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From Home Furnishing Business

WHAT SELLS: UPHOLSTERY

By Larry Thomas

Despite the absence of technology enablers such as USB ports and charging stations, stationary upholstery is maintaining its status as a behemoth core category for furniture retailers, and shows no signs of slowing down.

Sam Moore’s Nadia
Customizable in any of the company’s 25 wood finishes and more than 450 fabrics, this exposed wood chair is a top seller due to its comfort, moderate scale and versatility. In addition to customizing the wood finish and inside fabric, the outside fabric can be contrasted for an additional fashion statement. Approximate retail price is $999.

No, it hasn’t seen a growth curve comparable to motion furniture in recent years, but the rapid development of customization programs by manufacturers large and small, coupled with significant improvements in styling and fabric selection, have enabled the stationary segment to keep a wide lead over its sister category.

A decade ago, performance fabrics had a microscopic market share, and waits of three to six months for a custom-order sofa were commonplace.

Today, it’s not unusual for an upholstery manufacturer to keep 1,000 fabrics in stock – including dozens of performance fabric options – and a custom-order sofa is out the door no more than 30 days after the factory gets the order.

And even for upholstery sources that don’t offer custom orders, they still have to ship product to their dealers faster than ever before because retailers often carry little or no inventory, and consumers follow the mantra of Queen’s 1989 hit, “I Want It All and I Want It Now.”

“Speed to market will always be a key factor,” said Michael Campbell, CEO of leather upholstery importer Leather Italia USA. “It also solidifies healthy relationships with retail sales professionals and staff, as they are comfortable in selling and promoting your line with the confidence they’ll receive (the product) in a timely fashion.”

Research by Impact Consulting Services, parent company of Home Furnishings Business, illustrates the consumer’s impatience. In a survey of recent fabric upholstery purchasers, only 2.6% said they were willing to wait three to six months for a custom order sofa, while 28.5% said they would wait one to three months.

A plurality (46.6%) said they were willing to wait two weeks to one month, and another 18.1% said they wouldn’t wait longer than one to two weeks.

Leather Italia, like many vendors who import upholstery from Asia, stocks best-sellers in U.S. warehouses.  But even those who don’t have domestic warehousing are becoming more focused on getting product to their dealers quickly.

Jeff Katz, vice president of upholstery at Magnusson Home, said his company stocks about a dozen best-sellers in China, but can get still get the product to a retailer’s warehouse in 45 days or less.

“I try to put neutral fabrics on the frame, and then spice it up with pillows,” Katz said. “Then it’s very easy and inexpensive to change the décor of your room by changing pillows.”

From a styling standpoint, Katz said smaller scaled models – particularly 82- to 86-inch sofas – are among his hottest sellers, as is just about any frame with a curved or bowed front rail.

“People are living in smaller apartments, smaller houses and using them (sofas) in smaller rooms,” he said. “So the smaller scale, more contemporary styles are selling best.”

And while the Magnussen line doesn’t include any leather upholstery covers, textured fabrics are rapidly gaining in popularity, he explained.

“Performance fabrics are not real big for me, but anything that has texture in it is selling very well,” said Katz.

In the Impact Consulting survey, some 31% of recent fabric upholstery purchasers said contemporary was their preferred upholstery style, which was second only to traditional at 50.9%. No other style category was preferred by more than 7.8% of respondents.

And while 67.9% of respondents said they were either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their purchase, the survey made it clear that the vast majority of consumers don’t know the meaning of one of the most common marketing terms used in the upholstery business – 8-way hand tied.

When asked what the terms meant as it related to upholstered furniture, 65.5% admitted they didn’t know, and another 6.9% incorrectly said it was related to frame construction or cushion fill. Only 27.6% correctly said it was related to springs and support construction.

In a separate survey of recent purchasers of leather upholstery, 8-way hand tied didn’t fare much better. Some 60% said they didn’t know and only 31.1% gave the correct answer.

And the leather upholstery category’s most bandied term – bonded leather – also took a beating. Some 56.7% admitted they didn’t know the meaning of the term “bonded leather,” and another 16.7% incorrectly said the product is real leather that has been processed to improve its performance. Just 26.7% correctly said “bonded leather” means the product is not real leather.

“There remains confusion and misinterpretation in today’s market relative to bonded leather, leather-like articles and performance covers emulating a leather look,” said Leather Italia’s Campbell. “Many retailers are working very hard to transition back to an all-leather article and building that back into their culture.”

Campbell said he would like to see leather upholstery vendors and retailers put more emphasis on all-leather covers, which would help retail sales associates and consumers better understand the category.

“Understanding the benefits of an all-leather article is a must,” he said. “Marketing the all-leather category with an attractive presentation within a store is also necessary to add validity to the message.

In the survey of recent leather upholstery purchasers, 23.3% said they would be willing to pay an additional $200 for furniture that is 100% leather, and the same percentage said they would be willing to pay more than $200 extra.

Another 16.7% said they were willing to pay $150 more, while 13.3% said they would pay an additional $100.

A related question asked how much they would expect to pay “for a good quality leather sofa.” Fully 27.3% said more than $2,000, and 45.5% said $1,000 to $1,999. Only 18.2% said they expect to pay $600 to $999, while just 9.1% said less than $300.







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