Smart Reports - February 2014

Game Changers
By Wanda Jankowski

Creative Bath
The Gems free-standing grouping of hard bath accessories is offered in four colors: turquoise (shown), lime, red and white.
Focalpoint
Made in Tunisia with Egyptian cotton, the company’s blue-based 38- by 78-inch, hand-fringed foutas are multi-taskers, including serving as practical and pretty bath towels.
Zenith Products Corp.
The Aluminum Tension Curved Shower Rod is easy to install with no tools, drilling or wall damage and will never rust.
Home Source International
Suite Perfection MicroCotton towels have “The Perfect 10” attributes: TCT water-wicking management technology, resistance to benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, stain release, color lock, azo-free dyes, low pill and lint, quick drying capability, extra absorbency, lightweight yet beefy hand, and long-lasting durability.
Creative Bath
The Belle ensemble features a sculpted flowers-and-vines motif.
Lorraine Home Fashions
The Enchantment PEVA shower curtain.
Avanti Linens
The nautically inspired Life Preservers ensemble includes the shower curtain, bath mat, embellished sheared velour towels and hard accessories.
 

Greatest Challenges Facing The Bath Sector

“The need to see more aggressiveness to bring the new innovations and compelling new designs made to the store. The economy is still relatively weak, where retailers are cautious. Consumers are looking for strong value, but we believe they are now looking for more interesting and diverse product.”—Gino Biondi, vice-president, sales & marketing, Zenith Products, Inc.

“The challenge is the same as it’s been on the retail side—less retailers to sell to and less opportunities to get new product placed. On the supply side, China is a challenge from a pricing and production stand-point.”—Jeff Kaufman, president, coo, Avanti Linens

“The loss of many mid-price retailers.”—Toni Greenberg, bath designer, Veratex

“The decorative bath ensemble market is a very mature product category. The pie is not growing, the trick is how to get more of a slice.”—Bob Weiss, chief operating officer, Creative Bath Products

“Creating saleable fashion that turns inventory. TJX probably does the best job with this based on a brand story and the price/quality relationship showing value in fashion bath.”—Keith R. Sorgeloos, president & ceo, Home Source International

“The biggest challenge for us today is sourcing a towel made in North America to suit our needs. There are no luxury fingertip blanks available from our current Canadian supplier.”—Shaheda Bhabha, vice-president, Stitchsations

“The greatest challenge is only opportunity—to stretch the boundaries of design that improve and enhance the lives of those who use your product.”—Leslie Connell, vice-president, sales and operations, Abyss & Habidecor

“For us in particular it is convincing customers that a flatweave towel will dry the body as well as a terry one. The waffle weave fouta tends to be a bigger seller if intended as a bathroom towel due to its association with European bath towels.”—Jane Tryon, co-owner, Focalpoint Home

“The risk of rising prices from China.”—Rex Dyer, president, Lorraine Home Fashions

 
Abyss & Habidecor, Inc.
Bird features an abstract pattern of feather-like shapes and is available in one size that measures 27 by 55 inches.
Veratax, Inc.
The Tiles design is carried through a full bath ensemble: shower curtain, mat and hard accessories.
Stitchsations
The company specializes in embellished towels with adornments that include ribbon embroidered florals, glamorous beads, European laces, three-dimensional appliqués and detachable ornate fringes. Shown are Basketweave patterned towels, along with an attachable/detachable Basketweave fringe piece.
Baltic Linen Company
Shown are the Montauk yarn-dyed jacquard, the embroidered Wainscott and the yarn-dyed reversible Amagansett.
 

Key suppliers discuss factors in the evolution of bath products and accessories and offer insights into new directions on the horizon

As the world changes at an ever more rapid pace, so does the bath sector. Gone are the predominantly slow evolutions that have minor effects on the industry landscape. Today, quick-developing, forever-altering phenomena are the “norm” that call into question old rules on how to play the retail game.

The causes are so many variables—the unsteady economy, growing pains experienced by global manufacturing partners, maturation of new commerce channels and the emergence of younger consumer purchasers with their own eclectic mindsets.

Game Changer:
Burgeoning e-commerce, diminishing brick-and-mortar retailers.

Online retailers are quickly gaining a greater share of the pie as time marches on.

“There is no doubt that the internet is the future of retailing,” states Bob Weiss, chief operating office, Creative Bath Products. “Internet customer sales increase every year…double digits.”

Toni Greenberg, bath designer at Veratex, agrees, “There are now a lot more online retailers, and we work with many of them.”

“The online business has continued to accelerate,” explains Gino Biondi, vice-president, sales & marketing, Zenith Products Company. “Consumers are becoming more confident every day buying products online. The biggest challenge is balancing cost of packaging and shipping fees.”

“We have definitely had a big jump in online stockists,” says Jane Tryon, co-owner of Focalpoint Home, which specializes in foutas. “The fouta is the perfect online product due to its compact weight and size. It is the perfect gift item and sells for many different retailers—be they in the bath, spa ,beauty, gift and homewares market.”

“Online business has strengthened in both sets and color spectrum breadth. Retailers are concentrating on making a difference in solid color through brand initiation, fiber, breadth of color and performance related products. Embroidered products are starting to take hold in assortments,” says Keith R. Sorgeloos, president and ceo, Home Source International.

“We have seen a flow of customers returning to Stitchsations for the unusual [embellished] designs that we offer,” says Shaheda Bhabha, vice-president, Stitchsations. “Some of the customers have changed to online sales and we need to update accordingly.”

Though brick-and-mortar and other venues are struggling to maintain market domination, they still play a major and vital role in product sales.

“Décor and designer products are still very strong in traditional retail store formats,” says Zenith’s Biondi. “These type of products still provide a shopping experience consumers aren’t as easily willing to give up.”
Rex Dyer, president, Lorraine Home Fashions has grown his business not only with e-commerce retailers, but with print catalog merchants.

Game Changer:
The shaky post-recession era is affecting retailers’ ability to take chances on drastically new ideas.

Sorgeloos optimistically believes, “Risk taking will play more of a role as the economy continues to brighten.”
But for now, it seems, cautiousness is widespread. High risk is “out”; the search for “sure bets” and some test runs are “in.”

“There is much more of a ‘test and roll’ mindset versus ‘roll and hope’, with less slots open for testing in general,” says Jeff Kaufman, president, coo, Avanti Linens. “With less retailers out there and less slots for testing, there is a much smaller window for styles to get out into the market.”

“No one wants to take any risks...everyone is afraid of making a mistake. Whatever happened to merchants? Decisions seem to be made by committee and everyone copies everyone else’s ideas. I don’t even think guaranteed sales make a difference. Retailers want winners!” says Weiss.

For Dyer, open-mindedness varies with the retailer. “Some need to be out front with new fashion and are always looking for the next thing,” he says. “Others are content to adopt proven concepts.”

Abyss & Habidecor is going its own way with a different tactic. “We are taking our partnerships with our retailers to new levels with deeper relationships and working with less retailers,” says Leslie Connell, vice-president, sales and operations, Abyss & Habidecor. “Our online exposure is limited to our existing brick-and-mortar accounts that have websites.”

Greenberg believes in the power of design. “We are finding that the brick-and-mortar retailers are willing to take chances on good design more so than in the recent past,” she says. “They require product in store that they do not offer online. With the ability to test groups online now, they do have the opportunity to be more careful overall.”

Game Changer:
Clean-lined transitional styles are evolving into modern, detailed looks with brighter colors and eclectic mixing of elements.

“Color and style are always evolving,” notes Avanti’s Kaufman. “We continue to see a trend toward cleaner looks in neutral colors on one end and vibrant, bright designs on the other.”

“Less traditional styles and colors have taken traction,” explains Jeff Gunshor, executive vice-president, home fashion division, Baltic Linen. “More coordination of color and mix-and-match is the trend, which includes yarn dyes and solids grouped together.”

“While vintage-inspired neutral themes continue, bold colors are back,” notes Courtney Vagliardo, director of fashion bath, Zenith Products. “Metallics continue to rise in both organic as well as ornamented designs. Style continues to placate the need for DIY decorating. Versatility gives our consumers the room to design to their own lifestyle looks for personal expression.”

“Styles have started to move from the more casual, clean looks of the recent past to more detailed design,” says Veratex’s Greenberg.

“Fashion trends usually last two years…..if you’re lucky, but that also depends on how obscure or classic or tasteful the trend is. A few years ago, Africa-themed designs were a focal point,” says Weiss. “Now we see trends that are moving back to designs from the western hemisphere. Parisian-themed items, any type of travel- and inspirational-themed products have also been strong over the past few years. Those trends seem to be based more on consumers’ feelings about our world today. They want to get away from reality and get inspired doing so.”

“The #1 color story, particularly in bath shifted from chocolate three to five years ago to a charcoal grey in the past two years. Grey is a dominant color story currently,” says Sorgeloos. “The balance of color in bath is still driven by white and ivory, along with some similar neutrals.”

“Building materials used in the bathroom have a direct correlation to the colors and styles that trend,” explains Connell. “Eight years ago, travertine was the material of choice. The demand for linen, ecru, camel, taupe and aqua was high, and Old World/classic designs in bath rugs were commonplace. Now, Carrera marble—all shades of grey and the brighter colors that work in these spaces—with clean, modern designed rugs are what we see trending.”

Connell also believes that shades of blue, which had been very popular for Abyss & Habidecor in 2013, will continue to be best selling, rather than a shift to the Pantone 2014 Color of the Year, purple/pink radiant orchid.

Game Changer:
The continuous development of new materials and technologies insures the non-stop improvement of the products suppliers offer.

The speed with which designs can be presented and copied today drives suppliers to be constant in their search for that “something new” in benefit or design to capture consumer dollars.

During March 2014 N.Y. Market, Baltic Linen will introduce new towel programs featuring USA COTTON, certified Egyptian cotton, and performance microfiber. Its Turkish cotton towel program continues to do well. Look for updates in colors and jacquard design from the Baltic design team.

At Avanti, Kaufman notes increased interest in terry versus velour in some programs. “We’re offering a zero twist embroidered program now that combines fashion and function,” he adds.

Zenith Products Company is overcoming rust issues raised by consumers with products in its new Rust-Proof Solution platform. The new line of Aluminum Shower Rods and Shower Caddies with NeverRust™ Aluminum come with lifetime guarantees against rust. The lightweight, strong aluminum is offered in a variety of finishes because it can be painted or anodized.

“We also have expanded the breadth of design and materials in bath accessories, shower curtains and printed PEVAs,” says Vagliardo.

Creative Bath, which just celebrated its 40th year in business, is one of the few remaining domestic bath accessories manufacturers. Its forte is rendering designs, typically available in resin or ceramics, in acrylic for half the price. The company recently moved into a new showroom at 7 West 34 St., Suite 304, and created a new website at creativebath.com. Its focus will be on USA-made items and other areas of home décor, including bath, storage, organization and housewares.

“We recently partnered with celebrity designer Jennifer Adams and will be unveiling several gift sets [during March N.Y. Market] of Jennifer Adams bath ensembles as well as fully coordinated freestanding ensembles,” says Weiss.

According to Dyer, Lorraine Home Fashions is expanding its use of ruffling with new appliquéd, ruched ruffles in a variety of shower curtain patterns, as well as enlarging its assortment of PEVA shower curtains and fabric printing.

“Performance related bath products are becoming very important today—benzyol peroxide resistant, quick drying, soil releasing, stain repellant, color locking, etc. That has taken hold and is starting to be applied to terry products,” says Sorgeloos. “For us, 100 percent certified branded fibers and cotton, such as Supima, Microcotton, Egyptian, Tencel and Bamboo, are key along with performance-related products in our mix.”

At Abyss & Habidecor, Connell announces that, for the first time, the company’s new towel collection products are made with dyed yarns.

Veratex is using new techniques in glass and resin accessories and in more constructed shower curtains that integrate design elements with solids and trim for more perceived value. It is growing its bath division, adding an increased capability for more diversified lines.

Focalpoint Home brings a fresh color palette to each fouta collection. Its range for Spring 2014 has 46 new colors and styles, including a shade close to Pantone’s Color of 2014, radiant orchid.

Stitchstations is working on new luxury towels that are both functional and decorative, as well as on online sales and marketing.

It’s clear from these supplier insights that there is no lack of fresh designs and benefit-laden product ideas ready to go to market. How many of them will reach consumers depends on retailers’ willingness to embrace the game changers that will move the bath sector forward as time marches on.

Resources


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