Atlanta Fine Linens Market Faces Issues

Attendees Suggest Changing Dates and Increasing Number of Exhibitors

James Mammarella, March 26, 2007

The inaugural edition of the Atlanta International Fine Linens & Home Textiles Market generated walk-throughs by a range of local high-end boutiques and interior designers, but exhibitors uniformly suggested that the show operator will need to raise the quantity of upscale suppliers, boost buyer attendance and consider altering the calendar.

The market, held at AmericasMart March 10-12, drew several dozen exhibitors to the modest show space adjoining permanent showrooms on the 10th floor of Building 1 here, but some were less than pleased at sharing the show floor with suppliers of such products as ceramics, children's home décor, candles, and milled soaps.

Nevertheless, exhibitors were happy to make new contacts from around the greater Atlanta area, and said they would consider returning if a second edition of the market can solve some key issues.

Chief among these is timing.

Scott Howard, vp sales at New York-based JLA, was pleased to show the Natori bedding program (with full bamboo and silk-enhanced ensembles, which include add-ons such as bolsters, bed scarves and runners, up to $4,000 retail) to boutique owners and buyers, as well as some local interior designers.

He even reported meeting interested parties from as far off as Alabama and Connecticut. But he said he could understand why more retailers did not attend. "The big [Atlanta Gift] show was here in January, then a lot of buyers traveled to New York for that gift show or for market week — and in another two weeks they'll be in High Point," he pointed out. "How many retailers are going to pay for their buyers to attend another show in the middle of all that?"

He said his retail visitors indicated that AmericasMart had done a high-intensity job of promoting the event, but Howard felt strongly that the market did not promote successfully enough among potential exhibitors.

Agreeing was Rose Virgil, marketing associate at decorative towel resource Avanti, Moonachie, N.J., which was displaying its introductory collections of bath coordinates, created at customer request and based on four leading towel patterns — Banana Palm, a coastal look that is the current most-popular towel line; Rose Fan, a feminine floral theme; Precision, a masculine geometric; and By the Sea, a whimsical look. Shower curtains wholesale from $18.50 to $23, bath rugs are $10.50, and hard accessory pieces range from $6 tumblers and soap dishes to $23 waste baskets.

Virgil suggested that the next Fine Linens event will need a better cross-section of upscale suppliers, and added that the Las Vegas market has become another must-attend for certain customers who already have the Atlanta January/July dates on their calendars.

Bob Hamilton, marketing director, Welspun USA, echoed the point of view that some very high quality local retailers were in attendance — but their numbers were limited.

For Welspun, showing its recently acquired Christy towel collection, Hamilton said, "The reaction here — for retailers used to extremely high quality, $50 and $60 towels — they are responding well" to the marriage of "the legacy brand Christy to the technological resources of Welspun." The line is set to retail from $19.98 to $24.98, he said.

Wendy Arden, a Savannah, Ga.-based sales manager for Springs Global Performance Group, said her team received "a lot of interesting business cards" and was happy to do business with "one-door stores" who appreciated the fashion position of the Court of Versailles program. Still, Arden noted the "light traffic" at the event.

The Court of Versailles line shown features ensembles in the $1,500 range, as well as the less embellished part of the collection, dubbed Caprice, a pinpoint cotton-sheet version with crisp looks across the duvet and pillows that is destined for "mid-tier" customers.

The tone of displays was uneven. A lush quilted charmeuse coverlet- adorned Ann Gish bed ensemble in her Monaco style greeted attendees at one entrance; it was being shown by rep firm Christian Mosso and Associates. And both the Natori and Court of Versailles bedding qualified as sumptuous. Decorative pillow lines shown by Coconut Grove, Fla.-based Pablo Mekis Artisan Pillows and by Smyrna, Ga.-based Janelle Style Designs easily qualified as upscale, both in their design sensibility and price ranges. Beyond these and a few other exhibitors, however, there was a mix of moderate resources that did little to support the "Fine Linens" umbrella theme.

Suppliers that are based in permanent showrooms offered mixed views of the activity. At high-end Italian importer Emdee International, which specializes in finished window treatments and fabrics, director Manju Vaswani said she experienced no increase in walk-in business.

Nancy Clements, a regional sales manager at the major rep firm Alexander Terry, said she felt there was a bit more walk-in trade on Saturday, the show's first day, enough to translate into incremental business.

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