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  • Cecile Corral

Specialty stores save table linens

Like its sister product category kitchen textiles, the table linens category experienced unchanged retail sales in 2003, coming in at $603 million again.

Mounting concerns in January 2003 seemed to paint an ugly picture for the category. The economy was slumped, suppliers and retailers alike were recovering from a weak holiday season, and some retailers, especially department stores, continued to shrink the space allocated to table linens.

Park B. Smith Sr., chairman of New York-based Park B. Smith Ltd., noted, "The remaining stores have not made up the volume of the lost stores."

Compensating for what might have been a bleak year for category players were equally as many advantages: the proliferation of many mass, mid-tier and home textiles specialty stores that continued to open new doors throughout the country; the increasing amount of floor space these same retailers devoted to the product category; and a sizeable business generated during the holidays, beginning prior to Halloween for early harvest season goods.

"Specialty chains have more and more space skewed to table linens," said Ana Werbel, national sales manager, Tappan, N.Y.-based Fallani and Cohn. "(One such chain) has three walls devoted to place mats. The business is really increasing there."

In 2003, discount department stores generated 32 percent, or $193 million, of the total market share; home textiles specialty chains nabbed 24 percent, or $145 million; and mid-price department stores came in third place with 19 percent, or $115 million. Department stores and off-price chains tied for fourth place at 7 percent, or $42 million.

"(Home textiles specialty) chains' business is up. They are stealing the market share from the department stores," said Mark Siegel, president and CEO, New York-based Elrene Home Fashions. "The department store business is flat, but they seem to be doing whatever they can to make adjustments. They aren't giving up on the category, and I feel they are getting more price-sensitive."

Encouraged by these factors, suppliers have been able to step up product quality, add more fashion looks and, in some cases, suggest fairer retail price points.

"The category is getting more fashion oriented within the basics. It's getting more and more specialized, meaning with higher-end jacquards and printed jacquards," said George Kouri, president, Braintree, Mass.-based Avonhome. "Our Raymond Waites collection, for example, features 16 to 18 colors in each pattern, instead of just the usual six to eight colors. These better goods are like the stepsister of the basics for the customer who wants something for everyday, but wants something more special."

Like Avonhome, many suppliers have looked to designer names and prominent brands to earn them added floor space at key retail channels.

Bardwil Linens, based in New York, last year expanded its licensing partnership with Lenox Inc. to include the more casual Dansk brand. The supplier launched the line, targeting department and specialty stores, with basic designs that include solid-colored, striped, plaid and geometric looks.

On the retail side, Linens 'n Things rolled out in October its Waverly line, which includes table linens, and Bed Bath & Beyond is expanding both its B. Smith and Nicole Miller collection with table linens, among other product categories.

"Branding has gone up in popularity," said David Beyda, chairman, Lakewood, N.J.-based Town and Country Living. "Ralph Lauren, Chris Madden, Martha Stewart, Nicole Miller, plus all the dinnerware licenses, they all mean a lot to the consumer."

Fallani and Cohn counts on name recognition for product as well. The company has licensing partnerships with Waverly, Woolrich, Pamela Scurry and Showoffs LLC (Showoffs has the master license for the Shag and American Vintage brands) — all of which target specialty and department stores.

Distribution Channels (in $millions)
2003: $603 million
Flat with 2002

2003 % 2003 $
* Other includes home improvement centers, military exchanges and gift/home accent stores.
1. Discount department stores 32% $193
2. Home textiles specialty chains 24 145
3. Mid-price chains 19 115
4. Department stores 7 42
5. Off-price chains 7 42
6. Direct-to-consumer 4 24
7. Single unit specialty stores 3 18
8. Variety/closeout 2 12
9. Warehouse clubs 1 6
10. Other* 1 6