A More than Level Playing Field
By Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, 6/23/2008 12:00:00 AM
Over the past couple of months there's been a fair amount of chatter about the return of the decorative fabric businesses to domestic production.
While the bedding segment migrated first in a major way and was followed by the furniture segment, they were both a couple of years behind the fabric business in relocating to China and other Eastern shores. But their exodus was even more intense than in fabrics.
Looking at the fabric world, more than 50 companies still produce decorative fabrics in the U.S. And the key to what they are doing is multi-fold. Design innovation — and execution: quality maintenance, minimum quantities that definitely encourage product distinction, and speed to market.
The latter criterion is gaining traction as a key element in merchandising, most notably from the "fast fashion" retailers like H&M and Zara, but also even oozing, slowly but surely, into the home world. And if any of you folks out there don't think speed to market is meaningful, just listen to the people at places like JCPenney and Wal-Mart as they discuss getting whatever over here quicker than ever.
This week's study on the subject (see page 1) shows that not only is the domestic decorative fabric environment healthy — it is growing.
One of the major reasons for the positive attitude is that most of these companies have developed a sharp focus for their businesses — whether at the promotional level or moving up the design/quality/price point ladder to better goods.
One of the things that has become apparent in home furnishings — whether bedding or furniture — is the sameness that prevails. In bedding, beige and more beige; brown and rusty tones and moss green and various shades of brown in upholstered furniture have been the colors du jour for far too long. And customers are voting by not buying.
Don't forget speed to market. This is not just a term folks are tossing about. It's a real time, real world necessity, regardless of price point. At Showtime last month, delivery times were an key topic of conversation.
The cost advantages of offshore supply were a lure several years ago, but with everything from fuel costs to currency levels to labor costs offshore — and the trump card: design acumen — the playing field is becoming more than level.
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