Parents and grandparents often recoil at the notion of spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars on furniture that a child may outgrow in a few years.
They face a similar dilemma with clothes, shoes and toys, but at least those items can be passed along to a sibling, sold at a yard sale, or donated to charity. It’s not as easy to do that with a captain’s bed.
That makes youth furniture a much tougher sell at retail – so tough that some furniture retailers have abandoned the category.
But many youth furniture suppliers, for obvious reasons, think that’s the wrong approach. They say youth bedroom, just like master bedroom furniture for adults, is transitioning into an item business. That means retailers should focus on the items consumers want most – and de-emphasize the 20-sku collections that once were a staple of the category.
“Gone are the times when Mom and Dad went into the big box store and bought bed, dresser, mirror, nightstand and chest for the new little girl,” said Fran Scheller, vice president of merchandising and product development at full-line furniture resource Bernard’s. “That has definitely impacted the dollar volume of the youth business.”
But Scheller and other executives say the category is still quite vibrant – as long as manufacturers and retailers can deliver what the consumer really wants. That usually means a sturdy, safe bed and something that has lots of storage.
“If you look at the demographics there are still a lot of kids out there who need a place to sleep and a place to put their stuff,” said Scot Coor, vice president of marketing at Trendwood, a Phoenix-based youth furniture producer. “Most people want to buy something that’s a durable, safe product, but bottom line, they don’t want to spend a whole lot on it because they know the kid is going to outgrow it or tear it up.”
That’s why Coor and Scheller said their companies are now focusing on beds -- in many cases designing them with storage space that’s either under the bed or part of the headboard.
One of Bernard’s best-sellers, for example, is a design called a lounge bed that features a bookcase storage unit built onto one side of the bed. That allows it to be placed against a wall, which saves space in the center of the child’s room. Plus, it has storage drawers underneath the bed.
“People are still buying functional pieces that give them a variety of uses and lots of storage options,” Scheller said.
Don Essenberg, president of full-line resource Legacy Classic, said his company’s Legacy Classic Kids line is still experiencing growth, but acknowledged youth furniture is “a tough category” because products typically occupy a small footprint and separate, distinct section of a retail sales floor. That makes it essential for a retailer to promote the category heavily in order to be successful, he said.
“People who do the best with kids’ furniture are the ones who advertise it,” said Essenberg. “You have to let that mother whose out shopping for youth furniture know that you have it.”
“You had better be really good if you’re going to do youth, because the competition is fierce,” Scheller added. “It’s not like master bedroom, which is a fashion statement. It’s more like mattresses and recliners. It’s price driven and it’s need driven.”
Essenberg said his company’s line, which is at the upper end of the market, also is seeing less interest in purchases of multiple pieces, and said desk sales, in particular, have weakened.
“Desks aren’t an automatic. It’s not the essential SKU in the kids’ bedroom anymore,” he said. “It about sleep and storage now.”
Coor said Trendwood’s desk sales also have been sluggish, but said he has seen a slight uptick in sales of models that have a power supply and a charging station.
“For a desk in a kid’s room today, you better have a charging station. If you don’t, you’re selling an antique,” Essenberg quipped.
Research by Impact Consulting Services, parent company of Home Furnishings Business, showed that only 13.4% of consumers who recently purchased youth furniture were interested in adding a desk. But 26.5% of those surveyed were interested in buying a second bed – often a bunk bed or loft bed.
And interestingly, a majority of those surveyed were hoping their youth furniture would last a lot longer than the youth for whom it was purchased. Some 29.2% of respondents said they hoped to use the furniture in a spare bedroom some day, while another 36% said they hope the child can use it as an adult in their first apartment or at college.
In addition, the survey said 26.2% of respondents purchased their furniture for a child who was over age 13, while 17.9% bought it for a child age 10 to 13, and 17.6% bought for a child age 6 to 9. The highest percentage of purchases, however, were made for a child age 3 to 5, who was the recipient of 29.5% of the purchases.
Essenberg and Scheller said the majority of product from their companies are purchased for girls, which is not surprising because white remains the most popular youth furniture color.
“We still do well with the classic white girls’ groups in our line, whether they’re a little more transitional or the typical ornate Victorian look,” Essenberg said. “But the last couple of years, we’re also starting to do well with girls’ groups that are not in pure white. Some of the taupe and putty colors are doing well.”
Coor said Trendwood’s furniture is made of solid Ponderosa pine and has more of a unisex look, and noted that his company doesn’t keep track of whether the user is a boy or girl.
“Most of our product is developed around a youth’s need, be it a boy or a girl,” Coor said. “Neutral colors are not going out of style. They seem to be the most popular.”
By Trisha McBride Ferguson
There’s nothing pint-sized about the growth of today’s youth furnishings market. The category has experienced steady growth, keeping up with casegoods and tracking slightly behind upholstery. In 2015, youth sales grew 4.9% over the previous year—more than double the 2.1% growth experienced between 2013 to 2014.
Whether it’s the steady growth of U.S. births or consumers’ renewed interest in creating distinctive kid-friendly spaces, the trend is upward. As the children of baby boomers move through their prime child-bearing years, the slow but continued increase in the number of U.S. babies will propel the infant furniture and “Under 5” industries. While the recession slowed rates, births are now projected to grow 3.2% over the next five years and continue a slow ascent over the next 30 years.
The “Under 5” age segment has the highest projected population increase. By 2020, this segment is expected to grow somewhere between 3% and 5.2 %, increasing from 20 million to 21 million. Over the next 10 years, youth ages 5-9 are expected to grow 2.1%.
As one of the industry’s steadily growing segments, today’s youth and baby furniture markets offer retailers and suppliers the opportunity to reach consumers at an earlier age and build lifetime relationships and brand preference.
Standard Furniture’s Magnolia Home
The BOHO styling of Joanna’s Playhouse Canopy Bed brings grown-up style to youth spaces. Available in two finishes (white and salvage), it features a pitched, roof-shaped canopy top, open window pane headboard panel, shiplap head and footboard panels, and sturdy square posts. Suggested retail is $899 in twin.
Walker Edison’s Youth Desks
Small in scale yet big in style, these popular desks offer offer a generous work surface and are constructed of sturdy powder-coated steel and colored, tempered safety glass.
Samuel Lawrence Furniture’s Room Gear
The perfect retreat for today’s active youth, “ClubHouse” group features oak veneers, bronze pipe-inspired accents and antique brass-finished hardware.
Legacy Classic Kids’ Fulton County
Offering under-bed drawers, shelving and cubbies—the Bookcase Lounge Bed is packed with storage. It owes its reclaimed vibe to poplar solids with oak, pecan, hickory and ash veneers complemented by oil-rubbed bronze hardware. Suggested retail is $1,299.
Universal Furniture’s SmartStuff
Fun and functional, the Varsity Bookcase has a corkboard right door covering two adjustable wood shelves. It also features a self-closing lower drawer and a “Jersey” finish over birch veneers.
Capel’s Sailor Boy
Inspired by the fusion of water and sky, this casual area rug unites unites tranquil blues and greens. Handcrafted in North Carolina, it’s reversible and made of cotton chenille. Suggested retail for a 5’ x 6’ round rug is $349.
Trendwood’s Hideout Bed
American-made and kid-tough, this imaginative bed is built of solid Ponderosa pine and available in three stain finishes. It features four under-bed storage drawers and matching case goods are available. Suggested retail for bed as pictured is $699.
Elements International’s Alana
Fit for fairytales, this collection offers a button-tufted, faux leather headboard, delicate bow-tie moldings, and crystal hardware. Storage options include generous drawer sizes and a trundle bed option. Suggested retail is $599.
South Shore’s Mobby
A Twin Loft Bed with stairs is paired with a Twin Trundle bed on casters to turn every bedtime into an adventure. Its streamlined silhouettes are finished in a Morgan Cherry finish. Suggested retail for the Twin Loft Bed is $541.99.
Stanley’s Stone & Leigh
Taking a cue from the popularity of gray in today’s home décor, the Clementine Court collection is designed to grow along with its owner. A classically styled crib converts to a full size headboard and footboard and is also available in a creamy white finish. Suggested retail is $699.