So, after yet another rock'em-sock'em week in beautiful downtown Heimtextil earlier this month, the logical question is exactly what is the story with the global home textiles market?
Let's face it, if you can't figure it out after spending a week immersed in all manner of sheet and towel humanity, it just ain't going to happen any other way.
For us old political junkies, being at Heimtextil is a fascinating process. In the course of a few hours, you can have conversations with industry people from China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Germany and South Africa, not to mention the good old U.S. of A. You certainly get a perspective you'd be unable to acquire in any other setting on Planet Textiles.
So, here are a few of the thoughts I came home with after my Frankfurt frolic.
1. The overwhelming conclusion is that the industry is in for a better 2013 than it dealt with last year. With Europe so mired in economic misery the expectations were that it would cast a major pall on the fair. It did not.
2. We need to stop talking about body counts at shows like Heimtex. Yes, there were probably fewer attendees but, really, who cares? When you asked exhibitors if they were seeing the people they needed to see, they said yes. The sizes of the retail flocks may have been diminished but not the number of flocks. The industry is consolidating around the world, what part of fewer people involved in the business doesn't anybody get?
3. Raw material prices will be largely stable for the next year. Yes, yarn prices out of India and China will creep up again, the result of politics and speculation as much as cotton and polyester, and the down and feather market remains especially volatile. But cotton and petro-chemical-based supplies should be OK. Maybe we can stop talking about this for awhile.
4. Third-tier home textiles supplier nations like Bangladesh, Vietnam and Indonesia are getting closer and closer to being able to realistically supply the U.S. market in the manner of their larger Asian neighbors ... but they are not quite there yet. They will be soon.
5. For all the press coverage of substandard working conditions in Asian factories I've yet to ever hear one American customer raise the issue as a criterion in their buying decision. Talk is cheap ... but so are textiles.
6. Most U.S. retailers sent product development people, not buyers. The exception was the off-pricers, who always show up to write orders. If they can do it, why can't other
7. American customers - retailers and importers - got some of their respect back from suppliers who no longer have Europe as a viable alternative to do business with. For better or worse, the States remain the go-to buyer.
8. And most importantly, the weather was OK in Frankfurt. There was a January nip in the air, but that's what is supposed to happen in Germany in January.
In fact, you could say the very same thing about Heimtextil: What was supposed to happen did.