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Forecasting with Foresight

Cloth Connection, New York Barbara Davis prides herself on knowing what her clients want-sometimes even before they know it themselves. With 19 years of experience in the specialty linen rental business, Davis predicted that shades of gray would be all the rage in 1998. It took a few months to catch on, but by the end of the year, she says, gray and silver were the leading colors in linens.

"What's going to come next are the colors that go with grey, such as pink," says Davis, president of Cloth Connection. "Pink hasn't done well for years, but we think it will come back in the spring."

Staying on the cutting edge of design is easy for Davis because her business is so specialized, she says. "A small operation with only 60 to 70 designs is really working with one hand behind its back," she says. "Because we deal directly with importers, we can provide a large selection and competitive pricing structure."

Having a plethora of styles to choose from also is an advantage as the industry's climate becomes more rushed and customers become more demanding. "Clients know what they want, and if they don't get it, they will look for it somewhere else," Davis says. "In the past year, we have found that our business is becoming very, very last minute. For some, this is a problem because they don't have inventory on hand. For us, it is a benefit because we have a large inventory and can fill a large order in a day or two."

Davis expects clients will continue to clamor for even more unusual products this year. "This year will be more important than ever," she says, "so we came up with the slogan 'New Styles for '99,' which is exactly how many styles we will have. Customers want an edge in 1999, and we are going to give it to them."

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