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Welspun Readies Bath Rug Launch

The foray by Welspun USA into the uncharted category of bath rugs happens this month during the New York Home Fashions Market.

This rapidly growing bath and bedding company is flexing its muscle to give the new line of business a workout.

The company's January purchase of a 76% stake in Portugal-based Sorema, a major supplier of luxury bath rugs, bath accessories and shower curtains, also instantly gives it a $4 million foothold in the elite bath side of the business in the U.S. market.

Another coup for this new category is the addition of industry veteran Dennis Fein to spearhead the effort. Fein joined Welspun in September and assumed the newly created title of business director of floorcoverings. His career experience includes Shaw Living, the now defunct-Burlington Rug Corp., and Mohawk Home.

The backbone is in place, as construction is expected to be complete by the end of March on a new floorcovering manufacturing facility in Vapi, India, adjacent to an existing Welspun bath towel plant.

"That is the advantage Welspun brings to market — our location gives us a global perspective on things," Fein told HTT. "The basic philosophy is to bring innovation to the marketplace."

Fein explained, there are "already plenty of suppliers who do handmade goods, and there are some mass-produced on two-meter and some on four-meter equipment in India. But the majority of those suppliers pretty much use second- and third-generation equipment. We're looking at coming into this marketplace by being innovative. We're looking toward technology and have invested heavily in this new facility."

The new plant, which is planned for production runs by May, is designed to produce a variety of floor coverings. "We're starting out though, strictly with bath rugs for now," Fein added.

At market, Welspun will show mainly natural fiber goods, but synthetics will also be part of the mix.

The natural fiber offerings will be those inherent to India — cotton, organic cotton, Egyptian cotton, bamboo, high-grow, and proprietary fiber combinations by Welspun.

"There is a distinct opportunistic advantage with capacity in natural fibers. Welspun grows the fibers, spins them into yarns and makes them into finished product," Fein said.

The synthetic line will be heavily focused on Invista fibers, he said, but will include "other opportunistic products."

Among the constructions are cut-pile, loop pile, tabletop and embossed-back products — the latter including "innovation on designs" stemming from new technologies that can create multiple pile-height constructions.

"This brings a whole new flavor to the design, texture and interest," Fein said.

Other highlights include bath rugs for Welspun's Nautica-branded line, and also on that note a "very interesting reversible coordinate" for the J-Class segment of Nautica. "We'll have a reversible, two-color rug," Fein explained. "Each side will be a different color."

Waverly will be added as another brand in bath rugs to Welspun's August 2008 introductions.

Further, the company will produce bath rugs under the Luxus and Vitere labels.

Most of Welspun's bath rugs are solid colored, but many have surface interest attained through different constructions and texture-based patterns.

Retail price points for bath rugs won't stray from Welspun's overall bath focus in the mid- to high-end bracket.

About one third of the bath rugs will coordinate directly with Welspun towel programs, including Nautica and J-Class.

The bulk, or two-thirds, is designed for standalone or to work back to other towel programs — "anybody's towel," Fein said — in the marketplace.

The mission of this new business division, Fein said, is to "enhance the product assortment and grow sales on the selling floor. Not take a smaller slice but rather make a bigger pie."

The future of Welspun's floorcovering offerings include the possibility of high-end fine fiber combinations stemming from the Sorema alliance, and the likelihood of new rug categories in accent and area styles adding to the product roster.

"We're going to look at all business opportunities and categories, and we'll see what fits into our manufacturing capabilities and the marketplace and into Welspun's philosophy," Fein suggested.

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