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  • Jennifer Marks

A bigger neighborhood

The grass is always greener … so the saying goes. Nothing reinforces the adage like a stroll through someone else's yard.

At the Evteks trade fair last week in Istanbul, it was clear that suppliers that import to the United States could be slotted into one of three groups.

A small number of them see the United States as a market rich with opportunity and are making investments in capital and people to buy a piece of American acreage.

A larger group dreams of more modest estates. Uncomfortable with the burden of owning shelf space outright and bearing the expense of the inevitable misstep, they're searching for the perfect landlord — in the form of a well-connected wholesaler, preferably one of the major mills. Apparently they haven't heard how heavily mortgaged most of those properties are at present, but that's another matter.

The majority of exhibitors at the show are striving for what could be described as the best of the least: a small but consistent stake of higher-end goods with high-end retailers or wholesale — the proverbial penthouse with a view.

All of which is to say, as is the case with U.S. suppliers, overseas manufacturers are still sorting themselves out as the global textiles market goes shopping for new neighborhoods to settle into.

The vendors at Evteks were overwhelmingly Turkish and, for many, the United States is not a place where they want to play. Europe offers safer territory — where independently owned shops and small chains still operate largely unfettered from competition with American-style mega retailing. Even Russia — despite its economic troubles — continues to do a brisk business in higher-priced better-quality goods, vendors said.

Tilling the U.S. market with its item merchandising, unrelenting margin pressure and ever-shortening lead times is simply not worth the toil for many.

And yet a few have the ambition and the resources to make a run for it. What about China? They'll cede low-cost basic goods to China. As for the rest, they already see opportunities to pursue low-cost labor for themselves closer to home — in Iran, parts of the Balkans and parts of Africa.

While their confederates quake at the U.S.'s ability to bruise and bloody the hapless — a rare few are formulating strategies that range from three or five years, to a decade out. What they see ahead is a network of dominant global players in which the top suppliers are manufacturers that sell product in the worlds plummiest markets — the United States, Europe, the Middle East, Japan and South America.

They are dancing to the tune of another old adage: the big get bigger.

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