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Larry Thomas

Power puts pep in sales of motion seating

HIGH POINT - It's almost impossible to find a car less than 10 years old that doesn't have power steering, power windows and countless other power goodies.
     And before long, upholstery resources believe it will be equally hard to find a furniture retailer that doesn't offer motion upholstery and recliners with power mechanisms.
     In many stores, power mechanisms already account for at least half the upholstery SKUs on the sales floor, and upholstery vendors believe power sales are a long way from peaking.
     "Once you demonstrate power on the sales floor, you've got their attention," said Anthony Teague, senior vice president of sales and merchandising at Jackson Furniture, which makes the Catnapper motion line. "When (the consumer) sees how quiet and fast the mechanism is, it's hard for them to pass up."
     Teague and other executives say sales of power mechanisms are booming even though they typically add $100 to $200 per seat to the retail cost of a sofa, loveseat, sectional or recliner.
     "It's probably not that significant in terms of increased margin, but it's increased dollars for our dealers and ourselves, so that changes the average (ticket) significantly," said La-Z-Boy President Kurt Darrow, whose company began shipping recliners with the Power XR mechanism last month. "We saw significant increases in power last year and we think it's going to continue to go forward."
     Lee Fautsch, vice president of residential furniture sales at Flexsteel, agreed that there is still considerable upside potential.

Lane’s DreamLane’s Dream Machine home theater unit includes two power reclining seats and an optional grommet that accommodates a reading light or tablet computer holder.
La-Z-Boy’s Joshua recliner is one of several chairs that can be outfitted with the new Power XR mechanism.
La-Z-Boy’s Joshua
The high-endThe high-end Elba sofa from W. Schillig includes two reclining seats and a pair of moveable headrests.

     "There's no question that power will continue to grow," he said. "It opens up a whole new category to women, in particular. They appreciate the recent improvements in (motion furniture) styling and the ease of operation."
     The popularity of power is evident by the speed with which producers have redesigned popular upholstery models to accommodate motorized mechanisms. La-Z-Boy, Lane and Best Home Furnishings, for example, offer power as an option on nearly everything in their lines, while Catnapper recently eschewed a dedicated power motion lineup in favor of making it an option on most existing frames.
     "Our power business is double what was in October of last year, when we made the change," said Teague.
     Bo Morrison, director of home theater merchandising at Lane, said home theater seating remains the most popular destination for power mechanisms, but sofas, sectionals and recliners are quickly catching up.
     "I think it's just the tip of the iceberg," he said of current power motion sales. "I believe power is going to continue to grow its market share."
     Morrison and other executives say their experiences in the European market - where power accounts for an estimated 50% to 70% of motion upholstery sales - make them believe power hasn't peaked in the U.S.
     "In Europe, almost everything is power. You practically have to special order it without power," Morrison said.
     Not only is power a popular option with female consumers - who traditionally have turned up their noses at motion furniture - executives say it also has been a hit with younger, tech-savvy shoppers, as well as older consumers who may not have the dexterity to operate a manual mechanism.

The Galveston sofa from Klaussner, which features two reclining seats and a drop-down table, was a hit at the High Point Market in April. The mechanisms are activated with a button (inset) on each side of the unit.
The Galveston
Flexsteel has hadFlexsteel has had success with the Westport power reclining sofa, which features bucketstyle seating and two reclining seats.
The power mechanism in Natuzzi Italia’s Brio sofa is activated by a hidden sensor on the side of the unit.
The power mechanism

     "People are finally getting comfortable with electronics," said Paula Hoyas, La-ZBoy's senior vice president of upholstery merchandising. "Products like this can better their lives and make things simpler for them."
     Hoyas said power's popularity extends to retail sales associates, who have become more confident selling the product, and to store managers, who don't have to worry about service issues with the mechanisms because of their improved quality and reliability.
     "I get emails from the field every day telling me how well they are selling," she said of the new Power XR lineup.
     One objection occasionally heard from consumers surrounds the need to place the furniture near an electrical outlet. Executives say some consumers want the flexibility to "float" the furniture in a room, which can't be done without using an unsightly and potentially hazardous extension cord.
     (It also presents a problem for retailers who don't have electrical outlets in the floors of their showroom.)
     At least two resources - Flexsteel and Palliser - are answering that objection with a rechargeable battery hidden inside of the frame. The unit, which is about the size of a laptop computer battery, can be removed and recharged overnight.
     Lane and La-Z-Boy officials say they have tested several batteries but haven't decided to add one just yet. Morrison, the Lane executive, said the long-term answer may be a wireless remote that controls the mechanism.
     But regardless of how the mechanism is operated, most are convinced the recent growth story for power reclining mechanisms is a long way from completion.
     "We're bullish on power. We think we're in a unique position to be the dominant player in that area," said La-Z-Boy's Darrow. "You will walk into our stores and see power front and center."

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