]>Signing on a slew of artists and focusing on a broader product mix, Silvestri finds a new niche. Silvestri, a $50 million home furnishings and seasonal items resource, owes a lot to artists. Five years ago, when the manufacturer offered mostly seasonal trim (meaning Christmas trees and holiday lights), it found itself struggling to survive serving a quickly shrinking independent gift/specialty store marketplace."We had to find a new niche," recalls Linda Feldman-Simpson, vice president, product development, who had been with Silvestri's parent, Syratech Corp., for nearly five years at the time. "We needed a message, something to help the independent stores distinguish themselves from the big-volume mass merchants."Enter artists, or at least back in 1998, one artist in particular: sculptor Karen Rossi. Silvestri translated the artist's large-scale, public space, metallic angels into less than 1 foot-high collectibles, dubbed "flights of fancy," and thus began the manufacturer's first step into art licensing.Next stop along the artist path was ceramacist Sandra Magsamen. Once again, the firm translated an artist's craft-in this case high-end pottery-into less expensive ceramic collectibles, home d¯r, and greetings.This year, Silvestri boasts six new properties including "Humphrey's Corner," created by author and illustrator Sally Hunter; greeting card maker Max & Lucy; artist and jeweler Kimberly Willcox; Ruby Lips Studio by Phyllis Vaughn; sculptor/actor Mark Switzer; and witty, cartoony artist Karen Wolff. Just signed are artist Sue Dreamer and So Girly, both represented by Art Impressions."Today, artists represent the mainstay of our business," says Feldman-Simpson. The firm is still creating some seasonal items, including holiday product for "Humphrey's Corner," Max & Lucy, and others, but its portfolio of product has expanded to categories such as tabletop, jewelry and jewelry stands, notecard holders, picture frames, some textiles, and soon, kitchen accessories.Also in its quest to expand and enhance sales of licensed product, the firm is taking some unorthodox steps in terms of marketing to the trade. At the upcoming National Stationery Show in New York, Silvestri intends to share exhibitor space (and marketing materials) with a new licensee of Sandra Magsamen, plush maker Applause. The product displayed from Applause will be Magsamen-centric in a a boutique-y presentation to retailers.Feldman-Simpson, a former director of home furnishings for department stores such as Bloomingdale's, is Silvestri's chief decision maker when it comes to selecting art licensor partners. She says the company will remain focused on the gift tier-a distribution channel comprising 75,000 stores in the U.S., according to Unity Marketing-and has no plans to enter the mass market. Feldman-Simpson also squelched the idea that Silvestri, which has been acquired a few times, actively seeks a buyer.