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Cecile Corral

Dec pillows provide cushion for suppliers to build on

Worth roughly $550 million in retail sales by some estimates, decorative pillows continue to be a lucrative business, made all the more attractive by the facility with which companies may expand them as coordinates to other offerings through imports, particularly from China and India.

"Anyone who has a garage can sell decorative pillows. It's a fairly easy business to get into," said Bud Frankel, president and ceo, New York-based The Arlee Group.

Added Neil Zuber, president, Richmond, VA-based Ashford Court: "You can be in the step ladder or gifts or home textiles businesses and be able to also have decorative pillows. Your competitors today were not your competitors a few years ago. The marketplace has new names because people who have connections in India and China make whatever they want to make."

Another bonus to consider, said Mark Grimes, director of merchandising, Somerset, KY-based The Cecil Saydah Co., is that "decorative pillows are not a planogrammed category, which makes it easy for buyers to accommodate and coordinate with many categories in their stores."

Imports have made it easier for dec pillow suppliers to build their lines with new coordinating product categories, like bedding and table linens, and for bedding and window suppliers to expand their assortments with dec pillows.

About 75 percent of decorative pillows sold in the U.S. are imported, mainly from China and India, according to estimates used by the industry.

Major bedding companies, among them New York-based Croscill, W-C Designs, of Anaheim, CA, and New York-based The Baltic Linen Co., have recently expanded their offerings — in many cases by at least 50 percent.

Croscill doubled its line to 50 skus to include some stand-alone designs and some window treatment coordinates, beyond its traditional bedding coordinates, designer Melanie Zuckerman said.

"We're using a lot of window fabrics to make decorative pillows so there is a direct tie-in," she explained. "We came up with that idea, and it's really taking off because it helps take the pillows out of the bedroom and into the living room."

W-C Designs has branched out. Formerly offering just a bridal collection in ivory, this past market it created an Indian-made Jewel collection of "highly embellished, jewel-toned, free-standing pillows," design director Kathleen Moore pointed out.

"Decorative pillows are [selling] strongly in the marketplace, and we were pleased with our sales in the bridal collection, plus we had many requests from buyers to expand our line," Moore added.

The Baltic Linen Co. used to offer its customers two basic 16-inch dec pillows with each of its bedding collections, but the company recently built up its line. It now offers six to eight decorative pillow styles per bedding collection, and the pillows come in a variety of embellished looks, colors and shapes, each featuring two to four luxury pieced fabrics, Jane Berger, design vp for bedding, said.

Barth and Dreyfuss of California, based in Burbank, also more than doubled its decorative pillow skus to about 100 during September's market and expanded its looks with more embellishments, thanks to new import opportunities.

"The marketplace is seeing a lot of highly embellished looks, and that's all because of importing," Vivian Acerbo, vp, design, said. "People are going that route. It's about offering value-added products, and you are able to get that from overseas, whereas domestically it's too costly."

Fashion Industries, Griffin, GA, has become "more aggressive on imports," Al Whiten, senior vp, said. The company's offerings, including dec pillows, table linens, top-of-bed goods and rugs, are 90 percent domestically produced. But Whiten said that in an effort to grow that business further, it is pursuing more importing opportunities across the board.

"We just can't afford domestic labor to offer embellished looks," Whiten said.

With imports come embellished looks that still can be sold at smart price points. The sweet spot on price tags this past market stood between $9.99 and $19.99, suppliers said.

More than a year after entering the decorative pillow category, The Cecil Saydah Co., also a supplier of kitchen textiles, table linen, bath products and rugs, landed additional retail placements for the category following this fall's market.

Grimes said the company offered a range of items, from $9.99 for basic import woven fabric pillows with simple or no trims to $39.99 for imported and highly embellished looks.

But, he said, the company experienced "most of the action at the $14.99 to 19.99 range, somewhere in the middle of the road."

Similarly, Frankel noticed customers honing in on basic and some value-added looks.

"As the economy turns down, pillows become more basic," he said. "There is a market for upscale styles, but it's a small market by comparison to basic solid color looks."

Berger said Baltic "still offers its original basic $19.99 16-inch pillows," but the more elaborate looks priced at $29.99 to $49.99 are now also "popular with some of our larger customers."

He said the company may grow within the category with new looks that go beyond the bedroom.

Conversely, Portland, OR-based Newport/Layton Home Fashions has expanded its offerings to include top of bed goods, throws, table linens and most recently shower curtains. Today the category makes up 50 percent of its business, down from 80 percent four years ago, Corey Faul, president, said.

"The home textiles business is shifting overall," he said. "No matter what product you do it's smart to look at other opportunities," he added. "We're looking at adding additional product categories, like bath, footstools and benches."

Faul explained that having decorative pillows as Newport's foundation business has helped the company break ground into new areas.

"It's been easier for us to look at other product categories because of that pillow foundation," he said. "It's what has helped us extend into other business."

Fashion Industries' dec pillow business formerly occupied 50 percent of its business but today makes up 30 percent of sales.

"Decorative pillows are a good source of design inspiration," Whiten said. "Things working in decorative pillows also translate well to other product categories, like top of bed and rugs, in our case," Whiten continued. "I don't necessarily mean the exact same designs, but more in the inspirational sense. There is a link."

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