retail watch | Mar 11, 2021 |
When old brands go to new places

A funny thing about brands when it comes to selling home furnishings at retail: They don’t really matter much. Most home products are not strongly branded, and shoppers seem to make their purchasing decisions based on factors like color, pattern and price. Brand is way down the list.

Still, that doesn’t stop companies in the category—retailers and suppliers alike—from using brands. And not just using them, but reusing them.

Two new examples of “branding redux” have shown up over the past weeks, reinforcing the industry’s relentless search to find a hook for new programs at retail. The first is the debut of Fieldcrest at JCPenney, primarily in bed and bath products. In its most recent incarnation, it was sold at Target for years as a midpriced option. It did well but was eventually phased out as the merchandising folks there cycled through new programs.

For those of you with longer memories, Fieldcrest will surface as a widely distributed label throughout department stores (produced by the company of the same name, later Fieldcrest-Cannon, and for a brief time, Pillowtex), where it was often a step up among their assortments. The brand was also responsible for the famous (at least in this business) Royal Velvet towels and Charisma, the industry’s first real 300-thread-count premium sheeting line.

And if you have a really, really long memory, you might remember Fieldcrest’s origins as the private-label bed-and-bath program at Chicago department store Marshall Fields. (Fields, Fieldcrest. Get it?)

In a way, Fieldcrest’s journey to its new placement as a house brand marks a return to its roots, though taken down a few pegs. But it shows that a brand continues to retain some cache long after its first appearance in the marketplace. Whether it is the right name for JCPenney as the company tries to attract a younger customer—well, that’s another question. But they seem to be positioning it as a vintage premium label, calling attention to its American origins 125 years ago (even though the product is made in Asia these days).

The second name to resurface in the home space is Shabby Chic, which is being introduced at Walmart in several product categories. This, too, was once sold at Target, where it had a long run in the home textiles section before it was phased out several years ago as part of a new management and merchandising mix. But Shabby Chic has also had several other branding iterations, and in fact, continues to be sold directly by its creator, designer Rachel Ashwell.

Over the years, Shabby Chic has been a wholesale brand available to multiple retailers and has also operated several of its own stores in New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere. It is perhaps one of the most copied design looks in home, and the name is often used generically to describe the cozy country-casual motif it espouses.

These two new initiatives come as another big retailer in the home space, Bed Bath & Beyond, is moving in the opposite direction, developing its own brands. This is particularly true in the soft home space, where it will debut two new house lines, Nestwell and Haven, over the next 60 days.

While brand names remain quite important in some home sectors—who doesn’t know KitchenAid for small electrics or Waterford in crystal?—they still represent a challenge in most home furnishings categories. But that doesn’t stop retailers and vendors from trying, trying ... and trying again.

Homepage photo: A Fieldcrest comforter set at JCPenney, which has rebooted the brand with bed and bath products | JCPenney

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Warren Shoulberg is the former editor in chief for several leading B2B publications. He has been a guest lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business; received honors from the International Furnishings and Design Association and the Fashion Institute of Technology; and been cited by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and other media as a leading industry expert. His Retail Watch columns offer deep industry insights on major markets and product categories.

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