HIGH POINT — Motion remains hot in seating, but the stationary category got special attention this past market as vendors looked to expand customer reach and fill gaps in the supply chain, particularly for leather.
Universal saw double-digit increases in attendance relative to October market last year, according to Sean O’Connor, senior vice president of sales, and its upholstery segment — burgeoned by its recent acquisition of domestic manufacturer Southern of Conover — contributed to that.
Universal showed five formerly Southern groups, which will help set the company up as a custom-order resource in coming months.
“Seventy percent of our business already comes out of our domestic warehouse,” O’Connor said. “We’re using the groups we showed to feed the (Conover) plant with immediate production. That product will be available in the warehouse by the end of the year.”
Several factors have kept Norwalk growing during a choppy year at retail, and those are part of a consistent strategy that continues at market.
“First, our OEM strategy has helped us successfully navigate a fairly stagnant time,” said CEO Caroline Hipple. “Second is our design emphasis. We built our comeback on a great fabric collection and appealing to interior designers both in the stores and in their own businesses. Designers are out there selling customers, or their customers are looking for them, and they are selling entire projects.
“Third, is our business focus on both our sales people and the retail sales associates. We want them working together for merchandising, marketing or floor plans. It’s a focused effort on everyone sharing their information to make it better.”
Upholstery is one of Four Hands’ strongest-performing categories in the past few years. Now accounting for 20% of the company’s business, upholstery has seen recent year-over-year growth of 30% according to Director of Upholstery Jessica Green.
“Our two highest-growing categories are outdoor and upholstery,” she said, adding that Four Hands focused its seating on two trends. “One is what we call ‘Sculpted Modern,’ which speaks to interesting shapes: curves and angles. The second is ‘Modern Naturals,’ which sees us tip-toeing toward an eco-conscious consumer.”
An example of the former is the Dom, an angular sectional with chaise, wedge and an asymmetrical sofa in a Four Hands-exclusive fabric that creates intriguing combinations and shapes. Pieces in Modern Naturals such as the Darby and Orson sofas feature an “up-cycled,” post-consumer denim that address customers with environmental concerns while offering a subtle visual touch.
Expanding customer bases
Several manufacturers looked to grow business this past market with new customers and channels through licensing agreements.
For example, landing the upholstery component of celebrity chef Rachael Ray’s Rachael Ray Home collection helped Aria Designs broaden its customer base at market. Retailers were hitting the showroom to see the seating designed to coordinate with the license’s strong case goods collections at Legacy Classic.
“We’ve seen dealers who carry the case goods, who are new dealers for us,” said Robin Hoff, vice president of sales and marketing. “We’ve seen people this week we’ve targeted now for several seasons.”
At the high end, Taylor King also garnered new customers with its licensing collaboration with Lauren Liess, who has a major social media following in the design community.
“We had so many young designers come through who didn’t know Taylor King,” said President Del Starnes. “There was not a single piece in the collection that didn’t sell.”
That led to Taylor King’s best market attendance ever.
“Saturday was our record day for attendance at High Point, and then we topped that on Sunday,” Starnes said. “Then, Monday replaced Saturday as our No. 2 day ever.”
Spectra Home looked to the Eleonora collection, its collaboration with Russian-born designer Eleonora Stefantsova, to expand business with the design trade and design-oriented retailers.
“It’s a departure from where we were product-wise,” said Director of Merchandising and Product Development Greg Curry. “It’s more contemporary with more curves and softer lines than what we’re known for. It gives us access to the design trade and a whole different customer – a little more high-end, more sophisticated in their taste level.”
Spectra President Jim Telleysh noted that with its first licensed line, it needed a unique style story for the company.
“This will be the first of several collaborations Eleonora wants to do in the furniture industry,” he added.
With several major Chinese leather upholstery producers not matching tariffs and/or concentrating on building business outside the U.S., a number of exhibitors were looking to fill the supply gap. Those include Leather Italia USA, which expanded its reach in contemporary goods with its new Lusso collection.
“We’ve gained a number of slots organically because of the inability of retailers to receive fulfillment from other suppliers,” said CEO Michael Campbell. “We’ve upped our inventory levels 40% in response to the demand.”
Low leather prices are helping as well.
“It lets us get a lot more aggressive in bringing out new products, both for motion and stationary,” Campbell noted. “The question now is ‘Mike, when can we get it?’ and our strong warehouse position plays into that.”
United Furniture Inds./Lane Home Furnishings also looked to pick up share in leather this market with a domestic stationary program in top grains. Executive Vice President Jay Quimby said the industry had confused consumers by throwing around terms and products such as “bonded leather.”
“The consumer understands what top-grain leather and solid wood are,” he said, adding that Lane’s new leather line also has “enhanced, deeper seating with correlating accents.”
In addition, domestic production across a wide geographical footprint will help Lane service accounts with the new line.
“This is manufactured in California, Mississippi and North Carolina,” Quimby said. Service “is the reason we have 19 manufacturing facilities.”
I’m Powell Slaughter, senior editor at Furniture/Today. I returned to the publication in January 2015 after nine years of writing about furniture retail strategies and best practices at a monthly magazine focusing on home furnishings retail operations. Prior to that, I spent 10 years with F/T covering wood furniture, the last five of those as case goods editor. Upon my return to F/T, I developed coverage of the logistical and service aspects of the furniture industry as well as following the occasional, home office and home entertainment categories. In April 2018 I took over the upholstery category, with responsibility for coverage of the fabric and leather stationary and motion upholstery, recliners and massage chair categories.