15022 Mon, 08/11/2008 - 12:06pm
By David Gill
NEW YORK–Thread count has occupied a primary position in sheet marketing for at least the past two decades.
Now, however, a new division has opened among vendors of sheets. One side holds that thread count remains important to today’s consumers, while the other side says thread count has begun to lose some of its luster with shoppers.
Among the latter is Carolyn D’Angelo, vice president of brand management for Iconix, parent of the Royal Velvet, Fieldcrest, Cannon and Charisma brands. “What I see in our world is less emphasis on thread count and more emphasis on sheet characteristics,” D’Angelo said in an interview with HFN. “Details like hand treatments, pin tucking and embellishments are really more important, as well as content.”
Expressing a more emphatic view, Rich Roman, president of Revman International, said it wasn’t clear if the industry is moving away from stressing thread count, but that it should. “We hooked our wagon onto thread count 20 years ago, but the consumers don’t understand it,” Roman said. “I think it has less meaning for consumers than it does for manufacturers and retailers.”
Among those who still see thread count as crucial to the business are Joan Scotto, senior vice president of bed merchandising for WestPoint Home. “It’s still evident that thread count is important today because you still see it on the packaging,” Scotto said.
“From a very general standpoint, we’re seeing the same interest in higher thread-count products along with features and benefits,” said Leslie Gillock, vice president of brand management for Springs Global. This includes consumers who buy their sheets at the discounters. “The thread counts at the mass merchants now cover the whole span,” Gillock said. “Now you can buy anything at a mass merchant, including 400 thread-count, 600 thread-count and even 1,000.”
The position of Tim Landers, national sales director for bedding in North America for Welspun, runs contrary to that of Revman’s Roman. “I think thread count is still important because consumers are confused and that is the only thing that is easily grasped,” Landers said. “I don’t think most consumers know what pima, supima or Egyptian cotton are. They just know they are supposed to be better.”
Although the executives queried by HFN didn’t agree about the role of thread count, they did agree that other factors are rising in importance in marketing sheets.
Both Scotto and Alan Kennedy, WestPoint Home’s senior vice president of sales, said they have noticed efforts by the industry to move away from thread count and toward other focuses. Kennedy said, “I don’t think retailers have any choice but to move away from thread count, because they’ve gone as far as they can with it.” Scotto added, “Everybody is talking about how to move away from thread count and toward different ideas.”
Both Kennedy and Scotto suggested that elements such as content, new fabrications (including environmentally friendly fabrics) and new technologies in design could take a higher place on the marketing ladder than thread count.
Some sheet manufacturers are trying to lead the shift from thread count. “Some of us are starting to move the consumer away from making thread count the number-one reason for buying sheets,” D’Angelo said. “I think now also the consumer is smarter and does more research on these purchases.” Disagreeing with Landers, she added, “I think what people are looking at is Egyptian, pima and supima cotton content.”
According to Roman, plain, old-fashioned quality should be the top selling point for sheets. “If you have great quality, a good hand and fashion, the sheet should sell,” he said. “I agree that content should be more important, and thread count has less of a bearing on the quality of the sheet than content. I don’t know if the industry will totally move away from thread count, but I hope it won’t be as paramount down the road.”
Some of the executives said function could also become a strong selling point for sheets. “We’re looking at new technologies that enhance the quality of the sheet and enhance the quality of sleep,” Scotto said.
Landers maintained that thread count will continue as a key marketing point, but “more as a validator than as the deciding factor. For example, some people may not buy a sheet under 300 thread-count, but will decide on the specific sheet based on what it does—wrinkle-free, extra-deep pocket, etc.”