, like silk, and softer fills, like down feathers, coupled with more shaped varieties and larger sizes.
Formal and luxury looks give cause to better price points and a higher demand for cleaner, contemporary and casual looks filled with down feather inserts keep middle-of-the-road priced goods on the better side of the pricing scale.

“We can get a higher price when we can use space-dyed silks and textured fabrics, for example,” Hill said. “Then there are other things like shapes — boxes and candy boxes — and tufting techniques we use that add value.”

But the push for luxury and casual doesn’t necessarily mean shoppers are going to extremes in their tastes. Today’s drift toward casual is not bucolic, but more “a la Pottery Barn,” explained Amy Bell, vice president of the decorative pillow division of Home Fashions International. “These are much sleeker and more minimal and contemporary looks.”

“I think the luxury, elegant look is stronger than it’s been in a long time, but by the same token casual is big, and I think bigger than elegant formal,” said Loren Sweet, president of Brentwood Originals, the leading category supplier with $157 million in sales last year. “But by casual I mean cleaner, more contemporary looks like Crate & Barrel and West Elm.”

And such looks, they said, beg better fills like down, and bigger sizes that start at 20-inch squares, up from the standard 18-inch size.

While the consumer sets the standard for most trends, the spark of larger sizes has been instigated overseas in China and India, where fabrics used to make decorative pillows span 60 inches versus the U.S.’s 54-inch width standards.

“To maximize the yield we cut three 20-inch pillows from a 60-inch wide fabric,” Bell explained.

New technologies in down alternatives are also fueling the shift to softer pillows. Brentwood Originals is using a new micro-fiber polyester to fill some of its pillows. “It feels like down but doesn’t have any of the dust or allergenic problems,” said Sweet. “It is more resilient and less expensive than down.”

As casual becomes more chic, Newport/Layton’s president Corey Faul has noticed more retailers that once shied from casual looks are now starting to embrace them.

“I think ultimately we’re selling a product that has an end use,” said Faul. “Dec pillows target the living areas of the home. You aren’t going to put a big, bouillon, pieced, opulent pillow in the family room. Retailers are waking up to the fact that they aren’t speaking to a big area of the home by not offering pillows for the den and the family room where people hang out most. They are realizing casual has its place in the assortment.”

Newport — the fourth largest decorative pillow supplier last year with $25 million in sales — is seeing its casual decorative pillows grow to about 15 percent of the company’s total sales.

Suppliers told HTT that discounter department stores continue to lead decorative pillow sales, making up about 35 percent of the total. Off-price chains come in second place with 25 percent. Mid-tier department stores claim a close third, with 20 percent. And tied for fourth place — each with 10 percent of total sales — are department stores and specialty home textiles chains.

Bud Frankel, CEO of Arlee Home Fashions — the second largest decorative pillow supplier last year with $74 million in sales — noted the few retailers left that sell higher priced pillows have contracted the sizes of their departments for the category.

Hill said discount chains and off-price stores are churning the best business for the category at present. HTT

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