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  • Jennifer Marks

The survey says …

Everyone knew it wouldn't be particularly pretty. Now that the numbers have been compiled for HTT's annual Top 5 vendors report, we can read the fallout from the year just ended like so many damp tea leaves.

But the raw results are not as entirely bleak as they seem at first blush, even though there were more sales declines among Top 5 vendors across the survey's 16 categories than in the previous year — and more double-digit declines.

There were 18 declines posted in the 2001 results, up from 13 for 2000. But nearly half of those declines were posted by a single company, Pillowtex, which ground through a year of wrenching changes as it sold off part of its business, consolidated operations and reorganized under Chapter 11.

Eliminating the Pillowtex factor from both 2001 and 2000 results, the Top 5 experienced 11 declines in this year's report vs. eight declines last year. That's not necessarily rosy news, but in a tough year, it's not astonishing either.

When it comes to measuring deeper levels of pain — the number of double-digit sales declines logged by vendors in 2001 — the report finds little significant change from 2000. Again Pillowtex skews the results, accounting for seven of the 10 double-digit declines posted this year.

Here, too, when the Kannapolis mill is eliminated from the figuring, we find that the number of double-digit declines for Top 5 vendors came in at just three this year vs. two last year. A sign, perhaps, that the year ultimately was not as crippling as many feared it would be back in May.

Many companies said their biggest challenge was simply to maintain 2000 levels of business during a year in which HomePlace, Bradlees and Montgomery Ward shuttered their doors, which explains why the number of flat results nearly doubled: 17 in 2001, up from 9 in the previous 12-month period.

And yet, there were miracles. Namely, the fact that the number of double-digit sales increases posted among top suppliers eroded only slightly: 15 in 2001 compared to 18 in 2000.

WestPoint Stevens scored in blankets (up 30 percent) and comforters/bedspreads (25 percent). Croscill Home's determined expansion garnered a 29 percent boost in bath accessories and 14 percent in curtains/draperies. Pacific Coast Feather, which seems incapable of not growing, goosed its mattress pad sales by 10 percent. And Mohawk Home's absorption of Crown Craft's woven products division plumped its sales of throws by a chart-busting 92 percent.

More eye-opening was the roster of other companies posting double-digit leaps, many of them members of the supporting cast in the world of home textiles stars. Also noteworthy was the fact that many of the double-digit gains were made by companies at the lower end of the Top 5 rankings. The down comforter category provides a good example: Phoenix Down, ranked No. 4 in a field of five, up 39 percent; Down Lite International, No. 5 in a field of five, up 20 percent.

Vendors were a hungry pack last year, and they're hungry still. Let's hope 2002 provides them with something more substantial to sink its teeth into.

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