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Suppliers Step up Web Outreach

While home textiles suppliers are recognizing the growing strength of the internet as a business opportunity, they are still struggling with the various ways it can fit into their business model.

For many, providing drop ship capabilities to their retail accounts’ online customers already is a key element of their business. This capability, some said, opens new business opportunities with individual retailers in terms of adding items they would not normally stock. And others are using the internet as an informational forum for both retailers and/or consumers.

But a major sticking point for a number of suppliers is selling directly to consumers, which seems to be a growing piece of the business. In this area, there is great hesitation about competing with one’s own customer base.

At WestPoint Home, “we have a corporate site — WestPointHome.com or Martex.com — that discusses our brands and products and gives consumers information on where to buy them” said Nancy Golden, svp. The site also drives questions about product to the retailers that carry the item, she explained.

WestPoint Home has a database of 150,000 consumers who receive newsletters about new products, events or seasonal programs that drive traffic to stores, Golden added. “It’s a key tool and we track response.”

For Frank Foley, ceo of CHF Inds., the internet is a growing part of the business. “It’s an adjunct to our regular business — we drop-ship for retailers on certain items so they don’t have to stock them. Otherwise, it’s a little bit of everything.”

Welspun quickly moved into internet marketing with the acquisition of American Pacific and its warehouse in Columbus, Ohio, with web capability, said Bob Hamilton, marketing manager.

The first purpose of the website, Hamilton explained, “is to sell off closeouts at DesignersLinensOutlet.com.” In late spring, the company will add a b-to-b website – linens.com – that will feature the Christy brand first. It will be designed especially to work with smaller retailers and specialty stores — both growing business areas for the firm.

“In today’s world, there are fewer people on the ground (sales personnel), and retailers order online so the internet is a communications vehicle for new product information,” he added.

At Peking Handicraft, “if it’s anything to do with the consumer directly, we’re not doing it,” said Mark Grand, president. “We’re developing internet only product for specific products and specific retailers,” he emphasized. The company also is working with the retail community for data interchange.

As for drop-shipping, “we tried it and are trying to resist drop ships for consumers from retailers,” he said. However, he sees it as a “wave of the future, and we’ll have to build for it.” He noted that the gift division already ships direct, but that drop-shipping for big volume is another challenge.

Sferra is taking a multi-faceted approach to the internet and the various opportunities it affords, said Paul Hooker, ceo.

The company has a store locator on its website but it also shows product “by merchandising it the way would like it to be.” The company sells these collections but at a 60% mark-up compared to the MSRP of 55%, thereby making certain that their retailer customers are not undercut price-wise. “We also use the site to sell closeouts,” Hooker noted.

And even newer for the company, Hooker commented, is a relationship with blog founder Ronda Carman, who focuses on the luxury market. She will be involved in three design events — in Atlanta, Houston and Chicago — to attract interior designers to local stores. The stores get a discount on merchandise sold to the designers.

Keith Sorgeloos, ceo of Home Source International, said, “we’re in the midst of structuring our own website. As we develop our supply chain business and our merchandise for the web, potentially everyone’s inventory could be available for direct to consumer sales.

“We’re also working to develop a social media program. We’re really looking to talk directly with consumers as well as dealing with retailers in this regard. In the next five to 10 years we want to control more of what we do.”

Blissliving has developed two new platforms: one is an e-commerce program and the other a social media program on Facebook and Twitter, said Mareike Finck, director of marketing and public relations.

“We’re using the site to introduce new products to consumers as well as to the stores. For direct sales to consumers we have the same or a higher price than the stores.”

The social networking activities are designed to interact with people or talk back or share ideas, she said.

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