Tales Of A Fourth Generation Textile Executive: The Proverbial Race To The Bottom

One thing that was very clear at market and something that I have been talking about a lot lately is that competition is fiercer than ever. Everyone, including me, is fighting for customer dollars in order to be one of the survivors. This is our livelihood and why wouldn’t we fight the fight to be king of the mountain or at least be on the mountain and not in the swamp below. With that, I have come to recognize that we are in a race to the bottom that is not healthy for our industry or any industry for that matter. Do you know what I mean by the race to the bottom?

As the overhead of the business equation goes up because that is what it probably does every year (higher rent, higher wages, inflation, insurance and the list goes on), the profit margin side of the equation goes down due to decisions being made to compete.

For example, a simple race to the bottom is that the yardage on a bolt in lots of cases is getting smaller or requests are being made for them to be smaller.  The majority of fabric re-sellers want smaller bolts so they can turn the fabric faster, make smaller investments, take less risk, have more variety and so on. Some vendors are doing this and competing in the race to the bottom.  Others are holding strong whereby they will only go as low as a 10 or 12 yard bolt.

All things being equal, the shorter bolts wouldn’t be the end of the world, but for these facts.  Shorter bolts mean less efficient cutting due to the constant changing of the board for the next piece, it means more boards, it means fewer bolts fit in a box due to the fact that more boards take more space and it takes up more real estate on warehouse shelves.   Guess what this all means folks?  Yes, there are increased costs associated with the shorter bolts.  So now, not only are you selling fewer yards, but the costs to make that smaller bolt are increased too.  So this is at a minimum a double whammy if not triple or quadruple whammy.  Lower margin-ville here we come.  Oh, stop the sarcasm Scott!  You are winning the race to the bottom.  I said stop the sarcasm Scott!  Not a race I want to be winning nor should you want it either.  Please resist because once you do this, there is no going back to how it used to be.

Another example is how buyers are always pushing for lower pricing. Of course, it is their job to get the best prices possible, so why not try? Anyway, I inevitably hear the buyer say that other vendors are lower priced than I am.  Obviously, that is sucky and no one ever wants to hear that.  The thing is that I never know if they are telling the truth or just pushing my buttons.  But they are saying it and getting in my head, so I have to deal with it anyway, otherwise someone else is going to keep eating my lunch so to speak. Assuming they are telling the truth and being that I have a pretty good handle on my fabric costs, I know where I need to draw the line.  At some point it just doesn’t work for me and my business.  I sell fabric to make a profit, not a loss.  Why would someone do that?   Because they want to be the winner of the race to the bottom.  I know, I am sorry, I have to tone down the sarcasm and be happy boring Scott.  I am smiling though.  I digress.

I am sure that you can come up with many more examples of the race to the bottom unfortunately.  But, in short, the winners of the race to the bottom will probably go out of business sometime soon because they are selling too cheaply and that is no way to be successful.  Be careful folks. Use discipline and make sure you know what margins you need to make to add to your bottom line and not detract.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

704 words (gotta get that down)



Author: Scott Fortunoff

Author of Tales of 4th Generation Textile Executive Blog. President of Studioe Fabrics, The Blank Quilting Corp. and A.E. Nathan Co., Inc. Co-President of FreeSpirit Fabrics. V-P of Henry Glass Fabrics. President of Scott’s Free Sewing Machines. Creator of the #sewrevolution.

2 thoughts on “Tales Of A Fourth Generation Textile Executive: The Proverbial Race To The Bottom”

  1. Good post! I understand the concept of smaller bolts and at one time was a big fan of them. But, reality set in when I realized smaller bolts actually caused more issues than the larger ones. All it took was for one customer to decide that she wanted to use the fabric for an outside border as well as backing and we were left with very little of the fabric. That may sound great, but other customers wanted to re-create a quilt they saw on-line and they wanted to use the exact fabrics. So, instead of buying any of the fabrics from the shop, they bought it all on-line and we are left with just a yard or two in the shop. You’d be surprised at how often this happens and how frustrating it is for both the shops and the customers.

    Keep smiling and have a great week!

  2. I’m not the only one that has been thinking this?! Amazing!! Yes, 10 to 12 yard bolts are nice….until you have a person with a project that requires 12 or 15, and you’re sitting with 8 1/2 yards on EVERY bolt in your shop!!!

    And, while we’re on the subject of competing…what about the “big” shops …hmmm…Missouri Star, Hancocks of Paducah….that somehow manage to sell the same fabric as Hometown Quilt Shop for an average of $3 per yard less? Why is that? Do they actually have so much buying power that they get to buy the inventory for $2/yard less from the wholesaler? Or, do they count on quantity to make up the difference? It really burns my cookies when I have a customer say to me “I just saw this fabric on the Hancocks website for $6/yd (and mine is priced $12). Huh. Really. Guess I will be sitting on that inventory for awhile, since I paid $6.59 a yard for it wholesale!!!!

    And. JoAnns Fabrics. Must you ALWAYS have a sale??!!! That’s all I’m going to say about that.

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