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Larry Thomas

Sources touting all-leather at High Point Market

Chinese tannery price drop narrows cost gap

HIGH POINT - Hoping to recapture market share from products using bonded leather or faux leather covers, leather upholstery resources are focusing on sofas with all-leather covers this week as they tout the benefits of top-grain leather.
Executives say many tanneries - particularly those in China - have been aggressively reducing prices in recent months, which has helped narrow the cost gap between sofas with genuine leather and leather-like covers.
All-leather sofas with retail price points of $1,099 and $1,699 - a rarity as recently as a year ago - are widely available at market, and a few have broken the $1,000 barrier.
With bonded leather and faux leather sofas typically hitting $799 to $999, executives of many leather upholstery resources believe the perceived value of leather will convince consumers to step up to the genuine article.
"It's exciting that we now have the opportunity to offer the dealer better values in better leathers," said Lee Fautsch, vice president of residential furniture sales at Flexsteel. "This is true in both motion and stationary."
Flexsteel, Klaussner and Era Nouveau are among the vendors doing well with leather sofas at $1,699 and $1,899, while companies such as Leather Italia and Premier Leather Klaussner are reporting success with $1,199 to $1,399 price points.
"We feel like the consumer who will spend money on top-grain leather will spend a little more to get what they want," said Nathan Munton, chief sales officer at Era Nouveau.
Executives say the renewed interest in all-leather should help retailers boost sales per square foot and give consumers a better product - the same benefits that have long been touted by resources that specialize in higher-end goods that have always used all-leather covers.
"For us, it's about fashion and design," said J.T. O'Rourke, national sales manager at upper-end producer W. Schillig. "We're finding that, as the economy begins to improve slightly, retailers are more apt to look at a new frame and take a chance on one they wouldn't have considered a couple of years ago. That's encouraging."
O'Rourke and others said that lighter and brighter leather colors also are sparking interest among retailers. Various shades of gray and blue are among the most popular, but brighter hues such as white and tangerine also are attracting attention.
"Of course, brown is still what drives the business, but colors like teal, blue and gray are very strong," said Mike Delgatti, president of Hooker Upholstery, which includes upper-end leather upholstery resource Bradington-Young.
At market, Delgatti said Bradington-Young is having success with a new lineup of swivel chairs and tub chairs, while another upper-end resource, Chateau D'Ax, is reporting positive response to a pair of new power motion groups.
"The market is off to a good start," added Brad Cates, senior vice president of Natuzzi's high-end Natuzzi Italy line. "Our dealers aren't looking for just a price point. It's a program that conveys a lifestyle message."
Other early market winners include a new sectional in the Urban Loft collection of smaller-scaled furniture at Elite Leather; a revamp of the popular Comfort Sleeper program at American Leather that includes a new proprietary mechanism; and the new City Living collection at Simon Li, which features smaller-scaled sofas that are 75 inches to 83 inches long.

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