Kids bedding widens lines and gears up for a sleeper hit year

The juvenile bedding market tends to be an elastic one that hinges on the strength and performance of each year's licensed property lineup. But the outlook for 2003 is particularly rosy as the category comes off a stellar year, boosted by 2002's bevy of blockbuster movies and solid TV licenses.
February 1, 2003

The juvenile bedding market tends to be an elastic one that hinges on the strength and performance of each year’s licensed property lineup. But the outlook for 2003 is particularly rosy as the category comes off a stellar year, boosted by 2002′s bevy of blockbuster movies and solid TV licenses.

‘Retailers are really expanding the space they devote to the category and bringing in new licenses,’ notes Sherice Guillory, Nickelodeon Consumer Products VP of home, gift and packaged goods. ‘And Nickelodeon has definitely benefited from that,’ with SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer as its top bedding performers in 2002.

But along with renewed retail interest in kids bedding comes the challenge to make the product jump off shelves – a difficult feat in a basic category. ‘While we wish that we could use a lot of sound chips, blinking lights and moving parts, there’s not a whole lot you can do with bedding in terms of adding bells and whistles,’ says Nancie Siegel, director of marketing for licensed products at Fort Mill, South Carolina-based Springs Industries, which has licenses for Harry Potter and 2Grrrls in its portfolio.

Many manufacturers are tackling this hurdle by expanding the definition of bedding to include ancillary items such as novelty decorative pillows, throws, accent rugs, window treatments and wall hangings. Two-piece bath towels (in many cases the responsibility of the juvenile bedding buyer and not the bath shop buyer) are also making a category comeback. ‘Buyers had moved away from that, but have now returned to a nice assortment of prints to coordinate with bedding,’ says Siegel. Since February is typically a strong Q4 focus for bedding buyers, Springs Industries’ big push at the Home Textiles Winter Market in New York this month will be its bedding range based on Universal’s holiday 2003 film Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat. Due to hit retail in tandem with the film, the line encompasses bedding, body pillows, area rugs, craft kits, bolted fabrics and bath product such as rugs, towels, shower curtains and accessories.

‘Retailers are really looking for a lot more add-on coordinates for bedding in addition to the standard comforter, and quilts are really hot this year,’ says Nick’s Guillory. Based on retail demand, Nick will offer a new selection of Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants quilts in 2003.

Demand for ancillary items has been a boon for Hedstrom’s slumber products business. ‘I think we’ve come a long way as far as creating cute, innovative items with dual purposes,’ says Fran Coursey, the Arlington Heights, Illinois-based company’s director of marketing. Coursey points to the company’s line of snooze sacks – pillows that unzip into sleeping bags – as a case in point. ‘When rolled up into a pillow, the snooze sack can sit on the bed and function as a cute room décor product,’ she says. ‘A lot of times we offer the same licenses as other manufacturers of bedding product, and sometimes the designs or colors can coordinate.’ Targeting kids ages three to eight, new snooze sacks due out in April for US$29.99 apiece sport Crayola, Jay Jay the Jetplane, Winnie the Pooh and Hot Wheels licensed images.

Licensees can also beef up consumer excitement for their bedding lines through creative product presentation. ‘Because everything is so marketing-driven from our standpoint, the opportunity to provide compelling packaging at retail is very important,’ says Dan Hammer, senior VP of sales and marketing at Danville, Virginia-based Dan River. ‘For example, we put our sports line out in a duffel bag. It’s another way to catch the consumer’s eye as they walk down the bedding aisle.’

Hedstrom is also working on packaging design to come up with unique and reusable packages that suit the shape of its sleeping bags. Continuing product for 2003 includes the Deluxe Slumber Bag & Tote (US$29.99, April) for girls ages six to 10. The extra-large sleeping bag (10 inches longer than a standard bag) fits inside a coordinating fabric tote. Girls in that demo are ‘going to a lot of sleepovers and obviously don’t want a Winnie the Pooh sleeping bag, so we’ve gone after licenses that appeal to that age group,’ says Coursey. New licenses to the line this year include Barbie, Kim Possible, Lizzie McGuire, Pussyfoot and The Powerpuff Girls.

A further option open to licensees looking to attract retail buyers is to go after higher-quality materials. ‘You can trade up to a higher thread count and go from a conventional rotary print to a panel print or photo-real print,’ says Springs’ Siegel. But improving fabric quality has its risks. ‘Trading up is great, provided that you’re not going to put your business into a price point so outrageously high that you eliminate two-thirds of your consumers,’ says Hammer.

Fortunately, prices for quality fabrics are coming down, making it possible for many manufacturers to offer them at the same price as some traditional materials. ‘In the past, we found that most of the licensed bedding product was made of low-cost muslin,’ says Nick’s Guillory. ‘Now the prices of hot items like jersey-knit sheets are coming down, and we’re getting a lot more traction at mid-tier and specialty stores because of that higher-quality fabric.’

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