Words of Wisdom from HTT's Carole Sloan
Home & Textiles Today Staff -- Furniture Today, January 24, 2012
While 2011 was marked by many significant events, for HTT none held more resonance than the death of founding editor Carole Sloan last January. In our final issue of the year, we pay tribute to her spirit, legacy and enormous contribution to the industry by reprinting some of her insights, warnings and predictions.
Her inaugural column for HTT's debut issue laid out the parameters for the publication.
"In covering the marketplace, Home Textiles Today will focus on every element of the business that has direct impact on the way you do business.
"In addition, we at Home Textiles today intend to show the lighter side of life. Business, after all, is not all seriousness and profit wheels."
Sears was doubling its home textiles offerings from Diane Von Furstenberg, European fashion designer Daniel Hechter was bringing a home textiles collection to the U.S. market and Macy's had just opened a Laura Ashley shop.
"Before the hue and cry of the market and the frenetic activities that accompany this semi-annual tribal rite occur, let's take time out to analyze the latest ‘discovery of the wheel' in the home textiles business.
"I'm talking specifically about designer collections, theme collections or whatever that encompass a broad brush trip across retail floors.
"Are they new? Almost everyone involved will admit hat this is a second, third or fourth generation discovery of the wheel."
Technology was changing the way retailers were doing business - and what they were demanding of suppliers.
"What has accelerated the UPC acceptance has been something originally never part of the consideration - imports. In its efforts to stem their tide, the American textile community has developed dialog with major American retailers. And while this crisis is being viewed as primarily an apparel situation, home textiles, by nature, are part of the activity.
"The new background of the combined mill-retail effort is an offshoot of the Japanese Just in Time approach to manufacturing."
As technology further permeated the buy/sell proposition, the strain of which party was responsible for which part of the transaction grew, and Sloan - not for the first time - would chastise the buying community.
"[R]etailers must understand that Quick Response and Just in Time are not ways that have a 1990 spin to get vendors to do the retailers' work by providing an inventory position for retailers' responsibilities."
Another wave of apparel designers entering the home textiles field - including Calvin Klein and Liz Claiborne - prompted some advice on the differences between the industries.
"Also, there's a great chasm between the way the two businesses come to decisions. There's a great deal of contemplative energy expended in the home world, and more of this energy - which translates into time - when dealing with the fabric segment, compared with the manufactured product segment. What is considered a normal term in apparel - weeks, for example - translates into months in home furnishings, between the time that a design is conceived to the time it is born, or appears on the retail floor.
"Patience is not just a virtue when dealing with home furnishings business; it is a necessity."
Linens 'n Things, Bed Bath & Beyond and other category killers were moving more deeply into non-linens assortments.
"Today, there's not a single player in [the home superstore] category doing a billion dollars in home textiles. And as these key players continue to expand, home textiles will play a lesser role to the total company volume, so the critical mass needed to dominate this industry probably won't be achieves anytime soon.
"What we are beginning to see is the development of a whole ‘new' retailing concept - full-line home furnishings stores with everything but major appliances and electronics sold under one roof."
The events of 9/11 convulsed what had already been a slowing home business just ahead of the fall market week for home textiles. Sloan urged calm.
"The new dark cloud in this country and around the world is creating another layer of controversy - those who believe that everyone should withdraw from product introductions vs. those who believe that we should move ahead, albiet with caution and concern.
"It's not a matter of saying that things are the same as they've always been - they're not. But pulling back is not the answer."
Final quotas on home textiles were set to vanish on Jan. 1, 2005. While all eyes were focused on the explosion of importing just ahead, Sloan pointed to some unfinished business bobbing offshore.
"The lifting of quotas is causing many to think ‘Chicken Little the sky is falling,' but the world will continue - and those who didn't put the subject on the back burner lo this amount of time already have plans in place.
"More interesting is the situation that has emerged about embargoes where the offshore goods are ready to ship or on ships ready to move towards the United States and are not going to be allowed on these shores because the quotas already have been filled. The backlog nightmare for 2005 could well impact every retailer in this country."
Major retailers leveraged direct access to off-shore manufacturers in the postquota era, they built out their own product development capabilities, raising an important question about where the final responsibility lay for failed programs.
"And we now are facing an increasing amount of retail posturing about their prowess in design and sourcing. As we are beginning to see, this attitude is moving these retailers toward the challenge of ‘Who eats it?' in terms of stuff that is too late, too similar to the next guy's, or just not desirable."
February 8, 2011
The founding editor's final thoughts on the industry were conveyed in a column by Jennifer Marks, who had visited her just before the end.
On word that owners of Las Vegas Market might buy High Point's primary furniture buildings: "Not surprising."
On Chris Capuano being tapped to head home at Sears and Kmart: "She's very, very talented. And now she's got the big order pad."
On JCPenney reducing the number of its in-store custom decorating studios from 525 to 300: "Schmucks."
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