Forum Dialogue Highlights Turbulence in Specifier-Contract Jobber 'Marriage'

December 31, 1999

Brussels, Belgium — The World Fabric Forum panel discussion at Decosit '99 provoked excitement and emotional discussion from both the panel members and the audience. Specifically, it brought to the fore a question regarding the position of the contract jobber in the manufacturing food chain: Is the contract jobber an endangered species? (For more on this question, from industry players, turn to the Vision 2000 article in the Winter '99 issue.) There were separate questions posed to each member of the panel, but the dialogue about the relationship or "marriage" as it was billed, between specifiers and suppliers, involved both panel members and the audience. That the discussion was billed as the "Supplier vs, Specifier" was telling. Leonie-Mae Tucker, a Senior Associate of Hirsch Bedner Associates, a hotel interior design company, sparked lively debate when she declared her intention to "cut out the middle man." Mae-Tucker said that going through a wholesaler takes inordinate amounts of time and often requires her to purchase quantities which are in excess of her customers' needs. Susan Lyons, Design Director at the contract fabrics wholesaler Designtex said that designers may be hurting themselves by going direct to mills. "Our companies are providing services that designers might not even know they're getting that they'd lose if they went direct," Lyons said. "Design capabilities is the primary one. We understand the market and can meet its needs. We can also hold stock so that designers can place one-yard orders and get them tomorrow. "Mill-direct prices are interesting prices," she said, "but you have to buy a minimum quantity. You can't just re-cover a couple of chairs," Lyons said. Tucker said she would go direct to the mill to get quantities at a price that clients can afford. Immanuel Horn Managing Director at Etun, said that listening between wholesalers and specifiers needs to be mutual. "Too many times," Horn said, "specifiers do not listen." Horn also said that occasionally specifiers put on the colorboard expensive fabrics that are beyond a buyer's price range.

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