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The sounds of silence — only louder

Carole Sloan, Staff Staff -- Home Textiles Today, March 10, 2003

It seems to me like just yesterday, but it was a good decade ago when the home textiles universe began to change — a level of change that started quietly and almost unobserved, then quickly moved to a crescendo to where today it's almost unrecognizable.

As the market began to shrink, the moaning and groaning escalated especially on the suppliers' side, where wailing comments like, "Who am I going to sell?" began to be heard. It was heard especially loud from suppliers in the low to mainstream part of the business.

Of late, the laments have intensified with some vendors putting some distance between themselves and what they said only a few years ago: that if they didn't sell the top 10 retailers, they'd be in jeopardy.

From this perspective, I pointed out that there were a lot of other retailers that also needed goods — perhaps offered in a different manner from the top 10 retailer group. I noted at that time that this retail segment might even be a more profitable one, as well as more pleasant to work with.

Those comments were received with an awesome silence, and as the years moved on some suppliers said that the road to survival rested with the top four retailers — yes, four.

Meanwhile, an entirely new home textiles universe emerged and settled at the international home furnishing show in High Point, NC. It has morphed from virtually nothing to become a very active venue for all those small retailers that the big guys in New York haven't had the time or interest to serve.

It's a place one supplier described as "a market where my customers really love their products and their jobs."

But things in home textilesland seem to be changing. To acknowledge that, mainstream suppliers are developing programs focused on those smaller retailer needs, albeit slowly.

And if you look at the winners of this year's Retailer of the Year awards, only one of the five honorees is in the top 10.

It's been a long time coming. It's not here yet — but it's a beginning.

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