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Jennifer Marks

Who's next?

The annual Licensing Show was in New York last week, so naturally we were awash in press releases about "brands" nobody ever heard of launching themselves into every conceivable product category.

Everybody's looking for an extension these days to boost business. I mean, when Eartha Kitt announces she wants to develop a home line, you have to conclude that all the barriers have come down. She doesn't even have a show on HGTV — although I'll wager her name is still better known than most of the "personalities" who do.

Wal-Mart's Asda chain in the United Kingdom will open two stand-alone George clothing stores in the fall, a pilot program that will test for one year before additional George units roll out. Clothing at the new stores will sell for the same price as they do in the Asda supermarket stores, although presumably there will be more apparel made available there. Wal-Mart already sells George in the U.S., Germany and South Korea and is planning to add the line to Seiyu stores in Japan, in which Wal-Mart holds a stake. Five years from now, when Wal-Mart starts rolling the George name into non-apparel categories, we can all look back on this and remember when the George evolution began.

Marshall Field's is partnering with Chicago icon Barbara's Bookstore to open a 2,400-square-foot Barbara's brand book boutique inside Field's downtown Chicago store on State Street. The move is part of an ongoing effort by Field's to differentiate the department store environment through canny partnerships — a strategy not all that dissimilar from sister chain Target discount store's alliances with upscale designers. Field's has already introduced departments featuring British shirtmaker Thomas Pink, home designer Thomas O'Brien and home designs from Designer's Guild. Head's up there, LNT. Maybe it's time to move some LNT boutiques into Lowe's or Expo Design Center?

Mothers Work is looking to license its name to other product categories, including domestics. The company is the 800-pound gorilla for maternity specialty shops, and its nameplates — Motherhood Maternity, A Pea in a Pod and Mimi Maternity — run the market position gamut from sharply priced to bridge lines. The company operates more than 800 stores and more than 150 leased departments. It's a safe bet that the company will look at infant bedding, but textiles suppliers interested in chasing this account should also remember that the company's gut feeling is for expectant mothers — specifically, their comfort. Time for the pillow makers, blanket gurus and foam folks to get creative.

Retailers aren't the only companies exploring cross-pollination. Some home textiles firms are working on ways to get their foot in the door at drugstores, grocery chains and automotive specialty shops. In business, the pendulum is ever swinging, and after consolidation, diversification usually becomes a hot strategy.

In the meantime, if any of you decide to develop sheet sets for Eartha Kitt, please give me a call. I'm dying to see the concept boards.

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