This may come as a shock, but you are likely to see the words “motion furniture” and “technology” in the same sentence throughout this story.
Yes, we’re talking about the same motion furniture that, not all that long ago, was limited to basements, man caves, and other areas of the house that were largely out of public view and used only by guys named Bubba.
But today’s motion furniture user just wants a comfortable place to relax after he – or she – comes home from work. And the relaxation begins with the press of a button to open the ottoman, adjust the head rest and even provide lumbar support for that aching back.
And since most people can’t go more than 30 seconds without checking email on their smartphone or tablet, they’re constantly needing a place to charge the device. So a USB charging port is conveniently located in the arm of that same piece of motorized motion furniture, so the user can relax, surf the internet, check email and charge the device – all at the same time.
It’s all about motion furniture for today’s technology-laden, always-on culture. There’s an app for it, too, but more on that later.
“The bridge is being built between our everyday tech lives and our everyday relaxing lives,” said Bobby Jones, director of motion and import upholstery at Klaussner. “The technology is the overall driving force for growth in the category.”
Jones and other executives believe the motion category still has plenty of growing room left. The growth may not be as rapid as it was in the early 2000s when it was being driven by flat-screen television sales, but our rapidly changing technology needs will be a force for years to come.
“That’s where we’re seeing the innovations,” Jones said of the motion category. “You can’t really update too much on the stationary side, so I think motion is where we will continue to see the innovations.”
But stationary upholstery is having a major influence on motion upholstery because producers are designing their motion products to, well, look more like stationary products.
“Our product is much different today that it was just a few years ago,” said Chuck Tidwell, vice president of merchandising and product development at Franklin. “It has the look of stationary, and oh, by the way, it’s got reclining action.”
One way Franklin has achieved that “stationary look” is by adding legs to its motion furniture, a process that Tidwell said isn’t as easy as it sounds. That’s because the product must be designed, in effect, around the mechanism. And with many of today’s motion pieces having as many as three motors (for the ottoman, head rest and lumbar), it presents some significant challenges. But the result makes it well worth the trouble, he said.
“As the styling improves, it’s just going to continue to grow,” Tidwell said of the motion category. “People today usually buy recliners and motion furniture because they want to be comfortable. It’s the stationary look, but has reclining comfort”
A survey of recent motion furniture purchasers by Impact Consulting Services, parent company of Home Furnishings Business, indicates producers are achieving the proper blend of style and comfort. On a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 being the highest on the satisfaction meter, 27.6% rated their purchase a 7, and another 31% gave it a 6.
Only 6% rated their purchase a 1, meaning they were not at all satisfied, while 9.5% gave it a rating of 2, the survey results said.
Interestingly, some 52.7% of respondents said the style of reclining furniture was not an inhibitor to their purchase, but 47.3% said it was. Plus, a surprising 52.6% said they preferred a manual reclining mechanism, and another 16.4% preferred a “push-back” mechanism activated by body pressure. A more modest 31% said they preferred a power mechanism.
Tidwell said around 41% of Franklin’s motion and recliner sales are units that include power mechanisms, while Jones noted that Klaussner’s “fully loaded” motion sofas, which are equipped with a power ottoman, power headrest and power lumbar support, are outselling units with manual mechanisms by an incredible 9-to-1 margin.
“Getting our retailers to commit to flooring at least one piece fully loaded is the key,” said Jones. “It offers a great in-store experience (for consumers). It’s one thing to be comfortable with the power headrest, but once you experience that with the lumbar support, it makes a powerful sales tool.”
And the Impact Consulting survey showed that consumers are willing to pay a little more for these features. The survey said 52.1% of respondents would pay an additional $50 for a power recliner, and another 25.8% would pay an extra $100. And surprisingly, 11.2% said they would pay more than $200 extra for that feature.
So what’s the next hot innovation in motion furniture?
At Franklin, it’s a radically re-designed seating system that makes the product more comfortable and easier to deliver – a win for the retailer and the consumer -- while Klaussner recently unveiled a Bluetooth-based app that allows the user to control the motion sofa through a smartphone or tablet.
Tidwell said Franklin’s new seating system was a huge hit at the High Point Market in April, and its popularity has caused the company to start converting its product line to the new system much faster than originally planned.
“It has really turned our factory upside down. But that’s one of those high-class problems,” he said.
Not only does the new system make its seats more comfortable, the re-design allows the backs of sofas to be removed, which Tidwell said makes it easier to get them through small doorways and stairwells. Plus, if a mechanism ever needs repair or replacement, the service can be done in the consumer’s home. It’s no longer necessary to haul the sofa back to the factory.
“We originally were going to put the new system (only) in our new products, but because everybody wanted it, it’s now going into our new products and best-sellers,” said Tidwell. “And soon, it will be in our entire line.”
Jones said Klaussner’s Bluetooth-based app, called Complete Comfort Control, also was a huge hit at the April market. The free app allows the user to synchronize the seat to a smartphone or tablet and then operate the power mechanisms – all three of them – from the device. Such apps previously were available only with high-tech massage chairs costing thousands of dollars more.
The app includes a memory function that moves the seat to the user’s favorite position, as well as a reset button that takes the seat back to its upright position. Jones said the app is available at no upcharge with Klaussner’s motion sofas, sectionals, free-standing recliners and high-leg recliners.
“It was extremely well received. We’re looking forward to a lot of good retail action from it,” he said.
For relaxing after work or bingeing on a favorite TV show, nothing beats reclining—and American consumers seem to agree. Motion upholstery sales are on the rise with total category sales for 2015 of $11.02 billion, up from $10.48 billion in 2014.
Year to year, the category posted a 5.1% sales increase from 2014 to 2015—up significantly from the 2.7% growth from 2013 to 2014. This upward swing is tracking only slightly less than the 5.4% annual growth of stationary upholstery last year. This year is trending strong as well with first quarter of 2016 up 4.1% over the same period in 2015.
Bradington Young’s 932 Kerley
Ultimately customizable, this luxury motion collection can be configured as a sofa or sectional and is available in leather, fabric, leather and fabric combo, or COM. It features manual and power options as well as charging stations, cup holders and storage trays. Design choices include arm style, wood finish and nailhead trim.
Ashley’s 38401 Austere
When it comes to contemporary styling, this power reclining upholstery series lives up to its name. It features a tailored silhouette, sporty jumbo stitching, nailhead trim, a “weather-worn” finish, and a one-touch power mechanism.
American Leather’s Hudson
Part of its Style in Motion collection, this ergonomically designed motion group can be configured as a sofa or sectional. It features a wall-hugging design, a clean-profile mechanism, continuous support for head, back and legs in one fluid movement, an articulating power headrest, a stainless steel power control with back-lit LED and USB port, and a choice of classic (23”) or European (35”) seat cushion width.
Combining luxury and comfort, this power motion sofa is shown in “Caress 27” leather. It features two fully reclining power seats with hidden controls, coil cushioning, attached backs, nailhead trim, and decorative stitching on the backs, seats and arms. Matching reclining loveseat and reclining chair are also available. Suggested Retail is $1,799.
Ekornes’ Stressless Panorama
Strong and streamlined, this motion sofa features Balance Adapt technology enabling each chair back and seat to automatically adjust the seated position according to body movement. Suggested retail with a mid-grade leather is $5,795.
Flexsteel’s 1559 Jude
This best-selling power reclining group features smooth reclining and adjustable power headrests. Other options include a USB port located at the center of each power button, cup holders, and a storage compartment.