Decorative jobbers proceed with caution

Carole Sloan, April 23, 2001

NEW YORK — The decorative jobber business is still strong, but many jobbers are showing signs of caution in terms of new bookings.

Over the past several weeks the jobbing community came here to shop the new decorative fabrics lines, leaving suppliers feeling good about a generally positive mood.

Silk and the entire window covering category appear to be the hot segments of the fabric business, with small coordinates like checks and plaids also among the top favorites, the fabric suppliers observed.

In an apparent contradiction, several fabric suppliers noted that new placements were strong, although reorders on existing programs were not as good.

"We had a lot of people in, and while most said business was good, they seem to be waiting for it to get bad," said John Ringer, national sales manager for Richloom. "And while their customers put in a lot of new product, I'm not sure their appetites were as big as last market."

For Richloom, mini-checks and moires, jacquard prints and "a whole sheer package with a jobber focus" were winners, Ringer said.

For Ron Kaufmann, president of P/Kaufmann, the smaller jobber budgets this go-round versus recent markets raises the question of whether, if the market stays soft, jobbers will continue to do their own purchasing, or go back to buying from converters.

Overall, Kaufmann said, "The upper end of the jobber market is less impacted by the economy than the mainstream." In general, Kaufmann observed, "business is challenging."

"The mood is still decent but there is some concern and questioning," is the way Reuben Lentz, executive vp, Roth/Weathervane Hill sees the current marketplace.

Jobbers, he noted, were looking for theme stories with a lot of new spin on coordination — different weights and constructions that coordinate by color.

"And booking is definitely focused on color," Lentz related.

From a product perspective, Lentz said, "the drapery category is still exploding with more embellishments and novelty looks and sheers wanted than ever. Also many are rethinking the window category now that fabrics are back for that use. They are finding their average yardage per order is significantly more."

Calling the mood strong, Roger Gilmartin, executive vp, Covington Inds. noted, "We're very pleased with our placements. There were specific things we targeted for specific jobbers and they were well received.

"Our check/plaid package was one of the things that went well across the board."

Noting that "new placements were quite good but reorders are not as good," Irwin Gasner, president of Wearbest Sil-tex, added, "we programmed good, better, best in looks and pricing with things like acrylic chenilles for better perceived value and 18 polyester space dyed warps."

He added "some jobbers are feeling the pinch, and none are having the kinds of increases they had in the last few years."

"Our key customers are aggressively putting new product on the street," is the assessment of Mike Shelton, president, Valdese Weavers. Valdese, he noted, is working with jobbers year-round, rather than during these few weeks. Overall, he said, "there's been some slowdown in reorders."

At Chris Stone & Associates, "we saw a reticence to buying," said Lew Magrish, senior vp. "But the mood was upbeat nonetheless."

Prints, he added, "continue to labor, but silk is the hot category, an increasing facet of the business."

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