15238 Fri, 09/19/2008 - 1:12pm
By David Gill
The new WestPoint Home will exert a greater focus on marketing, brands and innovation than is typical for a home-textiles vendor, according to the venerable supplier’s new leadership team.
In an interview with HFN prior to last week’s New York Home Fashions Market, John Piazza, president and chief executive officer, Paul Mischinski, executive vice president, and Alan Kennedy, senior vice president of sales, said WestPoint will focus on “being the guy that retailers come to for great brands and high-quality product,” as Piazza put it.
“My focus has always been on marketing and brands,” said Piazza, who came to WestPoint in May after a career as an executive for apparel and consumer-products companies. “I have started preaching the importance of integrated marketing and merchandising, and we’re working to become strong partners with our retail customers.”
Piazza acknowledged that this is a radical departure not just for WestPoint, but for the home-textiles business in general. “With the limited advertising budgets you have in this industry, what you need to do is marketing in other ways,” he said. “You have to partner with your retailers and do more at point of sale, and you have to offer power items.”
Piazza defined “power items” as “exciting breakthrough products that are innovative.” He noted that WestPoint’s showroom theme for the market was innovation, and that the company is orienting its product development and merchandising around this concept.
“From the back end of manufacturing to the front end when the consumer buys the product, we’re being innovative,” he said. “We’re innovating in design, production, packaging and merchandising.”
The first WestPoint power items will emerge down the road, Mischinski said. “We have some of these products in the pipeline now,” he said. “We’re also developing power items that are geared toward different retail channels. You’ll see a different power item depending on which retailer you’re in.”
Contrasting the apparel and consumer-products industry with home textiles, Mischinski—who joined WestPoint in July, also from the apparel and consumer-products industries—said, “The biggest difference is the relationship between brands and marketing. There are not as many power brands in home, and retailers dominate this business to a greater extent through private label.”
Last week, WestPoint’s product introductions offered a glimpse of the innovation focus. The company incorporated its Stay Brite technology on new bedding items. Stay Brite debuted on WestPoint bath towels during February’s market.
In placing a greater emphasis on marketing, WestPoint has begun to pursue more profitable business at a range of price points, as opposed to gearing much of its business toward opening price points.
“We don’t have to be the cheapest company out there if we carry out our integrated-marketing plans,” Kennedy said. “Given the tough state retailing is in now, we have to take a cautious stance, but we’re still hitting our plan” in terms of sales.
“We feel we can be competitive, but we want to be competitive not just on price,” Piazza added. “We want to be competitive on innovation and quality as well.”
Kennedy also commended Icahn Enterprises, WestPoint’s parent company, for its investment in all aspects of the business.
“We’re an integrated company now,” he said. “Each department contributes to every major decision. We’re all together.”
WestPoint’s quarterly sales have declined precipitously in recent quarters, but Piazza feels that “we’ve hit bottom and we’ll start to grow again” with the marketing-brand focus in place. “We’re in good shape regarding costs, and they’ll continue to go down,” he said. “We think we have a chance to show a profit in the fourth quarter, and we’ll definitely be profitable next year.