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Hancock Fabrics partnering with Laurie Smith of 'Trading Spaces'

New product line expected

TUPELO – Laurie Smith was in a pickle.

Smith, one of the stars of the hit television home decorating show, “Trading Spaces” on The Learning Channel, was late for carpool duty after having learned that the ductwork in her Jackson home would require a major overhaul.

“House-wise, this has been the worst week of my life,” she said. “We had just finished renovating our house and learned about this problem. We’ve had our furniture stored on a truck and have been living with my parents for a month. And I have to leave tomorrow to tape shows for the network.”

Yet Smith bubbled with enthusiasm as she discussed her new contract to create several exclusive product lines for Hancock Fabrics Inc.`s (NYSE: HKF) fabric and home decor stores.

“I have been a Hancock Fabrics customer for years, and I’m so excited about the opportunity to create the Laurie Smith product line,” she said.

Hancock Fabrics CEO Larry Kirk contacted Smith a year ago about the project.

“Laurie shops in our store at Ridgeland pretty often, and has used some of our products in her designs on the show,” said Kirk. “We realized we didn`t have edgier-type products for the 30ish customer who didn`t necessarily want traditional or floral patterns. So we brainstormed about everything from a home decorating fabric foundation to crossover applications that could be done in 45-inch goods for apparel and active wear.

“Laurie had some great ideas about creating products that were more reflective of customers her age. I think Laurie`s as interested in the hand, or texture, as she is in some of the other aspects. Once she got comfortable with the fact that we were going to give her the lead, and let her have the real input into the designs and colorations, and that we’d lend our resources and experience to help her, we were pretty much there. It was a matter of working out the details and deciding what we really wanted to concentrate on. We both decided it would be fun to do and we`ll let her turn her instincts loose.”

Smith said specific designs and color palettes have not yet been determined.

“We’re still in the conceptual phase and I haven`t met yet with the textile designers in New York,” she said. “However, I envision a modern line with new color rooted in classism, yet with an edge that makes it feel fresh and dramatic. It should be a fun line, and hopefully one that young women can gravitate to for inspiration for spaces in their own homes.”

The first Laurie Smith products should be available in Hancock Fabrics stores nationwide in the first quarter of 2005.

“We are all fans of `trading Spaces,’ said Hancock Fabrics COO Jamie Austin. “We love how Laurie combines classic and contemporary design elements.”

Because the contract is not affiliated with “Trading Spaces,” cross promotions with the show are not planned.

“We will market the Laurie Smith line aggressively to … younger women who are just beginning to decorate their homes,” said Austin.

The deal coincides with the near-completion of Hancock Fabrics’ new corporate offices and distribution center in Baldwyn.

“We just moved into the building about a month ago,” said Kirk. “The offices won`t be ready until September. We’ve always operated in a facility that really wasn`t designed for what we do. The more we grew, the faster the pace, the more we realized we were never going to get better and certainly couldn`t accommodate any store growth unless we made a change. This marks the first time we’ve been in a facility that`s lended itself to what we’re doing.”

Hancock Fabrics is the nation`s No. 2 fabric chain, offering fabrics, crafts and sewing accessories through more than 400 neighborhood shopping center stores in 42 states, and selling fabric wholesale to more than 100 independent retailers in areas with no retail presence. The company has successfully focused on expanding its selection of home decorating products, including drapery and upholstery fabric and home accent pieces.

Among Hancock Fabrics’ products lines: St. Jude Fabrics, inspired by the artwork of the children of St. Jude Children`s Research Hospital in Memphis. A portion of the proceeds is donated to the hospital. “Since 1962, St. Jude has treated more than 1,000 children with cancer from Mississippi alone,” said Kirk, whose company raised more than $1 million for the hospital in 2003 and sponsored last September`s St. Jude Dream Home Give-Away at the BancorpSouth Center in Tupelo.

Last year, company sales topped $443 million, representing a 1.2% growth over the previous year. The Tupelo-based corporation employs about 6,500 people.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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