16483 Mon, 07/13/2009 - 5:53pm
By David Gill
At Showtime last month, PK Lifestyles debuted its latest collection of fabrics under its Colonial Williamsburg license, in a collection called Trend Meets Tradition.
The name of this new line sums up Williamsburg’s current design focus. “It’s a look that is closely associated with the 18th and 19th centuries, but with contemporary interpretations,” said Gail Burger, product manager for Williamsburg.
The Williamsburg license in home textiles has a history that’s almost as impressive as that of the centuries-old Virginia town. The first licensed textiles, a fabric line produced by F. Schumacher, appeared in the 1940s.
Along with PK Lifestyles, Williamsburg’s current licensee roster includes Ellery Homestyles for bedding and window treatments (co-branded with the company’s Waverly program, which it acquired from F. Schumacher in 2006); C&F Enterprises for quilts, decorative pillows and accessories; India Overseas for placemats and dish towels; Capel for indoor/outdoor rugs; and Obeetee for hand-knotted rugs.
The Williamsburg products have shown a broad appeal. “There’s more concentration in sales in New England, the Southeast and the Midwest, where traditional designs appeal the most,” said Dan Bonini, president of PK Lifestyles. “But we sell internationally, too, in South Africa, Australia, Europe and China. The Williamsburg collection carries the cachet of Americana, which is popular in those areas of the world.”
Williamsburg’s Americana orientation is a key selling point with U.S. consumers in the current economic environment. “I think there is a core consumer who appreciates this as American design,” said Chip Scala, president of the Waverly division at Ellery. “Considering the political situation today, buying or thinking American is something that resonates in all industries.”
Scala also observed the flexibility that the Williamsburg organization has shown in regard to design. “We do everything in concert with Williamsburg,” he said. “They want to make sure that the original design is the source, but then they leave the technicalities to us. It’s become a more eclectic look because of the flexibility in design and coloration.”
The organization’s willingness to allow its licensees to create interpretations of Williamsburg traditional looks has fueled its move to more contemporary designs. “We still take our inspirations from the Williamsburg archive, and then update them to work in today’s home,” said Jennifer Sheridan, national sales manager for C&F. “Our new launches in 2010 will be a revamping of a lot of the looks. We’ll freshen them and bring them up to date with fashion-forward colors.”
The organization and the licensees are also looking to expand the collection’s distribution in the years to come. Currently, Williamsburg products are sold primarily in department stores and specialty stores. Burger said Williamsburg collections have also achieved some sales through Internet retailers and the television shopping channels, two areas that the organization would like to expand in the years to come.
Scala agreed that the Web will be important to the line’s future growth. “All retailers have expanded their Web sites,” he said. “There are also some sites not affiliated with retailers where we think sales could grow.”
Sheridan said opportunities for this traditional line exist in non-traditional channels. “We plan to look at hotels,” she said. “Also, there are openings in new housing developments where the builders decorate show homes. Themed resorts are a possibility, along with grocery stores for tabletop products.”
Burger added that Williamsburg could add to its licensee ranks down the road. “We’re always looking for other partners,” she said. “We’re pretty well covered in textiles, but there might be other products along the way. When we license we look for long-term relationships in which we grow together.”