The year ahead I: Marriage and divorce
By Jennifer Marks, editor-in-chief -- Home Textiles Today, 12/22/2003 12:00:00 AM
This is the season for lists — and not only of the shopping variety. The waning days of each year prompt journalists of all stripes to churn out lists of the best of the year, the worst of the year, and always, the top stories of the year.
Since everybody in the industry already knows what the top stories were for 2003 (Pillowtex, Pillowtex, Pillowtex…), we're going to turn the tradition slightly askew and instead look ahead to the top 10 stories looming for 2004.
No. 10: The overhaul of California's flammability standards. As my colleague Carole Sloan has pointed out numerous times on this page, the home textiles industry appears to be sleeping while California works toward new requirements that could seriously impact a whole range of products beyond mattresses and mattress pads. The Home Fashions Products Association held a special session in New York last week to discuss the matter. Only a handful of people attended, which suggests the industry continues to slumber.
No. 9: Sears and Kmart sittin' in a tree. Speculation persists that these two hard-luck kids will tie the knot with a merger. If nothing else, it'd be a helluva thing to see.
No. 8: Wal-Mart uber alles. 'Nuf said.
No. 7: Terrorism. So far, there has been no sabotage at the world's major ports, nor dirty bombs and the extremists who long to explode them secreted into containers of consumer goods. But as the election year heats up, so will terrorists' efforts to strike a blow against the U.S. and President George W. Bush. Customs security, which is already beginning to tighten, will likely get tighter still.
No. 6: Trade disputes. Speaking of the election year, China's status as a trading partner is a hot potato that could burst into flame. The question is whether rhetoric will ultimately beget regulation.
No. 5: Springs' expanding waistline. At over $2 billion in volume, Springs is now a ponderously large supplier. And it needs to get even bigger to fulfill its original strategy: grow to $4 billion to $5 billion by the end of 2005, then go public. It made a nice meal of Pillowtex's bigger programs. But even as it digests them, Springs needs to keep eating.
No. 4: Regeneration of the former Pillowtex brands. What will become of them remains to be seen. But it's unlikely they will recapture all of their former glory.
No. 3: WestPoint Stevens' emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. When it comes out of bankruptcy sometime in late spring/early summer of 2004, the country's second largest home textiles producer will probably be leaner in terms of domestic capacity. Despite its recent troubles, it's still the country's low-cost manufacturer. It's also working to strike the right balance between off-shore and domestic manufacturing. Has is found the formula that has eluded so many others?
No. 2: Dan River's dilemma. It's been a tough year for the country's third largest bedding manufacturer, punctuated by more losses than profits and a series of plant shutdowns. The mill will have to move nimbly and quickly early in the new year to reverse course.
No. 1: Supplier empowerment. Once there were so many mills about that retailers could play one off against another. Now that the country's production base has dwindled so, suppliers may find themselves in the position to tell retailers to stuff it, and pursue bottom line growth instead of merely chasing after top-line volume.
That wouldn't just be the story of the year, it would be the story of the decade.
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