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LOWE'S EXPANDS SOFT GOODS OFFERING; HOME CENTER'S FOCUS ON FEMALE CONSUMER BRINGS NEW PRODUCT, LOOK.

WILKESBORO, N.C.-Lowe's Home Centers, with 533 stores in 37 states as of last month, has always done a good business with rugs.

The past few years though, the Home Center -- with a concentration on female consumers -- has set itself apart with an expansion to other soft goods, including towels, wallpaper and soft window coverings.

New Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouses have been designed to create a more-appealing shopping experience for all consumers. The stores feature finished floors, clean bathrooms, major appliances and televisions.

A recent HFN visit to the 1-year-old Piscataway, N.J., Lowe's found the home center has put together an entry level to low-mid price-point line for home textiles. Maps offered at the entrance showed that the decorative, soft furnishings categories were clustered in the middle of the store.

While the number of suppliers is limited, there is a significant offering including bath towels and rugs, shower curtains and an assortment of curtain products carrying labels from Springs Home, Designables Decor by Design and Excell. Decorative pillows and matching placemats, also from Excell, were shown in an adjacent aisle. Rug suppliers include American Rug Craftsmen, Oriental Weavers and Beaulieu for full-size rugs, as well as Bacova and Royal for accents and mats.

In a further effort to reach consumers, Lowe's has executed a service agreement with Kennesaw, Ga.-based floor covering retailer The Maxim Group Inc. Maxim's professional cleaning franchise division, MaxCARE, will provide carpet cleaning, wood floor refinishing, duct cleaning and other maintenance services to Lowe's customers. The program is effective in selected markets beginning Oct. 1.

Stephen Long, analyst at Prudential Securities, reported that Lowe's has increased the top and bottom line with the soft furnishings expansion, due largely to its attraction to female customers.

"Females are enticed by the soft goods," he said. "Back five years, Lowe's had smaller stores of about 80,000 square feet. Now the stores are larger -- about 110,000 square feet," he noted. With a larger format, there's room for categories that will appeal to women and the way they `shop' a store. Lowe's set out to differentiate from other home centers. Long explained, "Stores like Home Depot are primarily aimed at men, who know what they want, get it, buy it and leave. "

Long said soft goods are responsible for 7 to 8 percent of Lowe's sales, in comparison to 5 percent a few years ago.

"Lowe's looks at where each store is, and tailors the merchandise to meet that demographic," he added.

Spence Higgins, advertising and public relations manager for Beaulieu, a longtime supplier of Lowe's, said it has identified the home center movement toward the home decor side of the business, and is currently rolling out a new program with Laura Ashley, store-by-store.

"We had to come up with colors and patterns (in rugs) that would go with Laura Ashley's look," explained Higgins. "Laura Ashley is a well-known brand and they have a good mix of product that cross-merchandises well."

The Laura Ashley program contains several products, including a paint line, wall paper borders and rugs. Beaulieu worked with a display company to create the fixture, containing a light box, brochure, new tags and labels, and posters of rugs shown in room scenes.

Harry Linton, merchandise manager, department/specialty stores division of Springs, said the company was on the front end of the Lowe's home concept when it developed about a year and a half ago.

Linton said Lowe's wanted to deal with a limited number of vendors because their buyers already had too much responsibility. They chose Springs because of their breadth of product and their quality, he said.

Lowe's presents Springs' bath and accent rugs, in addition to some imported product. "Our cotton reversibles have been blowing out," Linton added.

"Lowe's saw an opportunity to reach the home-improvement audience," he noted. "It makes sense with the decorating concept."

Beverly Murphy Home has been a supplier of Lowe's for nearly a year and currently runs in 34 stores. Kevin Wildes, vice president of sales and marketing, said the company has always had a good relationship with the store, and is presently discussing future plans with them.

The Beverly Murphy line consists of wall paper, window treatments, pillows and area rugs, all designed to fit into four lifestyle schemes.

"Everyone can find one lifestyle they can associate with to coordinate their home," he said. "We've always been pleased with our displays and how Lowe's handles things."

Lowe's was unable to be reached for comment.
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Comment:LOWE'S EXPANDS SOFT GOODS OFFERING; HOME CENTER'S FOCUS ON FEMALE CONSUMER BRINGS NEW PRODUCT, LOOK.
Author:Isoldi, Michael; Herlihy, Janet
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 30, 1999
Words:748
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