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Larry Thomas

Buyers on hunt for better-quality leather at High Point Market

HIGH POINT - Increased interest in better-quality leathers is driving buyers to leather upholstery showrooms at the High Point Market as they seek to improve margins and freshen sales floors.
Exhibitors say buyers are looking for products that will make their stores stand above their competition, and they're honing in on higher-grade covers as well as lighter, brighter colors and fresh contemporary and transitional styles.
"They're looking for new, fresh ideas and concepts," said J.T. O'Rourke, sales manager at upper-end resource W. Schillig. "It's nice to see the enthusiasm and energy in our showroom."
O'Rourke and several other executives said showroom traffic has been brisk since late last week - well before the official Saturday opening - as buyers eagerly sought out product introductions.
"Market is going well. Although overall attendance may be down, we're building on the momentum from the Milan show, which was a great event for us," said Brad Cates, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Natuzzi.
Cates said Natuzzi is enjoying success with a pair of motion sofas with high-leg designs that project the image of stationary upholstery, as well as a new sofa lineup that hits the opening price points of $2,999 for the company's Italian-made Natuzzi Italia line.
"We're trying to maximize the amount of seating for smaller living spaces," Cates said of the new group.
Simon Li reports similar success. The company, best known for its traditional styles, is branching out with a new mid-century modern collection at market.
"We feel there's a need for more contemporary styles in our line, but with the scale and comfort that today's consumers demand," said Dwight Hardison, vice president of marketing.
The mid-century pieces hit retail price points of $1,199 to $1,799 for sofas with all-leather covers, Hardison said.
Also doing well with higher-end goods are American Leather, which is unveiling a home theater seating system that retails for about $2,900 per seat; El Ran, whose biggest market hit has been has been an all-leather sofa retailing for $2,499; and AICO, which is reporting continued success with the Mia Bella by Michael Amini line of leather upholstery that was unveiled in Las Vegas.
Martin JF Chapman, AICO's director of leather development, said Mia Bella has been a winner because of its unique designs and top-quality components. The line now has 24 seating groups - including four unveiled here at market - and Chapman pointed out that the best-selling model is a sofa retailing for about $3,999.
"Nothing has been taken out. It's all about style and design," he said.
Sheldon Lubin, president of El Ran, said buyers are responding positively to his company's renewed focus on upper-end products, which is believes is the key to success in an increasingly competitive leather upholstery market.
"We're all high-end. That's how we stay in business," Lubin quipped.
The American Leather home theater program, named Comfort Theater, builds on the successful Comfort Recliner that debuted two years ago.
Each seat in the Comfort Theater configuration includes two power mechanisms that separately operate the headrest and ottoman. They can be controlled by a wireless remote.
Other key market introductions can be found at Elite Leather, which is featuring a pair of new sofas and several new, lighter leather colors, and at Palliser, which is rolling out the My Comfort gallery program.
Palliser's new program allows retailers to display a leather recliner, sectional, sofa and home theater group in a 720-square-foot space.
"We're up about 10% in attendance," said Palliser President Cary Benson. "We had a great first quarter, and this market should set us up well for the rest of the year."
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