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Sectionals Becoming Hot Seats

Affordable’s three-pieceAffordable’s three-piece fabric and faux leather sectional, priced at $899, is the company’s No. 1 product.
HIGH POINT - Manufacturers can thank big screen TVs, Wii games, home movie nights and fashion-forward younger shoppers for making sectional sofas one of the hottest sellers in home furnishings today.
     Electronics have been driving sales of sectionals to the point that several manufacturers say they now top other products in unit sales or gross dollars. Manufacturers and retailers like the multiple-piece sales tickets, and consumers seem less cautious about spending when they plunk down big money for two, three, four and more pieces that make up a sectional.
     Seeing the opportunity, manufacturers are adding more sectionals to their lineups and retailers are giving them more space on their floors.
     "We have two of them in the line now and are introducing another in October," said Greg Sicard, vice president of sales and marketing for Best Home Furnishings. "We have been getting more and more requests from dealers in the last six months to a year."
     The demand cuts across the price spectrum, from the upper end to the promotional. At Affordable Furniture, CEO Jim Sneed said a three-piece $899 fabric and faux leather sectional has been the Mississippi promotional manufacturer's No. 1 seller for the past year.
     "It's amazing," said Sneed. "The amount of them that we sell just blows my mind."
     Likewise for Klaussner, where the three-piece Fletcher has become a top seller.
     "We have stationary sectionals starting at $999 and up but it's a promising sign for a category when you see one of your top sellers at $1,999," said Len Burke, vice president of marketing.
     "Sectionals have been growing for us over the last several years and it just continues to get better," he said. "Over the last 12 months it's become more important to our business every day."
     Cara Cox, vice president of merchandising for England Furniture, echoes that sentiment. "We have had great success with sectionals for several years now and it seems they just keep growing as an important category for our line," she said.
     Manufacturers are in agreement that the economy has been the chief reason for this trend. Instead of spending
Rowe FurnitureRowe Furniture introduced this Dorset sectional at the Las Vegas Market in August.
$80 to take a family of four to the movies or $100 for dining out, consumers are investing the money into electronics they can enjoy at home. And, of course, something to sit on to enjoy the TVs and games.
     "With the marriage between electronics and furniture, I think sectionals are going more into great rooms and entertainment rooms," said Klaussner's Burke. "People are staying home and utilizing their rooms more."
     Kerry Lebensburger, president of sales for Ashley, said the company initially noticed an upsurge in sectional sales in its Furnish 123 stores, which appeal to a young demographic.
     "We saw young people who had never seen a sectional before and they looked at a sofa and loveseat and thought, ‘That's what my parents had.' So all of a sudden this was new to them, plus they looked more comfortable, more loungy."
     Lebensburger added that the increased popularity also can be attributed to a greater use of the family room.
     Ashley intends to take further advantage of sectionals by introducing a dozen new ones at the market next month, eight in leather, he said. Lebensburger said the industry is saturated with microfiber and blended leathers and consumers are turning to real leather for durability needed in the family room.
     "It's the influence of European design, which is leather. If you go around the world, that's what they're selling right now ... despite the price. The prices get stupid," he said, "but this is the room they're using."

"We saw young people who had never seen a sectional before and they looked at a sofa and loveseat and thought, ‘That's what my parents had.' So all of a sudden this was new to them, plus they looked more comfortable, more loungy."

Kerry Lebensburger, Ashley Furniture Inds.


Kerry Lebensburger

     Stefanie Lucas, CEO at Rowe, said consumers are focusing on the family room, since they use it every day. "They need seating, they want comfort and flexibility, so that's why you're seeing more sectionals."
     She said Rowe is getting more requests to produce sectionals based on in-line sofas, "which means to me retailers want to be able to sell sofas and sectionals off one style."
     But consumers want the furniture to fit the room, not the room to fit the furniture, said Lucas. That requires sectional pieces to be versatile, such as a chaise ottoman that can flip to either end of a sofa.
     "Consumer expectations go up," she said, "and they say, ‘Hey, I want it this way and I want as many options as possible.' It's requiring us as manufacturers to offer more and more options and more and more configurations."
     The typical sectional revolves around a casual look with deep, comfortable seating and easy care, often with covers in microsuedes or performance fabrics.
     While the look is easy to categorize, it's much harder to be definitive about other features - stationary vs. motion

Klaussner’s FletcherKlaussner’s Fletcher sectional, retailing for $1,999, is one of the company’s top sellers.
construction, or fabric vs. leather covers. Where a short time ago the value equation gave an advantage to leather (because the price of leather was low), most manufacturers think the rising price of leather now gives fabric an edge.
     Whatever the features, the sectional business is staying hot.
     "For the last two years it's been phenomenal," said Affordable's Sneed. "Sectionals used to be something you had to have to round your line off. You sold them but nothing like normally like your No. 1, 2 or even 3 regular upholstery groups."
     He also noted that a 42-inch by 42-inch cocktail ottoman that can be sold with sectionals is big enough to eat on, harking back to the days families gathered around the dinner table.
     It also takes him back to the day "of what we used to call a pit (modular) group. Those pit groups were hot as a firecracker. For a lot of people who had them it was their bread-and-butter, and they sold the crap out of them. It's a cyclical business ... like a tie - wide or narrow - it'll come back."

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