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Execs Debate Designers, Licenses

At Target, where in the home division several designer licensed brands dominate to serve different segments of the population, “differentiation and profitability are key” in the store's evaluation of adding new brands.

“We balance the designer's role with our in-house capabilities,” said Nancy Webster, vice president of hardlines product development. “We look at what the designer can do for us that we can't do ourselves, and we look for that person's ability to span many product categories.”

The dynamics of designer brands and licenses at retail in the home categories was the topic for this past New York Home Textiles Market's bi-annual “Executive Women In Home Textiles” breakfast.

Aside from Webster, the panelists were: David Tracy, industry consultant, David Tracy Associates Inc.; Carolyn D'Angelo, vice president of marketing and licensing for Waverly Lifestyle Group; and Aaron Stewart, creative director for Sferra Bros.

“The first thing I would do before embarking on a new licensed program would be to hire many women,” said Tracy, earning him applause from the predominantly female audience. “Women have a sensibility, creativity and understanding of not just fabrics but the home. Women bring a lot to the table.”

D'Angelo cited the example of Sleep Innovations teaming with retired Miami Dolphins football player Dan Marino for a line of higher-end comfort basic bedding products.

“Do women really know who he is?” she asked. “He has brand awareness, but is he known well enough to sell the product? Those are the questions companies need to ask — is it just a name or does that person offer design ideas and perspective on how they see their name out in the marketplace.”

Stewart said that Sferra Bros. “wants to work with a designer who comes to the design table with a strong point of view, who brings ideas and concepts.”

For example, he continued, if that designer likes incorporating flowers in his or her design, “then tell us poppies, not just flowers. Be specific.”

Supporting this is a hope more and more retailers will show a willingness to offer product “that takes risks and keeps people interested. Target, for example, keeps people guessing each season and keeps them coming back for more. But in contrast most department stores just rerun last year's best seller in a new color. They take no risks,” Webster said.

She added that in Target's case, the store makes a point of showcasing product “that surprises you.” To accomplish this, Target works very fast on product development “to keep it coming.”

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