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HALFWAY THROUGH THE OH-OHS.

Byline: Warren Shoulberg

Well, here we are, halfway through the first decade of the new century and we still don't have a catchy name for this era. This is going to be a big, big problem for historians and social commentators trying to neatly wrap up these 10 years.

Personally, I'm sticking with the Oh-Ohs. I don't think there's a better phrase that more accurately sums up the general state of things out there in the world. And for this little home furnishings world that we all exist in, there are plenty of Oh-Ohs on the horizon for 2005. Here are some of my picks for the particularly choice Oh-Ohs of the next 12 months.

Oh-Oh for the textiles industry. This is the year that anarchy pretty much takes over the textiles industry. Barring some convoluted and mysterious political gerrymandering -- which in fact has already started -- all the rules are basically off when it comes to world trade. Quotas, duties and such may occasionally rear their ugly little heads, but all semblance of order is pretty much been thrown out the window... or more accurately the porthole of that container ship coming in from Shanghai. How what's left of the American textiles industry deals with all of this in 2005 will tell us a lot about what if any future it has beyond this year.

Oh-Oh for the consumer electronics industry. Sometime this year, sales of digital products will outpace those of analog products, signaling a seminal change in the world of TV, audio and such. Soon thereafter, not in 2005, but probably not a whole lot later, flat-panel television sales will nearly match sales of traditional cathode-ray-tube sets. These two events represent massive shifts in the industry, the reverberations of which will be felt well beyond the Oh-Oh decade. The consumer electronics industry is looking at perhaps its last best attempt to make any money selling its products and as it has done throughout its history, it is royally screwing up that opportunity.

Oh-Oh for the housewares industry. Man, these guys need a hot product and they need it badly. In a business always driven by the latest doodad, the housewares folks have gone a long, long time without any new must-have small electric item. The George Foreman Grill, despite some brilliant permutations from Salton, is getting pretty long in the tooth and cannot be expected to sustain its sales level for a whole lot longer. And the jury's still out on whether the pod coffeemakers are going to be the next hot thing. So, tell the boys in the back room to cook up something interesting because housewares vendors and retailers alike need a fix.

Oh-Oh for the two big department store chains. Both of these big shots -- Federated and May -- have critical years coming up in home furnishings. Federated will begin to see its Macy's Home unit roll out its revolutionary new strategy and must see some financial fruits from all of that labor. For May Co., its House Beautiful private-label program is finally due to arrive and the company is banking on it to revitalize its private-label business the way the Hotel Collection has done for Federated. Both of these guys have a lot on the line in 2005.

There are plenty of other Oh-Ohs out there this year. How does the furniture industry grapple with its massive shift of manufacturing to China? How does tabletop try to reinvent itself into a gift-driven business not dependent on formal dining? How do Kmart and Sears learn to live together? Is the Wal-Mart Christmas of 2004 screw-up merely a blip on the radar or a forerunner of bigger problems ahead?

Ya know, this Oh-Oh name is sounding better and better all the time.

Letters to the editor can be sent via e-mail to warren.shoulberg@ fairchildpub.com or via mail to HFN, 7 West 34th Street New York, NY 10001

Caption(s): Warren Shoulberg
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Title Annotation:consumer electronics, textiles, home furnishing industry sales
Author:Shoulberg, Warren
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 3, 2005
Words:656
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