Looking for Linens
The linen market is like no other we have covered thus far in “Developing Markets.” For this one, there should be a sign that reads “Caution: Use baby steps.” The reason I say baby steps is because you will rarely find an entire section in a garden center that it is devoted exclusively to linens. You will more than likely find linens integrated in other displays or used to enhance other ancillary products. But baby steps are being taken, realizing that this market provides the means to making the rest of your product offerings complete. Then, your store can really be the one-stop shop for creating the outdoor room.
Textiles are a jungle. Between woven, non-woven, apparel and home; one could get lost with the detail of finding the right information that is pertinent to developing this market in garden centers. Home furnishing textiles is a good place to start. Keep in mind those baby steps. There are specialty retailers devoted to this market that can be guides for implementation on a smaller level, such as in your garden center. In August 2004, Home Textiles Today came out with its market research of the “Top 50 Home Textile Retailers.” Of the top 50, Pottery Barn, Pier 1 Imports, Bed Bath & Beyond, Linens ‘n Things and Luxury Linens were the top five home textile specialty retailers and for good reason. Pier 1 Imports does one thing exceptionally well, and that is capturing the feel of the world traveler. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Middle Eastern/Indian flare is popular in home textiles, and most products are authentic, coming straight from India.
India’s top manufacturer in the home textiles industry, Welspun, exports 70 percent of its product to the United States. In 2004, Welspun had $82 million in sales. In fact, the top three home textiles manufacturers in India export 70 percent or more of their product to the United States. In today’s marketplace, when so much of our production is going off-shore, it’s not really news that the United States is the majority of Welspun’s buyer base. On a positive note, the cultural influence foreign manufacturers have on the products will be of benefit to you. People like to consider themselves cultured, even if they can’t, or don’t, leave their hometowns. Furnishing the home with tabletop and linens or buying rich gourmet food to set the mood creating an atmosphere of another world is easy if all the right components are present. Home Textiles Today also commented on this continuing trend, “Globalism also influences fashion and home but not in direct references. Designs, patterns and color can be slightly exotic.” Just because you are a garden center doesn’t mean that you can’t provide a sampling of other worlds to your customers.
Sometimes, though, we just want to be at home. Buying linens that are rich in color and texture may not be suitable for your customer base. Lexington Gardens, Newton, Conn., devotes 8×8 feet to linens. Lexington has been providing linens for Newton for the last 20 years. Knowing its customers, it tries to find a mixture of linens that are not too country and not too New Yorkish.
Many popular designers, such as Ralph Lauren Home and Liz Claiborne Inc. have made their way into the home furnishing market, which can provide the quality, brand and price point that will make linens a profitable addition. Even though well-known names such as Ralph Lauren are sold at the major department stores, you can offer a more varied selection and devote more time and energy to the product than a big box store. Some home textiles manufacturers have developed relationships with the tabletop manufacturers to license their designs to create matching sets. This provides an opportunity to create a theme(s) with tabletops and linens, and you can get creative with your displays.
As mentioned earlier, you will probably find it easier to integrate linens into your other product displays. Some linens that may fit well in your garden center are tablecloths, napkins, hand/guest towels, placemats, runners and pot holders. Keep in mind that any furniture you have can be accented with a pillow or blanket. None of the garden centers I spoke with integrated local artists into their linen department, but this is a viable source for products. Think of knitted/crotched napkins, dishtowels, blankets and quilts. There are plenty of hobby knitters, quilters and crotchers, who never thought of selling their work but make more dishtowels than they have dishes and not enough closets and couches to store all their blankets.
It is funny how little things change from industry to industry. The competition discussed in the tabletop “Developing Markets” (Lawn & Garden Retailer March 2005) is the same challenge linen specialty retailers face remaining in the game against the big box stores. But the specialty home textile stores know that they are offering something that the big boxes don’t. Those specialty stores realize their customers want quality that’s affordable and something they won’t find at the Jones’ house down the street. As you know, always think of your customers and what type of linens they will embrace. It may be an opportunity for you to bring some of the larger world to your town or something that enhances the motif that is already present. Remember the baby steps, a Á whole world of linens may not be a good idea at first; scope out some of the gift shows, see what is offered and pick up some coordinating placemats or some tiger print dish towels. They say variety is the spice of life, and taking little steps gives you lots of room for variety.