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  • Cecile Corral

Stein Mart Bent on Reviving Soft Home

Cecile Corral, Staff Staff -- Home Textiles Today, June 23, 2008

Home lagged behind most other departments at Stein Mart in 2007, but a home textiles revival will be led by both fashion and promotional activity, the retailer said during last week's annual shareholders meeting here.

Bill Moll, evp and chief merchandising officer, said the 280-store Southeastern regional promotional department store chain is adding two brands that will soon join the centerpiece exclusive program in soft home, Nina Campbell — which, he told HTT, is "doing fine." This is part of Stein Mart's grander storewide goal to increase the proportion of name brands in its total assortment to 50%, added Linda Farthing, president and ceo.

For competitive reasons, Moll declined disclosing the names of the new brands, which are scheduled to roll out to store "mid year" this year. Specific release dates were not shared.

At the same time, Moll said Stein Mart will get more promotional in merchandising, including in the soft home area, and may add a new, lower price point level to the mix.

In a 40-store test, about 15% of the home department will be taken away and used to expand the kids' apparel floor. But most of that space will come from largely cutting out accent furniture. A key strength in home, meanwhile, is the gift and décor segment.

"We're going back to where we were," said Moll, referring to Stein Mart's return to the gift and decorative home accents categories that anchor the total home department.

Moll stressed to HTT that — aside from shifts in price points toward more promotions — there will be "no change" in the soft home area. "We're keeping that business unit intact," he said. "Where we are deemphasizing is in the furniture accent pieces."

As seen in a local Jacksonville store, a larger-format, 35,000-square-foot Stein Mart unit today offers three bed vignettes to anchor the department, with a Nina Campbell ensemble front and center. A wall of utility bedding — including some Ralph Lauren pillows — is offset by a solid color towel wall, again centered on Nina Campbell goods.

The soft home range of brands runs from Avanti and Kassatex in bath goods and Newport in dec pillows to Thro in blankets and stylish pet beds. Fashion impact is strong, currently telling more of a tonal story than a print-driven one. A grouping of smaller accent rugs, table linens, bath coordinate collections and promotional comforter sets rounds out the department.

Farthing, a long-time member of Stein Mart's board who assumed her current role in September, acknowledged that the fourth quarter of 2007 was the worst in company history — but she predicted the $1.46 billion company will rebound in part by bringing back its original value and taste-level offering to consumers.

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