Blanket competition heats up market

Don Hogsett, October 12, 2001

Jockeying for position in a rapidly shifting adult blanket business, a pair of century-old blanket producers are making their New York market debut this week, one making its first foray into traditional retail channels, the other reinventing itself with new owners, new managers and a return to a venerable name abandoned several years ago.

Making a major market debut this week is 138-year-old Pendleton Woolen Mills, based in Portland, OR, which is launching its new Pendleton blanket and home division this week with a sweeping introduction of jacquard woven woolen blankets, baby blankets, throws, accessories and striking top-of-bed looks.

Historically, Pendleton has sold its traditional Native American blankets and shawls largely through non-traditional channels, on Indian reservations and through its own network of more than 70 Pendleton-branded retail stores. Now, substantially broadening its product base and the scope of its designs as well as expanding into a full range of bed blanket sizes, the almost legendary nameplate is moving into the home, with looks that include a super-soft merino lambswool, an unusually supple washable wool, a textured herringbone chevron and a naturally colored multi-stripe, using various shades of wool.

Heading up the new Pendleton Home business is former Mercantile Stores veteran Bob Christnacht, working with blanket industry veteran Pete Johnson, former president of Faribault Woolen Mills. The company is showing the Pendleton Home line at its showroom at 213 West 39th Street.

Making a dramatic return under its own venerable nameplate, after several years of ownership under the Pillowtex brand, is Beacon Blankets, based in Swannanoa, NC. Recently acquired in a management buyout from Pillowtex, Beacon is now headed by a team of three former Beacon execs, including Tedd Smith as president, Kenny Hines as executive vp, sales and marketing, and Steve Good, who heads up manufacturing.

One thing that Beacon is holding onto is an arsenal of Pillowtex nameplates, including the formidable Royal Velvet and Charisma brands.

Staking out its own claim in the adult blanket business is Biederlack of America, best known as a supplier of jacquard-woven, high-pile throws. Eager to diversify its business, Biederlack continues to expand a relatively new adult blanket business, and this week introduces four new cottons, including its first-ever Egyptian cotton as well as a Supima and an Upland cotton. "They're all step-up thermals with a somewhat tighter weave," said Peter McCabe, executive vp.

Making full use of its recently acquired Chatham blanket business, WestPoint Stevens is moving into the luxury blanket business with a super-soft ring-spun Supima cotton thermal in a tonal herringbone, giving the effect of tone-on-tone color without using package-dyed yarn. WestPoint is also showing a high-pile knit blanket in a blend of 85 percent acrylic and 15 percent polyester.

Rapidly expanding Charles D. Owen Mfg. is beefing up its Wamsutta blanket program, produced under license from Springs Industries, and makes a major statement with several new looks in the Bedroom Solutions blanket, which is packaged in a vinyl and canvas bag. In a new wrinkle, four new throws coordinate with Bedroom Solutions blankets.

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