Smart Report - February 2010

Performance Art
By Wanda Jankowski

Bath product suppliers deal optimistically with slow recession turnaround, forging ahead with new designs and online updates

Christy’s Supreme Collection is made with 100 percent extra-long staple Supima cotton. It features a sophisticated color palette and generous European sizes.
The Peacock Alley Hotel line, which offers European hotel/spa looks at good values, includes the Fanfare towel and rug ensemble. 

When it comes to design, most bath product suppliers are traveling a conservative road, offering a range of popular colors as well as standard neutrals through varied lines at different price points. 
For trend-watchers, Diane Piemonte, vice-president of creative services, Revman International, Inc., reveals, “Overall, fall ’10 will still be very colorful—saturated richness through layered tonalities as well as multi-hued palettes. 

“Greys are becoming the new dominant neutral family…a trend that began in late ’09, but will mature and peak in 2010-11,” Piemonte says. “This will set the stage for a return to softer tones as all colors will start to be influenced by greys in early 2011.”

Piemonte believes persimmon, bitter chocolate, plum and graphite will also be key colors for fall 2010 with the always popular metallic and pearlescent finishes gaining added importance. Silver will dominate over gold, she concludes, with the shift to grey neutrals.

Bob Hamilton, director of marketing, Welspun and its sister brands, including Christy, notes the role of color in updating classic designs. “Heritage patterns are made modern with fresh new colorings of old themes including plaids, geometrics and damasks,” he says.

Venus’ actual color choices for 2010 are differentiated by price point. “We are offering spice jewel tone colors in our moderate-priced towel program and sophisticated neutrals in our luxury program,” says Cynthia Lerner, corporate design director, Venus Group.

“The color palette is towards the lighter shades and the most popular motifs are naturals/botanicals,” says Jeff Kaufman, president/chief operating officer, Avanti Linens, about offerings in the company’s Premier program. In contrast, the company’s licensed Lolita line, is “anything but subdued,” Kaufman states, “with bright colors, conversational themes and fun, fun, fun.”

Lintex covers all bases with a series of new jacquard bath ensembles. Jardin renders a soft, feminine design in pastels, Sizzle is a white, aqua and lime collection well-suited for fans of coastal looks and Avenue solids with wide pique borders are offered in classic colors.

P.K. Markanday, president of Trident’s terry towel division, reveals neutrals will be in the forefront for 2010 at Trident with brights in the promotional line. He adds, “The styles will focus more on graphics and geometrical patterns.”

“Colors that are earthy and warm will continue to be popular,” according to Robert Weiss, director of sales and marketing, Creative Bath, citing yellows, greens, shades of purple and oranges as being particularly key. “These colors coincide with the mood of the current economy. Consumers need and want to surround themselves with colors that will make them feel good.”

Leslie Connell, vice-president, Abyss & Habidecor, reports that the company has included more products embracing classic designs in its 2010 offerings. “We had gone in a direction perceived as being too modern. We still have products that are modern in style, but we have pulled away a bit. New offerings include classic floral motifs, vines, graphics and relief motifs.”

Will Inventories Increase?

One of the most visible changes wrought by the economic recession is the decrease in inventory at the retail level. Most suppliers believe that, though cuts have bottomed out, retailers will remain cautious about increasing inventory in 2010.

“The inventory reductions that were going to occur have happened and there isn’t a lot more fat to cut,” says Kaufman. “Retailers are re-ordering what they are selling, while maintaining lower inventory levels.”

“Unfortunately, the retailers are still very concerned about their budgets,” Aldo Schneider, export manager, Dohler SA Brazil, concurs, “buying at the last moment only what is necessary, not taking any kind of risk with the lowered demand from consumers to get low prices.” 

Rae Ellen Blum, vice-president, Lintex/Espalma, says her customers are buying less but more frequently.
Randy Wright, senior vice-president, Taymor Industries sees it as a plus that his company can accommodate the need to maintain stock because his customers may not yet be able to. 

“Many of our retailers are having us keep larger inventories on hand so they can re-fill on a monthly basis sometimes at the last minute when new open-to-buy dollars are allowanced. So we have increased our stock levels to ship at a moment’s notice,” he explains. “We have done this only with the basics and it has proven to be a wise move. 

“Some of the buyers are back to doing limited store tests instead of immediate chain-wide roll-outs and most of them have expanded their web business as well,” Wright explains, “adding new products immediately as soon as we have them available to do tests on the Internet before adding the items to their brick-and-mortar stores.”

The Peacock Alley Hotel line, which offers European hotel/spa looks at good values, includes the Fanfare towel and rug ensemble. 
Taymor is finding success with stylish basics like this sleek paper holder.
The abstract-patterned Juniper is one of the best-received shower curtains that debuted in fall 2009 from Creative Bath.

“New placements are being tested in smaller store assortments,” says Weiss. “Buyers are concerned about the cost of markdowns. We feel that the spring 2010 rollouts were the tightest yet. Not only was the inventory closely watched, many retailers that are/were struggling in the bath category had asked for a reduction in the design of product to drive the retail prices down. Consumers will be seeing more basics, less whistles and bells.”

Trident has seen improvements in some areas compared to the previous year. “The sales have been good in lower to middle retail levels. The Christmas season and year-end sales have helped them to clean up the inventories,” says Markanday.

The inventory clean-out is yielding new positive sales results for Ruia. “The pipeline seems to have dried out quite a bit, hence we are seeing our customers beginning to place orders,” says Ruia. “It seems better than the same time last year.”

Abyss & Habidecor has seen movement in the fourth quarter of 2009 with stores beginning to keep some stock again. “Some customers looked at 2009 levels to see where they got hurt and then looked back to 2006-7 to find a middle ground,” Connell explains. “People are getting back to being retailers and not having stores look like showrooms.”

“Special orders have picked up. We tried to influence that with special programming to get our customers through the holidays,” says Connell, “such as providing longer terms in seasonal areas to help them kick-start their businesses.”

“Retailers are still cautiously optimistic until they find a success story,” says Keith Leal, vice-president sales and marketing for Venus Home division, Venus Group, “and then they immediately react to the positive trend.”

Scott Sorgeloos, vice-president sales, Home Source International, believes the company’s monthly specials are encouraging retailers to stock up somewhat. “Each month we feature a select program to be on special and retailers count on that as part of their ordering process,” he explains.

How Much Risk-Taking Is There?

“The impact of the recession humbled the consumer into thinking less is more,” says Weiss. “Perhaps this was a wake up call. Everyone—manufacturers, retailers and consumers—are finding ways to save money. We expect this trend to continue.”

How has consumers’ budget-consciousness affected what kinds of products are selling? 

“It seems like buyers want to stay with the basics and not take risks with inventory right now,” says Ruia.

“In fact, sales at retail for our basic products have been strong even through all of this past year.”

In contrast, the recession also has resulted in many retailers chomping at the bit for new ideas. “They are bored to tears,” Connell says, “and want to see new designs. There’s also a psychological factor involved. Old goods are perceived as part of the past and the low points of the recession.”

Leslie Needleman, director of creative services, Peacock Alley, concurs. “We think buyers are always looking for something new and exciting. Yet, as mentioned above, they’re still feeling a bit conservative,” she says. 

“These are the times where buyers are looking for something new to drive business, but it really has to be different,” says Avanti’s Kaufman. “A slight variation on what you offered last season isn’t getting anyone excited. We are cautiously optimistic that the worst is behind us, but we all have to make sure that the price/value (which doesn’t mean cheap) is in line. The consumer has been trained to expect exceptional value.”

“They are seeking products that have unique attributes or performance that can be measured from absorbency to rate of drying,” says Hamilton.

Trident’s Markanday is optimistic. “We are in discussion with major retailers for new products in the existing programs. Thus there is palpable improvement in the indicators this year and we hope the market will improve from here,” he says. “All in all there is a positive sentiment.”

What’s New Now

Rather than adopting a “wait and see” attitude, all companies contacted are forging ahead with new plans for the year.

Connell states that Abyss & Habidecor has, “a couple of designs that push the envelope. We’re using weaving machines in new ways. Refining the methodology opens the door to create something new.” 
Venus will introduce a new super-combed towel program.

Peacock Alley is focusing on bath product introductions in fall 2010, but meantime has repositioned its bath collection to offer spa-like basics that align with the hotel brand strategy. “We believe performance is the driving force in the bath,” says Needleman.

Trident is debuting a ramie/cotton blend in its Extra-Act range. Ramie has a silky luster and is pure white with greater tensile strength than cotton or silk. The ramie/cotton blend with twist-less yarn makes the towels smooth and soft. The blend in loops provides a soft hand and enhances absorbency compared to a standard 100 percent cotton loop towel.

“We strongly believe that this blend will offer a value to the customer by being extra absorbent, soft and lustrous,” says Markanday.

The Origine reversible rug from Abyss & Habidecor is offered in four sizes: 21 by 31, 23 by 39 and 27 by 27 inches and a 23-inch contour.
Avanti Linens extends Lolita lifestyle possibilities with the addition of pajamas to its other Lolita bath and bedding collections.

Welspun and Christy will also emphasize fabrics that perform better.

Lintex has launched Air Spun®, which is its answer to hollow yarn, in soft pastels and Excel, which is highly absorbent with a glossy look.

Avanti is introducing aprons, coasters, pajamas and robes—all products that it has never offered before—as part of the Lolita line. 

Creative Bath’s Weiss reveals that the company “has found a new material that looks and feels like ceramic, but is made of a polymer that we can mold domestically. Creative Bath is trying to keep our domestic manufacturing fresh and new.”

Taymor has had success with stylish basics, such as shower caddies, tissue holders, bath storage and bowl brushes. “We are expanding on those with new definitions in design, such as the Shower Hammock, and by experimenting with other durable rust-free materials, such as aluminum and chromium plating, which are environment friendly,” says Wright.

Technology

Suppliers are proactive in developing new Internet technologies to streamline business processes and improve communications with their customers.

Creative Bath has updated its website to allow current and new products to be viewed by consumers and retailers. It has also added products from sister companies Creative Home Furnishings based in South Dakota and Toronto-based Bath Creations.

Lintex has updated its website, also offering a sign-up option to subscribe to an e-mail newsletter providing regular informative updates.

Abyss has also updated its website, dividing it into informational and “play” areas that expand knowledge of the brand.

Venus launched a revamped website in 2009, but improvements and additions will continue into 2010. “We plan to roll out an e-commerce site offering select Venus products during the first half of the year,” says Devanshi Patel, corporate director of marketing, Venus Group.

“Our B2B website allows our retail customers to log in from any location using a user name and password to order directly from our system. They can place orders, view account history, receive notifications and invoices all electronically,” Needleman explains.

Avanti has implemented online buying for its retailers.

The Amour towel from Lintex mixes contemporary style details with an up-to-date popular color palette.

“We are very closely working with many retailers and study POS data on a weekly basis. Based on that, our IT team is working on a Direct-to-the-Store model of the supply chain,” says Markanday.
Home Source International has a new order confirmation/shipment tracking information system that sends e-mail updates to its customers.

Directions Moving Forward 

Beyond the coming season, suppliers are dedicated to continuous evolution, regardless of what the economy brings.

Venus is dedicated to introducing new product categories, performance products and value-added branding initiatives. 

 “We are venturing into a bathrobe product line in the current year,” says Trident’s Markanday. “We are also evaluating prospects of adding more towel capacity as well as extending bed sheets and rugs.”

Kaufman offers three words to sum up Avanti’s focus in the coming year: “Lolita, Lolita, Lolita.”

“Lintex will offer new designs more frequently to provide retailers with the impetus to buy at all different price points,” says Blum.

“We are developing informational websites as well as looking at social networking to expand branch reach,” says Hamilton regarding the efforts of Welspun and Christy.

Sorgeloos is proud of Home Source International’s ever-improving supply chain capabilities. “In order to provide superior service, Home Source operates a modern, cost-effective distribution center in Atlanta, GA. We offer a full array of supply chain services, and currently pick and pack for thousands of consumers. We offer Electronic Data Interface services (EDI), shipping label design and implementation, real time inventory accountability and reporting, with the ability to support an array of shipping capabilities,” says Sorgeloos.

“Diversifying!” says Weiss, is the strategy moving forward for Creative Bath. “We are adding outdoor entertaining to our product mix, including tablecloths, placemats and napkins, and are also developing more houseware and storage programs. As a domestic manufacturer, we are also focusing on our exports. Overseas customers are taking advantage of the weak U.S. dollar.”

“The direction we are going for 2010 is re-defining the basics. That is what the consumer continues to buy since their buying habits still are not changing: they are watching their money,” says Taymor’s Wright.

“Dohler is investing approximately ten million dollars U.S. in new jacquard looms and finishing machines, in anticipation of a 20 percent sales increase,” says Schneider.

Ruia believes, “We are approaching 2010 with a new attitude that is positive and hopeful. New faces have joined our team and we hope to soar with the positive energy this brings to the company.”

It is clear that bath product suppliers and manufacturers are doing more towards achieving a brighter business future than merely hoping for one. They are dedicated to mastering the art of performance, both in their value-added products and business practices.

Resources

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