Small Is Beautiful
By Jennifer Marks -- Home Textiles Today, 1/29/2007 12:00:00 AM
It's a Tale of Two Cities this week for home textiles suppliers pursuing high-end retailers and/or alternatives to the big-box volume boys.
The Las Vegas Market — now holding its fourth event — for the first time runs during the same week as the venerable New York International Gift Fair, as well as the relocated New York Home Textiles Show.
All shows, old and new, face the same chicken-and-the-egg conundrum. Lure the right retailers and they'll get the suppliers. But they can't draw the retailers without a substantial number of the right suppliers.
For luxury suppliers, the expanding roster of shows represents both a blessing and a curse. Each offers the opportunity to meet new, order-writing customers — especially regional clients who prefer not to take time away from their stores to attend big shows half a continent away.
But at how many events can any single supplier afford to exhibit? What's the bang for the buck derived by showing through a rep as opposed to displaying as an independent entity with one's own people on the floor? And when it comes to the newer shows, is it better to go in early and assure your company a preferred berth once the show hits critical mass, or hang back until critical mass has been established?
As has been noted in this space more than once, niche and luxury markets aren't for everyone. No company that just lost a $52 million program at Wal-Mart is going to make it up by selling 800-count sheets to Laureen's Linens of Laredo.
However, there are hundreds of small, entrepreneurial product developers out there who want no part of the bruising business that is the mass market. They are as much a part of this industry as any mill, though their aims and customers vary.
Further, nimble mass market suppliers whose annual volume ranges from a few million to $30-$40 million can turn to niche accounts and independent retailers for a scoop of gravy or two. After all, why not spend some time with an account that cares about both understanding your product and romancing it?
For this segment of the industry, opportunities might actually be expanding. Despite big-box efforts to merchandise assortments to local tastes, there is still a broad sameness across their lines from market to market. Because the dollar volume of their programs is so huge, so is the risk of making a mistake. There is a greater reluctance to embrace the new, the unique, or the unproven.
Those who have the ability and talent to do so ought to go for it. Because there are few advantages more valuable than being "first to market."
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