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Competition Drives New Product Features in Kitchen Textiles

Simple logic suggests there has always been a cross pollination between the sister categories table linens and kitchen textiles.

But in no year was that truer than 2005, when a pair of leading table linens suppliers became two of the top five kitchen textiles providers, as well.

There has been crossover of product offerings among the key players for years, but it had never been so noticeable until last year’s new product offerings by Town and Country, Elrene Home Fashions and Avonhome.

The two openings on the kitchen textiles list came at a price: they were left by the absence of one-time category giants Barth & Dreyfuss and Cecil Saydah — both of which folded their tents in 2004.

What ensued was a clamoring for the business opportunities left vacant by these two companies at the mass merchant and mid-tier levels.

Town and Country, the top table linens supplier with $151 million in category sales, enjoyed its second year on the top kitchen textiles list in 2005, thanks to its successful capture of much of the lost Barth & Dreyfus and Cecil Saydah business.

Ramping Up

The other two big winners — through differing strategies — were Elrene Home Fashions and Avonhome, which respectively claimed the fourth and fifth spots on the top five kitchen textiles list. (Elrene is the second largest table linens suppliers, with $63 million in sales, and Avonhome is the fourth largest, with $55 million in sales.)

Aside from these, other traditional table linen and kitchen textiles houses heavily ramped up their kitchen textiles offerings — and continue to do so this year — in hopes of expanding their opportunities.

Since last summer, Bardwil has been hard at work expanding its kitchen textiles offerings, adding softer fabrications and more fashion styles.

Fallani & Cohn is plunging forward with new coordinate programs in kitchen textiles that tie to its licensed programs in table linens.

Revere Mills, looking to improve the quality of its assortments and target more mass and mid-tier customers, has stepped up its offerings of three-pound woven kitchen towels, at the expense of its lesser-grade screen prints from China.

Ex-Cell Home Fashions, which entered kitchen textiles when it purchased that segment of the business from Cecil Saydah in the summer of 2004, has made a point of creating full coordination with its table linens line ever since.

One-Stop Coordinates

“We have seen the importance to the consumer to create a whole lifestyle in the home,” explained Vanessa Kaye, merchandise manager of Ex-Cell’s table linen division. “This includes table linens, chair pads, kitchen textiles and kitchen rugs. Working with our sister division, Glenoit, we have been able to successfully bring the fully coordinated lifestyle to the consumer while providing the ease of one-stop shopping for the retailer.”

While the kitchen textiles category saw only modest growth in total sales last year to $570 million, a 1.8% increase over the prior year, all of this customer-driven product development activity proves that the category is healthy enough for suppliers to vie keenly for more shelf space at retail.

Mass merchants continue to drive the business with by far the largest percentage of sales: 58%, or $330.6 million. However, there is sharp competition in the field. Home textiles specialty chains and mid-price merchandisers tied for second place, each with 15%, or $85.5 million of the total business.

“It’s not so much that retailers are giving more square footage to kitchen textiles, but that they are looking for more quality and brands,” said Ana Werbel, vp, Fallani & Cohn. “They want to diversify, with more upscale kitchen looks.”

Aiding the effort have been increased production efficiencies overseas, noted Bryan Siegel, president, Elrene.

Bells ’n Whistles

“As a result, factories began to see the benefits of increasing quality but maintaining value costs,” he said. “In turn, the kitchen textiles market was able to offer the consumer fresh looks with new and innovative bells and whistles.”

Such extra product features last year included silicon and increased embroidery detailing, he said.

Anchor Home Products is “having success” with more embellished kitchen towel looks, revealed Frank Petronzio, president. “We’re having success in our banded towels rather than the printed. We’re making a towel with a band and cuff at the band — two layers of fabric or embellishment to a terry towel so that they get a combination of terry, which is highly absorbent, and the bands and cuffs, which are highly decorative.”

This in turn has helped to buoy price points, he said. “Price wise, it’s a little more on the higher end, but it has perceived quality. A call for more embellished looks is keeping prices at $3.99 and $4.99 per towel.”

John Ritzenthaler Co. has seen a spike in demand and penetration for its pot holders and oven mitts category “due to all the new performance features added to the product: silicone, neoprene, etc.,” said Elissa Vogt, vp, marketing.

On a related note, Elrene’s Siegel said his business on the seasonal side has seen growth in the specialty chain channel of distribution. “The seasonal qualities they want are definitely higher spec than the mass level,” he added.

Distribution Channels ($millions)
2005 total retail sales: $570 million
up 1.8% from 2004

% of total 2005 sales
*Other includes home improvement centers, military exchanges and gift/home accent stores.
Discount department stores 58% $330.6
Home textiles specialty chains 15 85.5
Mid-price chains 15 85.5
Off-price chains 3 17.1
Variety/closeout 3 17.1
Warehouse clubs 2 11.4
Single unit specialty stores 1 5.7
Department stores 1 5.7
Direct-to-consumer 1 5.7
Other* 1 5.7

Merchandise mix ($millions)

% of total 2005 sales
Kitchen towels 50% $285.0
Potholders/mitts 22 125.4
Dishcloths 18 102.6
Chairpads 9 51.3
Other 1 5.7

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