Fabric suppliers see uptick in Europe
Carole Sloan -- Furniture Today, September 1, 2003
Europe is viewed as the main bright spot for American decorative fabric suppliers in their global sales efforts.
Overall, many believe, the negative international scenario that has prevailed for several years for the American textiles industry has bottomed out. And Decosit, which is where most of the American firms exhibit, provides them a presence that is considered important on the global scene.
But the American suppliers also point out that there is a similar troubled economic situation in many countries around the world that is impacting global trade.
As for the shows here next week — Decosit and DecoContract, and Textile d'Interieur Premiere (TIP) — the mood is positive. DecoContract has expanded to include furniture, window coverings and decorative home furnishings as well as the core fabric base of exhibitors. The American presence at DecoContract comprises more than 35 companies across all product areas.
Among the new U.S. exhibitors for DecoContract are Morgan Fabrics, Faribault Mills, Len-Tex, Manual Woodworkers, Enkeboll Designs, and Leggett & Platt.
The U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) is showcasing the American presence in Hall 12 at DecoContract with "mock-up" exhibits representing a hotel room, assisted living and a hunting lodge. In addition, the Department of Commerce is hosting a hospitality area for exhibitors and guests. The U.S. OTEXA Pavilion for Decosit will be in Hall 7.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Decosit, which will be celebrated with a party Sept. 8 at 6 p.m. in Hall 9.
At TIP, which now includes ready-made home textiles suppliers, the exhibitor base is up about 25 percent to more than 120 companies from all over the globe.
As American currency values become more advantageous in trade terms, "we expect our export opportunities to be better; we will be more competitive," said Mike Shelton, president of Valdese Weavers.
Interestingly, Shelton reported, "Business with existing customers has been good, but generally export's been fairly flat because of the currency situation. We're looking for a pretty good Decosit." Valdese's export sales last year were 6 percent of its total sales compared with 8 percent at the peak, he noted.
Jeff Thomases, ceo of Associated Textile Corp., parent of Swavelle/Mill Creek and TFA, said, "The selling side of our showing doesn't generate enough to cover costs, but our presence is important.
"Typically we find some 10 to 30 potential new customers at Decosit and eventually do business with half of them." But, he noted "export continues to dwindle."
In addition, "Decosit is important because we're spending less on travel," he said.
"Europe is a bright spot," said Ron Kaufmann, president of P/Kaufmann Inc. "England is vibrant, France and Spain good, but Germany is weak," he reported. Overall, he noted 2002 was good in export, but this year has flattened out.
Chris Stone is rethinking its export efforts, said Mark Aizawa, president. "Export has picked up a little for us this year, but it is not a significant piece of business. We are now looking at the question of attending shows, but we'll definitely keep our rep base."
"Where we are selling a market, we're doing well, even a little ahead," said Stan Fradin, president, Rockland Mills.
But England offers a different challenge, he noted. Many of the ready-made manufacturers there switched some volume to Asia. We can compete on the fabric price but can't on the labor for the lining part of the product."
In discussing Decosit specifically, Fradin said, "Lots of our Middle Eastern customers came in early with orders they normally would place at Decosit."
Looking at the global picture, Larry Liebenow, president and ceo of Quaker Fabrics, said, "We're committed stronger than ever to export. We've added our own people in India and Singapore."
On an area by area basis, Liebenow said, "The Middle East was very soft in the first half, but now it seems to be coming along. Business in Europe is helped by the weakened dollar, and Brazil and Mexico are going well." Latin America also is coming along and the Chile Free Trade Agreement is going to help there, he said.
"In general, a large part of the world is having the same economic problems as we in the United States," he added.
Although Richloom is showing at Decosit, "Export is a small market," said Jim Richman, president. "Foreign customers can go overseas to get similar fabrics. Export is as small as it's been in the last few years, especially in Europe.
"Our strength is all design, and we package and color differently," he added.
Furniture Today's Ray Allegrezza Speaks with Stephen Bogart about Fine Furniture's New Bogart Line