Spain suppliers lay groundwork in U.S.

Don Hogsett, April 16, 2001

NEW YORK — Inching their way carefully into a vast U.S. market, more than a dozen Spanish home fashions producers made their American debut at the Javits Center this month, more intent on finding partners and making connections than actually selling product.

And selling product, they largely acknowledge, is a long-term process requiring a long-term commitment, forging of local links, developing a feel for the needs of American consumers and modifying their product to target a new consumer.

"This is the first time, so I don't expect great things, just to make some contacts, to take the first step slowly," said Alberto Espina, export manager for Tejidos Reina, a diversified textiles producer with a big bedding business. "We've had a couple of contacts with the bedding manufacturers and the jobbers here, and that is why we are here, to make those contacts and to take the first step."

Also looking for an American partner is Bon Drap, a supplier of drapery and upholstery fabrics, said Ana Rios, export manager. "This is just the first step for us. We will be here in the future. We know this takes a long time; we know you have to have a lot of patience."

Taking note of the varied tastes of a very different U.S. market, Rios said: "We have started to develop a line of heavier fabrics for the American marketplace. You have to adapt yourself to different tastes than you have in Spain or Europe. But we still think there is room for us to offer some Mediterranean design, and not just duplicate what is already available in America. We can bring something a little different."

Underlining the vastness of the challenge to Spanish producers, Tomas Cuenca of Castilla, a producer of fabrics for window and upholstery, bedspreads and coverlets, said: "It is a big market and a difficult market. The sizes are different, the qualities — we have to much to learn. And that is why we are here, to learn and to find distribution. And really, we are here to sell by the meter, not the readymade product."

Carlos Royo of upscale bedding producer Prats said he wants to tap into the U.S. market "because we believe the American market is very good for high-quality products, and because the Spanish market is quit restrictive. Our market at home is smaller in population, and the target is the medium quality. In America there is much more of a market for better goods."

Before showing up this month, "we studied the market, and we think there is some room for some Mediterranean design with some brighter colors. Our printing is very different, very sophisticated. The color shadings change according to the different intensities of light."

One big difference between the Spanish and U.S. markets, he noted, was that "in Spain, we have a pattern, but a lot of open space as part of the design. In America, there is very little open space. Every inch is filled. The patterns are very dense. Also, when we show a flower, it is a little stylized, almost like a watercolor look. In America, the florals are very traditional, very representational."

Some Spanish producers, notably bedding producer Aparicio and Vidal y Sanz, already have local representation through CGG, headquartered at 230 Fifth Avenue, New York, said CGG's David Ziegler. "They're already selling a good amount of product through CGG, and the business is growing," he said. "Spain is pushing its textile sector now, and in the case of Aparicio and Vidal y Sanz, it helps them to get a little more exposure."

Ziegler said the Spanish producers "are extremely responsive to American tastes. They're willing to learn the market and they're very responsive. And they spend a lot of money and time on design, sometimes to their detriment — it's more sophisticated, more stylized, more abstract, more open, where most of the American marketplace gravitates to the classical, more literal looks."

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