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Fabric suppliers not concerned about recent slowdown in sales growth

NEW YORK -Fabric suppliers are not pushing the panic button despite a definite slowdown in sales growth in recent weeks.

The executives of these companies are quick to point out that the phenomenon is a "slowdown in growth rate," not a decline in sales, which still makes this a surprisingly strong market segment.

Export, this executive consensus says, is the weakest of all the distribution channels, but some believe the downward spiral has bottomed.

"We're playing lean and mean," said Jim Richman, president of Richloom. "Business is mediocre and tough to come by, but we're building a better mousetrap."

Richloom's strength, he added "is that we have the dollars to support our distribution." The jobber business is strong, and the slowdown impact is farther out than the retailer and furniture segments. "Export doesn't exist," he said.

Roger Berkley, president of Weave, sees the situation "as surprisingly calm-it's not booming. There's just slower growth, but we're definitely not behind."

As for the strong sectors, Berkley said, "No one is on fire, but export is the weakest because of the exchange rate issues. The euro is down, as are the Australian and New Zealand dollars."

Retail business is pretty good, and "home textiles manufacturing is looking up. We're now in some top-of-the-bed, in addition to pillows and pads," said Mike Rice, executive vp, Barrow Industries. As for furniture, "It's still our strongest segment, but it's not as strong as we want it to be."

Comparing this year with last "is difficult because of our reorganization and new affiliation," said Roger Gilmartin, executive vp, Covington Industries. But overall, he added, "growth is slower, but definitely not below last year's levels."

The non-furniture segment of the company's distribution "is bubbling along fairly steady. Jobber business is stronger, top of the bed slower and retail has had no slowdown," he said.

As for export, the big question mark for many companies "we see the curve of the decline has flattened," said Gilmartin. "In fact, it's fairly level with last year."

At Ametex, "retail is holding its own; in domestics we're doing well with specific accounts, and furniture is very upbeat," Steve Milender, vp, reported. "We're really upbeat. But the big question is what is going on at retail."

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