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Jennifer Marks

Dance cards are definitely full

Energy seems to be running high going into the New York Home Textiles Market, which kicks off with the March 26 opening of the New York Home Textiles Show at the Jacob Javits Center.

The explosion of new category introductions we saw last market continues apace — much of it still being fed by the disappearance of Pillowtex, as well as the fact that the former mill's brands seem unlikely to reappear at retail in any significant way before spring 2004. Suppliers are concentrating with particular zeal on the niches once occupied by Royal Velvet towels and Charisma towels and sheets.

Branding is also hot. Docker's, which launched at retail early last year as a bedding program, is expanding into bath. Lenox, which exists in soft home as a table linens brand, is making the leap into bath towels in partnership with table and kitchen linens supplier Bardwil. Lycra, another casualty of the Pillowtex liquidation, has re-emerged under a co-branding arrangement with Springs' Wamsutta label — which also is bringing bath and body potions label Crabtree & Evelyn into soft home.

More "market debuts" will be rolling out to retail mere weeks after the event. As suppliers have noted for some time, today's year-round cycle of product development renders market launches fairly meaningless. Most suppliers have already shown retailers their new introductions — some several times — and a lot of orders are wrapped up.

Also driving this trend is the need for retailers to refresh their assortments with new fashion more frequently. The dominant retailers continue to demand exclusives, whether that constitutes sole proprietorship of a label or simply the guarantee that no competitor will be sold a particular pattern within a collection.

The fallout for suppliers: it's harder to recoup investments in products that enjoy narrower distribution and shorter runs at retail. The challenge is to restructure the product development process to accommodate this new reality — without drastically reducing the number of designs suppliers are able to offer to retailers.

In addition, suppliers at market will be assessing the consequences of Federated's decision to merge all its non-Bloomingdale's buying divisions into a single entity under the Macy's umbrella. Will the new entity veer toward merchandise uniformity for the sake of cost-cutting? Will it sustain the specialized and gutsier merchandise presentations that have characterized the Macy's West operation? Will it be capable of simultaneously satisfying the Burdine's-Macy's shopper in Miami and the Bon-Macy's shopper in Couer d'Alene?

Also a concern is Target Corp.'s decision last week to potentially sell off Mervyn's and Marshall Field's. Though the latter is a small operation, it has provided a forum for luxury goods, which already live in a narrow universe. Mervyn's, despite its inconsistent financial performance, is the 10th largest home textiles retailer and an important player in the market.

Yes, kids, there'll be plenty to talk about once the gang gathers in New York. Consider the agenda full.

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