Business a mixed bag for fabrics suppliers

Carole Sloan, June 14, 2004

New York — After a strong first quarter, many decorative fabric suppliers are reporting a slowdown in incoming orders across all channels of distribution.

Obviously for a number of fabric suppliers, offshore sourcing by their customers, especially tapping China, Pakistan and Turkey, is having an impact. But this situation also held true during the first quarter.

Instead, several noted the typical summer doldrums began following both the home textiles and furniture markets, which had shown indications for a strong fall season. In both businesses, the sample placements have not turned into orders at many companies. There are some firms with specific niches or special situations that have seen their businesses continue to surge upwards. Contract is one business segment that has picked up after a significant period of stagnation, according to a number of fabric suppliers. And jobber business, which has been strong for some time, perhaps signaling in advance the surge in high-end consumer products, still is strong.

On the plus side, Rocco Simone, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Sunbury, pointed to the firm’s burgeoning Sunbrella and Crypton fabric programs as well as "a very strong" contract market as helping maintain the sales growth. Residential fabric business "got good again and jobber business is very good," he said, adding that overall, "It’s pretty good."

Another opinion on the plus side comes from Stewart Jervis, a vice president of Crestmont, who attributes the acquisition of a wide range of designs from a defunct competitor last year as helping create the "rocking and rolling" upward sales figures for this year so far. But he cautioned that his company, "will begin to anniversary the new items later this year."

For Tom Roth, president of Weathervane Hill, "Overall business is okay, but we have great new product." Strong areas are jobbers, kids and linens, he said.

While business is still okay, "It definitely slowed down," said Tom Finneran, president of American Century Home Fabrics. "Home textiles business is excellent. It’s really clicking right now, but furniture is very soft. Overall, it slowed down four weeks ago," Finneran observed.

"Business is incredible," said Robin Slough, vice president of American Silk. "Incoming orders are keeping up the pace." Contract has picked up, she reported, as well as recreational vehicles and yachts. Jobbers and residential are okay, she said.

At Portfolio, "Business is more than we expected," said Burt Kaplan, who became president of Kaplan earlier this year. He has repositioned the product line, and the early success is "basically from furniture manufacturers, especially at the higher end," said Kaplan. The new product mix is just getting into the retail channel, he added.

Mike Rice, executive vice president of Merrimac Textiles, said, "They turned off the spigot in furniture last month, even those that were rocking and rolling were feeling the pinch." As for bedding, "There’s tons of price pressure."

Coming off a very strong first quarter, "The last four weeks have not been good," said Jack Eger, vice president of Craftex. "Amazingly, bedding is okay; we’ve maintained production, and jobbers are okay." In contrast to some other suppliers, "furniture business is growing. We’ve added more significant price points."

Noting the challenges in serving the bedding business, Harry Blumenthal, president of Blumenthal Print Works, remarked, "We’re beginning to work on specs and sourcing offshore for bedding." He noted, "Business is not good. It took a precipitous drop in mid to late April in both mattress ticking and furniture."

Tom Muzekari, vice president of Quaker, said, "It was the best market we’ve ever had in bedding." In contrast, he noted, "The mid to low range of furniture has been very difficult."

"Good, but not great," is the way Mark Aizawa, president of Chris Stone, evaluates the company’s business, adding, "There’s been a steady flow."

Roger Gilmartin, executive vice president of Covington Industries, said, "The decorative part of our business — jobbers and retailers — has been very strong all year, but it got a little quiet in the last couple of weeks. Furniture is a mixed bag and contract is good."

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