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From Home Furnishing Business

What Sells: The Room of Youth

For most people, purchasing furniture is a major investment. One that—as with automobiles and appliances—they want to last for many years.

In generations past, parents might have been reluctant to spend a lot of money for something their children would outgrow in a few years; manufacturers have taken notice, and are designing and producing youth furniture that’s versatile and sophisticated, and can grow with a child into adulthood or be used later on in a guest room.

“Consumers are shopping for pieces, not complete room sets. With social media, DIY shows, and Pinterest, customers have more confidence in mixing and matching pieces and styles,” says Scott Sullens, vice president of sales and marketing, Legacy Classic Furniture.

“Because of this trend, we focus on every piece we make. Can this piece stand alone? Will a customer buy just this bed? From our customers and retail salespeople, we hear consumers asking for more queen beds in the youth bedroom,” he adds. “If a customer has the room, they prefer to buy a queen bed because they are looking down the road for the room to be used as a guest room. The adult case pieces may not fit, but if the queen fits, they are buying it.”

Looking beyond age and gender

One key to success is being gender-neutral, says Barbara Rogers, director of marketing, Bivona & Company.

“Our bestselling collection by far is the Dolce Kids + Teens/Dolce Babi Lucca collection, which was the first set to introduce the farmhouse chic look to youth and baby. The youth furniture is available in Weathered Grey and Seashell White, and we just introduced Weathered Brown for Baby. What is unique about this set is that it is suitable for either gender,” she says. “Most youth furniture is either boy- or girl-specific; by designing a set that is gender neutral, it provides longevity.”

Crystal Nguyen, vice president of merchandising at Coaster Fine Furniture, has seen different finishes, such as grey and metallic, becoming popular. Looking ahead, she sees “earth-tone colors, and outdoor and nature-inspired” palettes. Designs targeting teens have also grown in popularity, she adds.

Safety and function, notes Neil MacKenzie, director of marketing at Universal, are also important components of today’s youth furniture.

“We believe [consumers] are looking for something that’s safe and functional and neutral, meaning it’s not overly gender-specific, so it can be used a number of ways for a longer period of time,” he says.

“From a product standpoint for Smartstuff, we are continuing to focus on safety and function,” MacKenzie adds. “Our recent introductions are a commitment to function with looks that can be more appealing to a wider audience. We believe this provides more flexibility for the parents and the child, as the product can transition between ages seamlessly with the benefit of accessories and soft goods.”

‘A bridge to the next generation’

How—and where—people shop for youth furniture is changing as well.

“Unfortunately, we are seeing youth departments shrink, as there is a misconception about people not shopping for youth furniture. People are and will shop where they can see it, and if they can’t find it, they will go online,” says Sullens. “Retailers supporting a good youth assortment are doing well in the category and they recognize the importance of bringing that customer in the store.”

“We are always working to improve our website experience and we’ve expanded our efforts in social media to better connect the consumer to our website, where they can find a local retail partner to see, feel, and touch the product firsthand. We also have invested in marketing kits for retail partners to leverage our assets at the local level as part of their own social/digital plans,” says MacKenzie.

“It is an interesting thought to think that a customer in their 30s could be walking into a traditional furniture store for the first time in their adult life,” says Sullens. “Think about it … they may have had hand-me-downs, gone to Ikea, bought RTA, shopped online, etc. They don’t go to a furniture store until their child needs a ‘grown-up’ bed. This category is a bridge to acquiring their next generation of shoppers.”

Standing out

Consumers are looking to stay on-trend with their home furnishings, and that extends to the youth category. And the youth themselves are helping to make those decisions.

“Youth furniture has changed in that children are very involved in helping make purchase decisions. They are connected and do research online as well as watch the home shows with their parents, and therefore want to be on-trend with the latest styles in furniture,” says Rogers.

“We have noticed that a great deal of youth furniture is a sea of sameness. It is entry-level stuff that doesn’t have a lot of style or it is very expensive and trendy,” she adds. “We offer the consumer style and quality at a moderate price, which is good value.”

Customers are becoming more sophisticated, and buying youth furniture is no exception, says Sullens. “That means on-trend styles, better finishes, functionality, and unique hardware,” he says. “The challenge is that the customers want all these features at a price. Youth as a category is challenging. We have positioned ourselves well with a good-better-best strategy within the category.”

Value is always in style with the consumer, and one way to provide added value is offering storage space.

“Storage options are vital for today’s living,” says Rogers. “We offer many different storage options in [the Dolce Kids + Teens/Dolce Babi Lucca] collection as well as utilitarian items like a simple desk and chair and a hutch that can be used as a hutch or a bookcase.”

At Universal, says MacKenzie, “we see continued focus on solving the needs of safety and function in a package that addresses space challenges, and provides flexibility and options for the consumer to have a style that works for their child and home.”

Another factor for success in the youth category? Quick delivery. “Being able to offer 15-plus youth collections that mix with our entire adult line is just one of our points of differentiation,” says Sullens. “Having a domestic warehouse is another.”

Ingredients for bestsellers

Clean lines, versatility, longevity, and value seem to be the watchwords for bestsellers in the youth category.

“Serendipity’s gray-white finish and its clean lines give it breadth and longevity, because you can’t assign a gender to this collection, or an age,” says MacKenzie. “It gives both the retailer and consumer the power to create multiple styles using soft goods and accessories.”

Coaster’s bestsellers, says Nguyen, offer “affordable value, versatility, and durability,” adding that consumers are looking for value-added amenities such as USB charging ports and storage, as well as “designs that are more mature.”

Style, function, and value are what Sullens sees in Legacy Classic’s bestseller. “We are not the lowest cost provider of youth furniture in the industry, we know that,” he says. “That being said, one of our bestsellers is Chelsea by Rachael Ray, a sophisticated moderately priced collection. What makes this group? It’s modern, has clean lines, and a beautiful custom knob hardware finished in soft gold. Our bestsellers consist of all the key factors mentioned above—they have great style, great finishes, can ship quickly, and represent a strong value to the customer.”

“We believe Lucca is popular because it is on-trend without being trendy, which gives it longevity and it’s well-made furniture at a good value,” says Rogers. “We offer the collection in the top finishes and provide features such as soft-close drawer glides, five-piece wooden drawer boxes with dovetailed joints and corner blocks, as well as dust covers. Offering variety in on-trend styles is important to being successful, as well as a good value.”

Looking at the data

Data from Impact Consulting, parent company of Home Furnishings Business, shows that the majority of youth furniture was purchased when the child was 13 years or older, said 33.33% of respondents. Tying at 20.83% were age groups 3-5 years and 6-9 years. Ages 10-13 saw 16.67%, and under 3 years was 8.33%.

When asked “What specific youth furniture pieces did you buy?”, 29.17% said a full/queen headboard; a bunk/loft bed and a dresser both received 25%; a nightstand, 12.5%; a twin headboard and a desk with computer accommodation, 8.33% each; and a theme bed/headboard, 4.17%. The largest response, 33.33% was for “other” furniture.

The majority of respondents, when asked, “Which of the following statements best reflects your thinking at the time of purchase regarding an alternative future use for this furniture?”, said it was purchased for use during childhood only—37.5%. Responding that it was purchased with the idea the child could use it in their first apartment or at school was 29.17%, while 25% said the furniture was purchased in hopes of using it in a spare bedroom one day. Just 8.33% responded that it would have “other” use.

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