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FIT Honoree: Fishman and Big Lots Surprise

Carole Sloan, Staff Staff -- Home Textiles Today, March 9, 2010

While not specifically saying it, Steve Fishman, president, chairman and ceo of Big Lots, hopes that receiving the Retailer of the Year award this week will open more eyes to the potential business that could be done in the home textiles world.

Fishman, who is to receive the award at today's annual industry breakfast co-hosted by the Home Products Development Department at FIT and the Home Fashion Products Association, positions himself as the one “to set policy and strategy” at Big Lots. Key among these goals is to make the home textiles supplier base more aware of where the fast-moving merchandiser is going in this business and its needs and desires for a broader vendor base.

“We're some of the easiest people to do business with. Our goals are for great quality and the lowest, best price. And we need as much quantity as we can get. We are uncomplicated to do business with,” Fishman told HTT.

To achieve this goal, Fishman pointed to Bob Segal, svp and gmm for home and furniture; and Fred Fox, vp, dmm for home, as the lead people in growing the home textiles business. “They understand to a “t” the business. And we have a unique strategy — very few of our people in home came out of these [home décor] businesses. They are great merchants with a special approach to the market — a very fresh outlook.”

Further, Fishman emphasized, “We're a selling organization, not a buying organization. It doesn't matter if we like [the product] or not, or if we like the vendor or not.”

Overall, but especially in the home textiles world, Fishman noted, “We have price points we never had before, and we're much more open to speak to people. We're probably the most underappreciated company in the market. It's still not clear to the market that we're a major factor in home textiles.”

Columbus, Ohio-based Big Lots, in fact, ranked No.13 on the Home Textiles Today Retailing Giants survey for 2008. And going forward for 2009 and 2010, Fishman sees even more progress for the company's home textiles business. “We've made a lot of strides in the last six months, opening new vendors” among the home textiles supplier ranks.

Overall, he explained, “We added 1,000 new vendors in the last year. We were misunderstood in the marketplace. We were not as open in allowing these vendors to understand what we are doing.”

Big Lots also is putting a lot of emphasis on its “A” stores with its eight stores already opened registering a 10% to 15% sales increase. Another 30 will open this year. These stores have a higher quality of presentation in approximately the same square footage as the conventional stores but within different formats, he explained. Seasonal is upfront, while furniture is in the back with wide open spaces and home, including textiles, has new fixturing and presentation space.

Fishman joined Big Lots in 2005 from Rhodes Furniture where he served as ceo, president and chief restructuring officer. His major debut as a senior merchant in home was at the former Federated division Gold Circle, where he was in charge of all home from 1986 to 1988, having earlier been in different merchandising positions at the company since 1981. From 1993 to 1999 he served as chairman and ceo of Pamida, formerly a general merchandise discount retailer until it was sold to ShopKo Stores.

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