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Waiting for Martha.

She's the 800-pound gorilla in the upstairs home furnishings room, lurking over all the industry events this winter, even though she was nowhere to be seen at most of them.

At show after market after show, you hear her name mentioned in closed-door meetings behind flimsy partition-board walls, tossed around at booths where she would never be caught on probation in and generally chatted up in virtually any conversation where the subject is brands.

On retail selling floors as spring assortments start to turn up, you may be able to detect her pending arrival in the scope and counter-merchandising patterns of those new products, as if she were a shadow hovering over retail aisles.

With all due respect, she is, of course, Martha Stewart and the wait for the debut of her private-label program at Macy's is increasingly getting people's attention as the start date of that program gets ever and ever closer. The official premiere is late summer for some classifications, notably soft home, but other categories are not far behind.

The ramifications of this rollout are enormous and are reverberating up and down the entire home furnishings food chain:

1 Macy's is counting on Martha to virtually single-handedly save its home business, which continues to struggle in a very visible and painful manner. The Feds (soon to be Macyers, perhaps?) are talking about a couple hundred million dollars worth of sales from this program.

2 Martha is counting on Macy's to be her main royalty squeeze, as well as a worm hole into the upstairs market as she leaves behind the blue lights of Kmart.

3 Kmart is counting on Martha to succeed at Macy's so it can ride her robin egg's blue coattails to get one last kick in the top and bottom lines before her contract with the Hoffman Mistakes crowd comes to an anticlimactic end.

4 J.C. Penney is counting on Macy's and Martha to be a non-event, setting the stage for its Ralph Lauren-related house brand to light up the home world in 2008.

5 Every other department store in the country--and that's a pretty short list these days in case you weren't paying attention--is waiting in anticipation to see how this whole thing plays out. If it doesn't work, they see opportunities to pick up some business at Macy's expense. If it does work, they know they will need their very own Martha.

6 Every vendor who can't get their supply foot into the front door at 11 Penn Plaza--and some who've only managed to put that foot into their mouth--is watching, too, trying to decide if this is the only way they will get to do business with Macy's.

7 All sorts of other celebrity Martha wannabes are waiting in the wings, be it for that possible upstairs gig or perhaps for her Sears Holdings real estate. Even the WaI-Mart and Target crowd is keeping their eye on how this goes down because you just never know.

8 And everyone else in home--Martha fans and foes alike--is just itching to see what happens because Martha is ... well, Martha, and people can't seem to get enough of this drama.

It's a fascinating dynamic, the likes of which we rarely see in this business. How often, after all, does one program have such a profound impact on so many others?

But then again, Martha wouldn't have it any other way.
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Title Annotation:opinions: home alone 2
Author:Shouldberg, Warren
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Date:Mar 19, 2007
Words:567
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