Hunter Douglas leads online initiative
By Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, 12/18/2000 12:00:00 AM
ROTTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS -In a move that could radically change the way decorative fabrics are distributed globally, Hunter Douglas has formed Tapestria, an international online market for decorative fabrics.
The program, targeted to interior designers, will bring fabrics to that distribution channel much more quickly than is now possible, and will enable interior designers to shop for fabrics quickly and determine in-stock availability.
Tapestria is headed by David Sonnenberg, founder and ceo, and former managing director of Hunter Douglas Europe. He is the eldest son of Ralph Sonnenberg, ceo of the Hunter Douglas Group, a diversified global window coverings supplier.
Tapestria offers interior designers the opportunity to shop for fabrics online through a central "catalog, inventory and shipping facility," David Sonnenberg explained. Initially, the program, which launches in February 2001, will offer 5,000 skus from about 40 mills in the United States and Europe. The mills will house the fabrics in Tapestria's facility here on a consignment basis, with Tapestria taking ownership of the fabrics when an interior designer places an order for cut yardage.
"We are setting up a hybrid," Sonnenberg emphasized. "It is an alternative to the conventional wholesaler channel, and we know it will be controversial."
Typically, sales of decorative fabrics to the interior design channel are done from the mill or converter to a wholesaler that then distributes fabric collections via sample books or a network of designer showrooms. The process can take upwards of a year, and cancellations of fabrics within collection sample books often take place.
By going online and eliminating the need for sample books and their high-cost factors, "we expect prices to be some 30 to 50 percent lower for the interior designer than through the traditional channels," Sonnenberg said. The mills will set their own pricing, he said.
The mills participating in Tapestria will continue to maintain their conventional distribution channels, he said. Since many mills and converters have exclusive distribution agreements around the world, they may elect to maintain them and not allow those fabrics to be sold via Tapestria.
Because of the potentially controversial aspect of Tapestria, the mills are not being identified unless they request it, Sonnenberg said.
If a European mill has exclusive distribution in the United States, for example, it can block American interior designers from viewing the items that the mill could be selling elsewhere, he said.
One of the key benefits to the interior designer-who will participate at no charge-is that in-stock availability will be known immediately. They also will be able to reserve fabrics for a future date from existing stock and can learn when specific skus that are out of stock will be back in stock.
Tapestria will launch in the United States first, followed by a European rollout later in the year. The American interior design market sources a great proportion of its high-end fabrics from European mills through the wholesaler channel, Sonnenberg explained, which is the reason for the American kickoff.
"We are being very selective in working with the European mills for appropriateness. Fabrics will start at $30 a yard and up. We're working with a leading mill for each fabric type."
While the launch assortment is limited to 5,000 skus, the offering could grow to as many as 25,000 skus within a year or so. But, Sonnenberg emphasized, "it is not as much an interest in the width of the range, rather than the latest styles and the basics."
Offering new styles quickly, he believes, will be one of the keys to Tapestria's success. The other will be the minimum stock level required of the participating mills. "We can block out of stocks so they will not show up on a search," Sonnenberg said.
Searches can be done with a number of criteria, including color, pattern, texture and fabric construction.
Tapestria also recognizes that current computer technology does not translate to uniform and correct color translation on all screens. The program is using the Pantone color selection module as the tool for uniform color identification. But, Sonnenberg noted, "technology soon will calibrate screens for color fidelity."
Tapestria also will provide sample swatches in various sizes either overnight or in several days. Fabric deliveries also are on a similar pace.
Tapestria is being formed with a $25 million investment from Hunter Douglas, a company with 1999 sales of 1.4 billion euros. Sonnenberg, with a proportionate investment, will have a 20 percent interest in the venture.
Ralph Sonnenberg noted, "We expect that the technologies used by Tapestria will eventually have wider applicability to our industry and our trading partners. We have the expertise and infrastructure to bring manufacturers from around the world to the design community," an estimated $2.5 billion global market, according to the company.
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