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In Today’s Improved Housing Market, Consumers Call for Better Linens

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The U.S. has seen a slow but steady growth in housing over the last few years. Both new housing starts and existing home sales reached eight-year highs in June. Just as significantly, the rental market remains tight throughout the country. This is good news for the textile industry, as new abodes often mean new window treatments, towels that match the new bathrooms, and fresh bed linens that complement the surroundings. And just as they do when shopping for apparel, consumers want the best quality for their money.

“I always suggest fantastic sheets with great textiles, because the better it is the more longevity it has,” says Michael Arguello, a New York-based interior designer who also offers his own line of home goods and accessories. “Also, you can tell the difference between a premium product and something meant to be discarded in a short time span. With something like sheets, you have to figure you spend so much of your life sleeping—why sleep [on junk]?”

Consumers presume their products will have staying power. For instance, they insist a quilt should last about eight years, a blanket or comforter to wear well for about six years, and a single sheet, sheet set and bath towel to last about four years, according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor Survey.

The NPD Group’s Debra Mednick, executive director and home industry analyst, says there is a growing sense in the industry that some consumers—no matter their economic status—want better.

“They’re tired of hearing that everything is cheap…so retailers are responding with more variety. Stores like Walmart know they have a varied breadth of customer so they wanted to step up their opening price point. They started offering a 600-thread count sheet set for $60,” Mednick says. That compares to other offerings by the retail giant that start at $20. “They do a lot of research so you have to figure if they’re offering the better set, they believe there’s a customer for it.”

An improved jobs market and lower unemployment is helping the home market. June saw a 26.6 percent increase in housing starts, according to the U.S. Commerce Department, while the National Association of Realtors reported existing home sales are at their highest pace since February 2007 (5.79 million), having increased year-over-year for nine consecutive months and are 9.6% above a year ago (5.01 million). Additionally, the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University reports the U.S. rental market is “booming,” with 770,000 additional rental households added each year since 2004.

Meanwhile, sales of home textile products have increased over the last three years, according to the NPD Group, rising from $20.9 billion in the 12 months ending May 2013 to $21.2 billion in 2014 and then increasing almost 4 percent to $21.9 billion as of two months ago. Mednick says the number of units sold was flat, but higher price points drove up total spending.

Any increase in quality will be appreciated by consumers, most of whom shop for linens at mass merchants yet have high expectations for their softline home goods. Almost 2 in 3 consumers (65 percent) say they shop for home textiles at mass merchants, followed by chain (40 percent), department (29 percent), and specialty stores (28 percent), according to the Monitor data.

The Monitor survey finds that consumers’ desire for durability and longevity have made them willing to seek out things like sheets that don’t pill (53 percent), bedding that doesn’t fade (56 percent) and towels that dry quickly (56 percent).

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“People will spend more on their interiors because, especially in the city, there are so few spaces that are private for you,” Arguello says. “When you shut the doors, you want your interior to be a reflection of who you are and how you want to live your life.”

This desire for more quality at affordable prices has spurred new entries into the market. Recently, Fortune cited startups Casper, Parachute, Boll & Branch, and Brooklinen as companies that recognize shoppers want affordable home luxury. Brooklinen touts that its sheets, which start at $99, are made with “luxurious materials”—100 percent cotton, long-staple percale, and sateen models—by top caliber factories. The company says it can do this because not only does it offer a limited selection, but by working directly with the manufacturers and selling the product online, they’ve cut the costs of wholesalers, licensing, distribution and retailers.

As much as the industry has improved since the recession, Reportlinker, an industry market research firm, says it should see even better spending over the next five years, with continued economic improvement and surges in home ownership.

Currently, consumers shop for new sheets, bedding, and bath towels about once every two years, the Monitor survey shows. Softness, durability, price, and laundering requirements top the list of the most important factors for consumers when purchasing bedding, sheeting and bath towels. Absorbency is also a key driver for towels.

The majority of consumers prefer their bedding (75 percent), sheeting (81 percent) and bath towels (90 percent) to be cotton-rich, according to the Monitor data. And nearly half (48 percent) get home textile ideas from store displays, followed by themselves (44 percent), online (30 percent) and magazines (23 percent).

“The retailers always merchandise it beautifully with color and pillows,” Mednick says. “And as we know, great merchandising drives impulse buys for those replacing their existing products, as well as attracts a high percentage of first-time linen buyers in the 18-to-35 age group. Retailers are merchandising it right because they’re devoting a lot of real estate to it — even taking floor space away from other categories for it. They’re banking on it doing well.”

This article is one in a series that appears weekly on sourcingjournalonline.com. The data contained are based on findings from the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor Survey, a consumer attitudinal study, as well as upon other of the company’s industrial indicators, including its Retail Monitor and Supply Chain Insights analyses. Additional relevant information can be found at CottonLifestyleMonitor.com.

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