• Cecile Corral

Table and Kitchen Textiles Look to Leverage a Good Year

Table linens and kitchen textiles suppliers reaped the most benefits from a noticeable uptick in consumer spending in 2009 as shoppers returned to the stores with a focus on still-affordable, smaller decorative items — and utilitarian pieces, as well.

By the second quarter of 2009, retailers were reporting gains in and expansions to their kitchen textiles and/or table linens businesses.

In Walmart Stores’ second quarter, sales in kitchen, dining and food preparation products continued to be strong, noted vice-chairman Eduardo Castro-Wright. “In fact, when we compare our monthly home performance to what other retailers are reporting on monthly sales day, we believe we continue to gain significant share in this business,” he said.

Kohl’s Food Network line, launched in fall 2007, was expanded in 2008 with the addition of the Bobby Flay program — which proved a bright spot among the otherwise weaker home segment at the onset of last year.

Upon the roll-out of its Cannon bedding program at Kmart and Sears in April, Iconix — which owns the Cannon brand — expanded the brand into kitchen textiles, table linens, and other categories later in the year.

“2008 and 2009 were both tough, but last year we definitely saw the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Elissa Vogt, vp, marketing, West Conshohocken Pa-based The John Ritzenthaler Co. “As the year progressed, it moved into a positive direction, and we see that continuing this year.”

Aided by positive trends in consumer spending and other related factors, both the kitchen textiles and table linens grew by 5% each — $593,250,000 and $792,750,000, respectively.

“Nobody is reducing space to their kitchen and table categories,” said Nancy Kristoff, president of sales and marketing, New York-based Bardwil Linens. “At the same time, I can’t think of anyone increasing it either. But it is definitely not being decreased. Overall, the table and kitchen businesses are pretty healthy — they really are. We’ve all gone through a tough year, from the beginning of 2008 to the beginning of 2009. But the business was definitely better than they planned for the second half, without a doubt.”

Kristoff continued, noting that pricing stayed the same on both categories, even if that also meant no one “was willing to take price increases.”

The growth category going forward for Bardwil includes aprons. “We chose to include aprons in our Lenox and Vera lines, and we are definitely seeing nice sales there with every retailer,” Kristoff said. “It’s become a functional but fun, feminine and flirty product. It is just sort of a new up-and-coming category, and we don’t have many of those in table and kitchen.”

Solid-colored products and licensed lines — such as Vera and Lenox — “in total helped us offset the losses we felt from Mervyn’s and [Linens 'N Things],” she said.

With the demise of Mervyn’s, LNT and Fortunoff, Kristoff hypothetically asked, “Where did that business all go?”

Her answer: Some went away completely. But off-price chains recovered the rest as did a major specialty home textiles chain and mid-price and regular department stores.

HTT’s research shows those trends, too.

In kitchen textiles, off-price chains enjoyed the most gains — 11% — to $21.9 million of total market share from $19.7 the prior year. Mid-price chains were in second place with a 7.7% jump to $94.2 million, followed by home textiles specialty chains, which rose by 5.9% to $65.82.

Table linens distribution similarly showed off-price chains in the lead in terms of growth over the year, with a 9.2% hike to $61.8 million, followed by mid-price chains up 7.5% to $170.50 and home textiles specialty chains, which grew 5.5% to $171.29 million.

Vogt suggested recent trends are helping the kitchen textiles and table linens categories make gains in existing and new channels.

“The fun people are having in their kitchens relates to the trends we are seeing with the many celebrity chefs right now, and that is encouraging a lot of people to entertain in their own kitchens, which ties in with the living-within-your-means trend,” she said. “People are really becoming their own experts in cooking. The kitchen is the new living room.”

With all the activity in the kitchen, consumers are needing more supplies — but on a budget. For this reason, they bought bulk last year.

New York-based Elrene Home Fashions found retail placement “all over the place” last year for its five-, 10- and even 20-piece packs and sets of patterned kitchen towels, said Bryan Siegel, chairman and ceo. The company was among the few top five suppliers in both kitchen textiles and table linens that posted sales gains last year.

Foreston Trends’ growth in the kitchen textiles category last year stemmed from business with new retail customers as well as a strong re-order business of basic products with existing customers, said Dick Gould, vp, sales.

“Last year, we had good customers — we didn’t do anything different,” he said.

But the company did tweak some programs. One example was the shift to a 10-piece from an eight-piece terry kitchen towel set of solids and stripes for an existing program at a major warehouse club.

“We had that program for about two years and it did extremely well, and then we tried a different configuration — 10 pieces instead of eight — and we were able to increase the price point,” he said.

Growing sales of its basic terry kitchen towels have also helped 1888 Mills make strides in the category over the past few years. The company joined the ranks of the top five kitchen textiles suppliers in 2008 and retuned to the list in 2009 with $27 million in category sales.

Fulton Allen, president of the company’s consumer products division, attributes this growth to cash-strapped shoppers’ increasing need for functional products for their kitchens — and retailers being conscious of providing plenty of these products to make the sales.

“What we noticed is that retailers, especially in the kitchen category, are making sure they have plenty of space allocated to basic utility products — bar mops, dish cloths, and that multipacks seem to be winning at the $5 or under price bracket,” Allen explained. “The customers need to feel like they are getting a value. And that means buying bulk in some ways or buying a product with an added function to it.”

1888 Mills’ Clorox-branded antimicrobial kitchen towels hit the spot for the company in meeting these criteria, he said.

Looking to continue building on the momentum in 2010, 1888 Mills “will keep looking for a combination of value and attributes that means something to the customer once they get the product home … basic utility will continue to dominate the marketplace, and that is dominated by discount and food and drug retailers. They control what is going on there.”

Croscill/Ex-Cell/Glenoit is on the road to recovering its table linens business with a renewed focus on it line beyond just seasonal offerings, said Debbie Powell, vp, merchandising.

“We are trying now to bring back a full line that includes seasonal and everyday looks,” she explained. “We are definitely trying to reinvigorate some of our expertise and experience in the category that was not being fully utilized in recent years. We’ve been in this business, but not really concentrating on it until now.”

Backed by “a good team with a lot of experience,” Croscill/Ex-Cell/Glenoit is working on more closely coordinating its table linens and kitchen textiles pieces.

“We feel that is important again,” Powell said. “It went away for a while. Everything was matchy-matchy for a while, and then we went away from that. But now, we see it coming back again. Retailers want that full package for their shoppers.”

While napkin rings remain a dominant chunk of Croscill/Ex-Cell/Glenoit’s category business, Powell did notice tablecloths gain some sales momentum in late 2009.

“We saw a small resurgence in tablecloths, especially for seasonal,” she said.

Siegel did, too, and called it “a nice little comeback” for the product category.

“Placemats and runners have been strong and for last 10 to 15 years now,” Siegel said. “But for a little while last year we saw tablecloth and napkins make a nice little comeback, and it’s probably because people are dining in more and dining in bigger groups, like with their families and with dinner parties. People can do that on a budget.”

He added that Elrene has been tracking the sales of its table linens product categories for more than 15 years, “and in that time, this is the first time we’ve seen tablecloths improve.”

Also looking to more fully coordinated programs in the near future is Windham Weavers. The company, which was acquired by Natco Home Products in September 2008, was a newcomer to the top five list of table linens suppliers in 2009, taking the fourth spot with $17 million in category sales.

“One of the businesses we went after in a big way was decorative pillows,” explained Michael Ciavolino, vp sales. “We already did tapestry placemats and runners, so we extended those looks to dec pillows and chair pads because we see people starting to coordinate again in the kitchen.”

Decorative pillows also served as a vehicle for Westgate to embark on its latest new product venture — table linens.

The multi-category company, anchored by a fabric business, launched its table linens business one year ago with collections of coordinating placemats, napkins, runners, chair pads and tablecloths.

“Many of the designs we did were taken right off the fabrics we use for pillows,” explained Neil Zuber, evp. “The looks naturally work for table, and the idea has worked. We’ve seen steady growth since we started.”

As in the case of the company’s dec pillows, Westgate’s table linens styles include embroideries, quilted products, appliqués, chenilles, jacquards, solids and many others.

2009 2008 % change
* Other includes home improvement centers, military exchanges and gift/home accent stores.
Discount department stores $285.48 $ 271.8 5.0%
Home textiles specialty chains 171.29 162.3 5.5
Mid-price chains 170.50 158.6 7.5
Off-price chains 61.85 56.6 9.2
Department stores 29.34 30.2 -2.8
Direct-to-consumer 29.34 30.2 -2.8
Single unit specialty stores 14.27 15.1 -5.5
Variety/closeout 16.65 15.1 10.3
Warehouse clubs 7.93 7.6 5.0
Other* 6.34 7.6 -16.0
Total $793.0 $755.0 5.0%

2009 2008 % change
Placemats $340.20 $323.90 5.0%
Tablecloths 199.84 188.75 5.9
Napkins 172.87 165.35 4.6
Runners 57.89 55.87 3.6
Napkin rings 22.20 21.14 5.0

2009 2008 % change
* Other includes home improvement centers, military exchanges and gift/home accent stores.
Discount department stores $361.73 $344.65 5.0%
Home textiles specialty chains 65.82 62.15 5.9
Mid-price chains 94.29 87.58 7.7
Off-price chains 21.94 19.78 11.0
Variety/closeout 17.20 16.95 1.5
Warehouse clubs 11.86 11.30 5.0
Single unit specialty stores 4.15 5.65 -26.5
Department stores 5.93 5.65 5.0
Direct-to-consumer 5.34 5.65 -5.5
Other* 4.74 5.65 -16.0
Total $593.0 565.0 5.0%

2009 2008 % change
Kitchen towels $308.36 $293.80 5.0%
Potholders/mitts 130.46 124.30 5.0
Dishcloths 106.74 101.70 5.0
Chair pads 41.51 39.55 5.0
Aprons 5.93 5.65 5.0



In determining product category sales figures, as well as determining retail sales for those categories by channel of distribution, the editors and research department of Home Textiles Today used data compiled from a variety of sources, including publicly filed financial reports, vendor sales information compiled by the editors, and information provided by retailers and home fashions suppliers. The research was compiled by Cecile B. Corral, product editor; Dana French, director of market research; and Jennifer Marks, editor-in-chief.

Cecile CorralCecile Corral | Senior Product Editor, Home & Textiles Today

Cecile B. Corral has been a product editor with Home Textiles Today since late 2000. She covers the area and accent rug, kitchen textiles, table linens, beach towels, decorative bath and decorative pillow categories, as well as some retail subjects.

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