Room at the top

Carole Sloan, Staff Staff, December 31, 1969

If there was one conversation that could sum up the challenges that face this industry, it was one with a towel manufacturer midway through last week's marathon.

There were a half dozen or so of us talking about the business, and the head honcho of this towel producer was relating his impression of the market.

Towels, he acknowledged, were having a real tough time at retail. But his embellished towels were flying — really high — and the segment was being expanded. His solid-color towel experience was hardly different from the rest of the market.

As the conversation continued, we all nodded sagely as this exec added comments about how both retailers and consumers were not balking at higher price points for embellished towels. And lo and behold, we all even agreed that the number-one guy in that business was doing just fine, thank you!

As we ran down the roster of a number of the other players in embellished towels, we came to similar conclusions.

We also saw that this was being done in a product-specific environment that wasn't price-sensitive, but product and design sensitive. Ironically, it is the very same people who are doing the karate chop to the basic towel business who are basking in the glow of what customers are responding to in embellished towels.

What does that say about what this industry is doing to itself and where it could be beyond the ever-constant devaluation of product segments?

One could look at what was happening in the luxury end of the business. New players, and some of them major powerhouses in other more basic product segments, are moving into this stratosphere. And the interesting thing is that these big guys are looking at new, and significantly smaller, retailers, to propel these programs forward.

With Dan River and its Lily Pulitzer collection moving right along in a totally new distribution area, Springs has launched its Soiree luxury line that is keyed to better catalogs and key specialty doors. It's a far cry from the company's Wal-Mart tonnage program, but it's another indication that there are forces afoot that are going to move this business out of the price cellar.

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See the May 2017 issue of Home & Textiles Today. In this issue, we discuss our annual Market Basket survey, which finds higher prices and more polyester at leading retailers. See details!