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  • Jennifer Marks

In this Boom, Brands Must Bloom

Michael Greene, Jennifer Marks -- Home Textiles Today, January 16, 2006

The first time I attended Heimtextil, I overheard a veteran of the international home textiles extravaganza remark with some astonishment: “I can't believe that this many companies are still making a living in the business.”

Today, slightly fewer are. But when one considers the industry on a global scale — and it is unquestionably a global business today — the reality is that what the home textiles industry is now experiencing is not a bust but a boom.

Much was made a few months ago of the U.S. government's decision to cease tracking sheet and towel production levels. But in the new crop of industrialized nations, export promotion councils and government agencies are tallying their countries' exploding capacities vigorously. Further, capital lenders are pouring money into new equipment and the development of enterprise zones, industrial clusters and free-trade areas.

Manufacturers in the primary textiles-producing nations have, over the past couple of years, realized fairly quickly that they need to make the shift from lowest-price product to value-added goods if they are to compete against the raft of state-of-the-art factories springing up down the road.

But where the majority of the ascendant manufacturers lag in their understanding of the U.S. buying community is in establishing an identity in the trade. In a world already blessed (or burdened) by huge capacities and poised to generate more, the necessity of standing for something in the market grows ever more important.

This means that a company's ability to differentiate, and its brand identity, become vital.

So is having boots on the ground in the company's major markets. As fate would have it, the U.S. industry is replete with sales and design people who live and breathe the market — as well as some supplier companies that are either shopping for joint venture partners, looking to take a stake in off-shore production, or quietly soliciting manufacturer investment in their own firms.

The new corps of manufacturers, having invested millions in plants, equipment and technology over a relatively short span of time, understandably suffer from a fit of investment fatigue at the moment. But what the principals of these companies need to realize is that operating on an OEM basis will no longer do, for any business interested in long-term growth.

Someone else will always have a newer loom. The latest fiber technology will quickly be adopted by all competitors.

The global boom in capacity development will unquestionably be followed by a global downsizing in same — and at a rate that is likely to be just as accelerated as the build-out. Any mill that believes itself invulnerable to the trend should revisit U.S. mill history circa 1990. Then they should fly over for a tour of spots like Kannapolis, N.C. and Thomasville, Ga. for a sobering lesson in how quickly it can all melt away.

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