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Jennifer Marks

Positive Developments

As the industry gathers this week in showrooms and hotels around Manhattan for the New York Home Fashions Market, there will be plenty of talk about the state of the U.S. economy (blech), rising costs (ouch), and stalled retail sales (yikes).

So it's appropriate to point out there are a few things for which to be grateful in these uncertain days:

• NRDC Equity Partners' Fortunoff acquisition strategy is said to include putting Fortunoff's home merchandise into Lord & Taylor stores, which the firm also owns. That could mean up to 47 new doors opening to better quality, better priced merchandise.

While 47 is a far cry from 500, it's also been some time since 47 doors opened anywhere but at retail chains that already operate several hundred doors.

• An increasing number of suppliers appear to be ferreting out new niches of business, whether with pet stores, specialty catalogs, internet sales organizations or independent stores.

Better yet, it's not all product that has to be dumbed down and price-pulverized.

• The "China price" has come home to roost — and it's impacting retailers and suppliers equally. As The New York Times reported last week, the combination of rising costs for raw materials and energy, the devalued dollar, and new business rules in China actually nudged inflation ahead in the United States last year.

Although inflation is not something to be cheered, the fact that conditions are prompting more manufacturers to turn down unprofitable business is a good thing for the overall industry.

• This will be the final February market and signals the end of the February/August schedule. Unless the dates change again — which is a possibility since talks continue between the showroom-based Home Fashion Products Association and George Little Management, organizer of the New York International Gift Fair/New York Home Textiles Market. Both parties say they would like to align their dates.

There will no doubt be many challenges ahead. But as one exhibitor at the recent New York Gift Fair/New York Home Textiles Market remarked: "Recessions can be self-fulfilling prophecies. I told our sales team not to buy into it. Our retailers know their customers, and we know their customers, and we make great product for them."

So in that spirit, here's wishing everyone a fruitful, inspiring and galvanizing market this week.

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