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Clint Engel

Industry leaders eye new campaign to gain consumer share

LAS VEGAS — Representatives from home furnishings associations and other industry leaders met here during the recent Las Vegas Market to discuss ways to boost the industry's share of the consumer's dollar.

Corvallis, Ore.-based Blackledge Furniture organized the July 31 meeting, which was attended by about a dozen people, including representatives of the National Home Furnishings Assn., the Western Home Furnishings Assn., the Home Furnishings Independents Assn., the International Sleep Products Assn. and the American Home Furnishings Alliance.

"There was general agreement that the economy we face in coming years is going to be challenging, that we continue to lose a percentage of the consumer's disposable income, and it's time to look at doing something about it," said Eric Blackledge, co-owner of the retailer.

The group also agreed that given the state of the economy and financial challenges facing retailers and suppliers, any industry-wide marketing initiatives will have to be affordable.

Blackledge said attendees talked about low-cost guerilla marketing options, including using the websites of manufacturers, retailers and industry associations to distribute broad-based consumer information videos.

"The purpose of the videos we're talking about is to promote the idea of spending more money on decorating your home, to try to excite consumers about what a beautiful home can do for their lifestyle, their family," Blackledge said. The goal is to "make furniture more interesting for them, but also to provide more consumer education to make them more confident consumers of home furnishings."

This wouldn't be the first time the industry has attempted to come together for a broad campaign, although the efforts have usually fallen short due in part to lack of financial resources and staying power.

But one thing the new initiative has going for it, which earlier efforts didn't, is the power and cost-effective reach of the Internet.

Blackledge said HFIA would contribute the Home Furnishings Council trademark and logo to be used in a new effort. The retailer association acquired the assets of the then-fading marketing arm of the industry in 2009.

Blackledge said U.S. consumer spending on furnishings and durable household goods - as a percentage of total spending - has declined 36% over the past 30 years. Meanwhile, the national unemployment rate is stuck above 8% and personal income growth is expected to remain low for the next decade. In addition, young consumers have different values and are less focused on the home than are their parents and grandparents, he said.

"It is time to educate toddy's consumer about the benefits of spending more of their disposable income on furnishing their home," Blackledge said.

The next step for the group, he said, will be a conference call in September, followed by a meeting the Friday before opening day of the October High Point Market.

He said the group is interested in recruiting other participants, including representatives from related home furnishings segments such as flooring and accessories. It isn't specifically seeking manufacturers or retailers at this point, unless they are interested in joining early. Indeed, Blackledge said he would like his own initial coordination role to fade.

After High Point, he said the group hopes to expand into making programs available to manufacturers and retailers

"The bottom line idea is if everyone will put a little bit of money into the effort, we can produce some good quality consumer education that everyone can use and distribute through their websites, which is a very inexpensive distribution method," he said.

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