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From Home Furnishing Business

Consumer Confusion

Has the disappearance of furniture brands left consumers confused when shopping for home furnishings?


by Bob George


From the perspective of my age viewing the current environment requires differentiating between nostalgia for the good old days and the current consumer trends. With that said, it is true that the simple decision regarding what to wear is a challenge.

Is it appropriate or will I be overdressed? A suit or a sport coat? Is anything OK as long as it portrays your personal brand? Clothing is only one of the traditional ways people portray their success, whether it be wealth or position in the community. One’s home, home furnishings, and transportation mode also communicate one’s position in society.

Our interest, however, is home furnishings. The first question is “When portraying one’s position in the community, where does home furnishings stand?”

In this month’s cover story, we discuss Style Aware consumers. These are consumers who use home furnishings as an important way of communicating who they are. Interestingly, they represent a significant percentage of our furniture purchasers at 44.75 percent.

Why are consumers confused?

Could it be because of the loss of consumer brands? This is a loss that is seen not only in the premium brands of Kittinger and Pennsylvania House, but also in what was once considered the more middle market of Cochrane and Virginia House. It is true that there are still brands that survived, for instance Harden and Stickley. I admire their commitment to the standards of quality and design even if they existed today. Where are retailers that prominently display and communicate the value that these premium brands represent?

Is it in the designs we produce that we have embraced the concept of the eclectic or transitional to the point that the consumer feels no need to ask what’s new? Home decorating television and shelter magazines are promoting the concept of treasure hunts as the way to shop for furniture even so far as collecting discards on the sidewalk. In this setting what is the future and where are the manufacturers’ brand advertising?

Is it the myopic focus on price? I won’t rant and rave on current prices of furniture when compared to other consumer products. If requested, I will send the Consumer Price Index for furniture compared to other consumer durables. However, why do we need to sell price? Trust me, the majority of consumers, if properly informed, will not let price be the No. 1 purchase factor.

Are there signs that the consumer will believe having the latest phone is not as important as what their guests see when they walk through the front door? Yes, I believe so; right after they get over the boom in the automobile sector.

Most important, however, is the most recent High Point Market with Thomasville producing the first 100-plus piece introduction in many years overcoming what I am sure were serious concerns of the supply chain guys. Another example is the new interpretation of traditional with A.R.T. Furniture’s Continental collection. It is cleaner with some exciting finishes. This, along with flashes of design in other lines, indicated the tendency to take the path of risk instead of the same old same old.

If the consumer is confused, it is our fault. I see advertising from across the country. The sameness of this advertising is frightening. If you can, find on YouTube the video message the CEO of Restoration Hardware sent to shareholders. E-mail me and I will send this to you. We should consider this as we reflect on the fact that traditional furniture channels’ market share is now below 40 percent.

Let’s excite the consumer.

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