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Rocky Road

Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, April 4, 2005

It was a question tossed out after a long visit by a highly respected supplier of home textiles — "Do you think this is a tumultuous year?”

My response was an affirmative, seconded by a senior colleague who held the same view.

And by tumultuous, without making specific, definitions, we all seemed to be reflecting on the various pieces of our conversations … the dramatically, fast changing, and still to be announced changes in the retailing universe; the unusual — not strange — bedfellows alliances at the supplier level; and the challenges of offshore manufacturing and how one keeps to a quality standard that has been the norm in this country.

One piece of the tumult is the retail scene. Longtime observers had been able to piece together early on the relationship of Edward Lampert with Kmart and Sears. And the Federated-May Co. marriage was a long time in coming, but was essentially inevitable. The only question from Day One years ago was who would own whom.

But now we have the potential for a takeover of JCPenney; a breakup of Saks into two pieces, each acquired by a different owner; Neiman's future; and even more fascinating, the resuscitation of Belk's, one of retailing's dormant players, and now flexing its privately held strength under a new generation of management. And that's only the surface stuff in the retailing arena.

More than ever, it seems the quality issues at all levels are an increasing challenge. This added a large measure of tumult to the past months, and continues into the future.

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