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'Who Eats It?'

As we move into a major market mode, it might not be a bad idea to look back at the results of the most recent retailing and home textiles efforts.

The latest round of retail quarterly reports and analyst calls has produced what might be a new executive-level excuse for why a company's performance was not better.

We've lived through the classic "earlier Easter" or "fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas," the "change in the marketing calendar," the hurricanes or floods and the like. More recently it is "the economic headwinds."

But now, several of the folks residing in CEO-ville have a new wave excuse. It is: "Even though we're down, we've outperformed the competition." That's truly a performance that will encourage boards to grant bonuses at year-end.

What's even more interesting about this last go-round is the virtually unanimous agreement that home was one of the worst — if not certainly the worst — performer across the stores' merchandise segments.

And within home, home textiles was cited more often than not as being a major offender.

Perhaps it's time to step back and look over the landscape of the home textiles world.

What's been happening across most of the home textiles world has been happening for some time now. But the latest results indicate that Ms. Jones is less and less compelled to buy what is being offered.

And looking around from store to store, circular to circular, catalog to catalog, it's easy to see why. The sameness of the merchandise is overwhelming.

And it's all price-driven with little, if any, fashion or benefits offered or discussed to entice Ms. Jones to part with her ever-shrinking open-to-buy. The one-size-fits-all mentality when it comes to product development, design, fabric differentiation and market just will not work with today's consumers.

And we now are facing an increasing amount of retail posturing about their prowess in design and sourcing. As we are beginning to see, this attitude is moving these retailers toward the challenge of "Who eats it?" in terms of stuff that is too late, too similar to the next guys, or just not desirable.

It also will be interesting to see how the much-heralded My Macy's program, designed to acknowledge local input and needs and respond accordingly, will succeed.

With production mostly off-shore, minimum quantities high and lead times long, developing and getting product to specific local needs will be another challenge.

Several retailers are going around market this month with a laundry list of questions for suppliers about how they, and their competitors, stack up on key issues.

It might be time for the entire marketplace to do the same.

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