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Jennifer Marks

Spinning wheel

As any textillian with a pulse knows, the industry has passed through enormous changes since the calendar flipped over into the new century. Between consolidation and global outreach, the shift has been truly epochal.

The carnival ride isn't over yet. The ultimate fate of the Pillowtex business has yet to play itself out. The looming deadline for quota elimination has manufacturers in several overseas countries gearing up to go crazy on the U.S. market. And the emerging election-year threats to hedge against a flood of Chinese imports could throw yet another firecracker onto the dance floor.

All in all, it's likely that the next 24 months will be every bit as turgid and revolutionary as the past 24 have been.

The narrowing of the U.S. mill population to two mega bedding and bath producers and one sizable bedding house is already opening the way for fashion specialists in bedding and bath to land business with smaller department store customers, some of whom are reportedly getting no more than the nickel tour when they stop by the big mill showrooms for a visit these days.

By the same token, a new definition is emerging of what would be considered "mid-sized players" in this market. When 75 percent of the Top 15 U.S. suppliers sell from $150 million to $350 million, an argument could be made that the true "second tier" consists of the plethora of companies in the $50 million to $140 million range.

More U.S. suppliers are likely to establish their own manufacturing bases in China — meaning bricks-and-mortar production facilities, not just sourcing offices. Consider the example of Hollander Home Fashions, which operates nine production facilities in the U.S. and nearly as many in China. OK, a skeptic might say, Hollander is the seventh largest supplier in the U.S. It can afford to operate overseas. Look, then, at Cincinnati-based window manufacturer TexStyle, which three years ago quietly began shifting its operations to China. It has now not only expanded into fashion bedding for the U.S. market, its Chinese operation has diversified into non-home categories with an eye toward international markets.

Size doesn't matter, but putting together the right team on the ground does.

Undoubtedly, more large mills from Pakistan, Turkey, India, China and elsewhere will look to forge joint operating agreements with U.S. suppliers and retailers, and several have spent the past months snapping up idled U.S. looms by the containerload.

Some retailers that ramp up their direct sourcing operations are going to get burned and pull back a bit. All will need to figure out a how much of the responsibility — and cost — it is ultimately worth for them to handle the job themselves.

The times, they are a-changin'…and changin'…and changin'.

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