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WINDOWS OF OPPORTUNITY; MANUFACTURERS SEE POSSIBLE GROWTH FOR THE CATEGORY IN BIG-BOX SPECIALTY STORES.

ATLANTA-When a major window retailer such as Wards or Bradlees closes, where does the business go?

That's the question window suppliers are trying to answer following last year's closings.

No single retailer takes up the slack. About 25 percent of the business dissipates and the rest disperses, said Don Johnson, executive vice president of window fashions at Burlington House, which was Wards' largest supplier.

"When any retailer goes out of business, I think the customer dies," he said. "No one sees a big increase in sales."

"Existing retailers pick up the volume, but all pick up only a piece of it," said Carl Goldstein, senior vice president of S. Lichtenberg & Co.

"It's not a question of dollar-for-dollar replacement," said Herb Briggs, president of Guilford Home Fashions. "It's a matter of picking one's self up and moving on."

In order to move on, manufacturers must aggressively search for new accounts while building business with current ones.

Wal-Mart, Kmart, Target, Sears and J.C. Penney have picked up the largest share of residual business. "But nobody has duplicated the Wards or Bradlees program," said John Witkowski, executive vice president of the window division at CHF Industries.

So manufacturers are looking for additional sales in underdeveloped channels.

"We continue to push for new accounts," said Wendy Keryk, president of the window division at Richloom Home Fashions. Keryk sees growth opportunity in the big-box specialty stores, as well as for independent or national retailers that want to re-create Bradlees' successful demographic marketing strategy.

Guilford's two-tier strategy also includes the big-box specialty stores, along with a concentrated focus on J.C. Penney.

Burlington is zeroing in on home centers, big boxes and independents such as Fortunoff's and Anna's Linens.

Several manufacturers agreed that a major window of opportunity exists at the traditional department store level, which exited the category about 15 years ago.

"We continue to work with Kohl's, Federated and the May Co. to put window back in," said Goldstein. "Window is 30 percent of the total home textile business. If Sears, J.C. Penney, Linens 'n Things and Bed Bath & Beyond are heavily invested in the business, why not department stores? Why not revisit the business?"

Both Guilford and Burlington offer window treatments as bedding coordinates in the channel, and are encouraging retailers to build a freestanding program.

To grow business with new and current accounts, vendors are constantly reinventing their assortment.

Richloom is focusing on diversity and coordination to broaden its product offerings. Lichtenberg is trending up in its sheers program.

"We invest a great deal in research and development and design," said Briggs. "In the window business, it's all a question of innovation. If you have fresh, exciting product, you can make up the business."
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Author:Musselman, Faye
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Date:Aug 20, 2001
Words:454
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