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Cecile Corral

Caught in the middle of the marketplace

March 28, 2008

When Williams-Sonoma Inc. — which HTT this year ranked as the 10th largest home textiles retailer in the country — says it is bracing itself in 2008 for what it expects to possibly be the "worst" selling year with memory (roughly 30 years), you know it’s time to worry.

I listened to and reported on the six-nameplate upscale home furnishings and furniture company’s fourth quarter and yearend earnings call this week, and the picture it paints based on recent shortfalls and predicted new ones in the coming months isn’t pretty.

At one point, its evp, coo and cfo Sharon McCollum noted that not even the higher income customer can be counted on this year to a degree.

"We…believe that the declining trend in consumer confidence over the past several months, even at the higher income levels, is cause for concern," she said.

And yet, there are aspects of luxury that are set to soon be infused into parts of their business in specific cases as one of many measures the retailer is taking to prepare for the worst.

Then on the other side of the spectrum, we have HTT’s 47th of the 50 top home textiles retailers — Memphis, Tenn.-based Fred’s Inc.

This general discount merchandiser — which simultaneously hosted its own fourth quarter and yearend earnings call on Thursday — said this year it will hone in on promotional treasure hunt and other "special buys" — including a 20-piece comforter set priced at $59 — to stir interest among its cash-strapped shoppers.

So my question is, what is going to happen to all of us stuck somewhere in the middle?

Is it going to be the high-end high-thread count top-of-bed sets for our kids with Pottery Barn tastes or the bargain basement bedroom set that is going to inspire me to shop in the coming months?

I don’t know, but I’m betting my sheets are going to have to last me bit longer before I make any changes to my boudoir.