By Barbara Thau
NEW YORK–Retailers headed here for the textiles show hope to be dazzled by unique finds—be it green fare or new materials and colors—that have the potential to lift soft-home sales.
Merchants are also looking to unearth product categories that will help expand and redefine their home textiles departments.
They could use the help, as the textiles business has not been setting the world on fire, merchants said.
Joe Laneve, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of home for Bloomingdale’s, will be scoping the showrooms for “anything that sells. January has been tough. Everything has been tough.” While the bedding business is solid, “towels and utility are struggling,” he said.
At the show, Bloomingdale’s will be reinforcing relationships with its core designers, including Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Barbara Barry, and making sure it is getting the best of the best from them, he said.
“I have a different philosophy than some,” Laneve said. “When things are difficult, [that’s the time] to try to get market share with newness and fashion. It’s more critical than any other time.”
The department store will be working the show for second-quarter and fall programs.
“We’re trying to look at new categories of merchandise,” he said, but declined further detail.
In addition to new patterns, Bloomingdale’s “wants to continue to infuse color” into the mix, particularly in its growing contemporary offerings, but also in its traditional assortments, Laneve said.
Whereas Bloomingdale’s is looking to spice things up with color, the MoMA Design Store will mine the show for texture.
“We’re looking for interesting materials in table linens,” Bonnie McKay, director of merchandising, creative and marketing for the museum store, told HFN. “It’s [about finding] a placemat with a different material, an innovative use of material,” she said. “Color for us is also very fun, but it’s secondary to material.”
However, the show is becoming a lesser venue for kitchen textiles, she added.
“I’m sad about the fact that it’s getting smaller and smaller,” McKay said. “I think people in table linens are showing at the gift show instead of textiles.”
Paulette Cole, chief executive officer and creative director of ABC Home, said she will look for innovations that are “investing in the economic opportunities of the 21st century. These are textiles that are produced organically and sustainable. Organic tones are still moving us.”
Like Bloomingdale’s, Fortunoff is looking to spice up its tepid home textiles business by shaking up the category with new product categories, such as bath shop merchandise.
“One key strategy for us in a highly competitive market is how to be unique and different for the consumer,” Dave Vernon, Fortunoff’s executive vice president and general merchandise manager of home, told HFN.
“We do very well in niche categories that are not as highly promoted or driven by a lot of retailers,” he said. “We’re exploring the bath shop. The whole spa experience is emerging again.”
The idea is to create “a specialized experience” in soft home by cross-merchandising things like bath crystals, potpourri and skin care in the bath world, Vernon said.
Also, as the retailer enhances its assortment of decorative sinks, it’s merchandising them “with the whole bath world business,” Vernon said. “We’re looking at opportunities to expand out [those] categories.”
Fortunoff is also in search of fresh opportunities to customize products. “We just launched a whole engraving program for all product categories in the fall,” Vernon said. At the show, “we’ll be looking for new resources and new product categories that will fit into that focus.”
Breaking down Fortunoff’s textiles business, “top of bed is coming around nicely, but where we don’t do particularly well is the commodity business, like pillows and pads,” he said. “We don’t have the marketing dominance that other retailers have [in those categories].”
Mervyns’ soft-home business has been especially soft. Factors ranging from rising manufacturing costs—which beget higher supplier costs—and the tax-rebate reduction/elimination of the value-added tax on Chinese home imports are “pushing the challenging economic conditions into a tailspin,” Michael Rotar, divisional merchandise manager of home for Mervyns, told HFN.
Consumers are not spending, he said. “We’re not getting the return on promotions that we had in the past.”
At the show, Mervyns will meet with suppliers to hash out ways to minimize cost increases.
“That could mean changing the product configuration, buying direct instead of domestic warehousing or down-speccing product,” Rotar said.
“As we move some of our business away from higher end toward moderate, [we’ll be exploring] how to keep it differentiated” by adding jacquard or velour towels, for example.
The retailer will also shop the show for national brands and “market labels, which give us the flexibility to move in and out of product and don’t take as long to develop,” versus private-label merchandise, he said.