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Upholstery Holds its Own in Tough Economy

LaCrosse’s 6323LaCrosse’s 6323 queen-size sofa-sleeper in casual contemporary is targeted to sell at $799.
LAS VEGAS - This week isn't expected to be a business barnburner, but stationary upholstery executives think the furniture show here will be reasonable, given the shape of the economy and the time of the year.
     The waning days of summer usually are slow for retailers, and buyers are expected to act accordingly.
     But several manufacturers said sales have been ticking up or have at least been holding their own despite the lethargy in home buying, continued unemployment, rising gas prices and the uncertainty of nations unable to pay their bills - including our own.
     Mid-priced upholstery maker LaCrosse Furniture's sales are up for the year but its president and CEO, Chris Podschun, said, "It's like the Matterhorn ... one day it's up and then it sucks ... the next day it's up and then it sucks."
     The world's problems aren't making LaCrosse shy with new product. The Kansasbased company will introduce a value-oriented, customizable sofa line with two groups each at the $499, $599 and $699 price points, plus 10 frames in its Designer's Choice line at the $799 and $899 price points, with 30 correlating covers, pillows, fringes. It also has new leather and motion.
     In addition, the company, known for its sofa-sleeper program, will introduce seven value sleepers that include one twin at $549, two in full at $599 and four in queen at $599 to $699.
     "I truly believe it will be a normal Vegas market," Podschun said, adding that he expects strong turnout from Oklahoma, Kansas and other western and Midwestern states. "If retail is good right now, it will be a good market and vice versa."
     Best Home Furnishings will show a sectional it introduced at the April High Point market in bonded leather. Otherwise it will be light on new product because samples weren't ready for Las Vegas, said sales manager Greg Secard. But its April introductions will still be new to the 35% to 40% of Vegas marketgoers who didn't come to High Point, he said.
     He's unsure how this week's market will shape up.
     "It's hard to say. It seems like every year people try to put markets down and say they're not going to be very good," he said. "Then they turn out to be pretty good shows. Everything seems to be OK. There's not a lot of gloom and doom out there but there is a lot of uncertainty. People will still go to shows, so I think we'll have a decent market."
     Secard said Best will end up with a 6% increase for the first half "even though we've been going up and down."
     Bill Mork, president of Marshfield Furniture, said business began picking up in January and the company's Wisconsin factory has been working overtime the past few weeks.
     "It's a huge change," Mork said. "It's kind of like going from survival to overtime."
     Marshfield will be adding seven new SKUs to its successful Simply Yours collection - which already offers six backs, seven arms, contrast welts and other your-choice options - bringing the collection to 30 SKUs, all at one price. The company also is adding a new rustic lodge group.
     In the lodge category, "We're actually designing our own fabric because there are so few (mills) doing it now," Mork said.
     Regarding the business outlook, he said that "things are incrementally better. The question is, are they sustainable? My humble economic opinion is that, until we get unemployment down and consumer confidence increasing ... we're still going to be bouncing along."
     Flexsteel is a big believer in the Las Vegas Market and will have more space and more introductions here than ever before, according to Lee Fautsch, vice president of residential sales.
     The company is expanding its permanent quarters by 3,000 square feet, to 12,000 permanent square feet plus another 5,000 of temporary space. It will introduce four motion groups, nine recliners and a feather/foam cushion option (with Pacific Coast Feather) on its entire domestic line.
     Recliner introductions will usher in price points that are significantly lower than any in the company's past, Fautsch said.
     He said the company expects 4% to 5% sales growth in its current fiscal year, which just started July 1. "There are days when retail is very good and days when the retailer doesn't see a customer," according to Fautsch. "It's choppy."
     Robert You, general manager of Focus One Home, said that summer business is "tough right now" as consumers focus on their children and vacations. Even so, You is consoled that, "At least it's not dipping."
     The Corona, Calif.-based manufacturer will have two to three new groups this market. "We always have new product," said You. "Normally it's a group, a modular, but sometimes just a sofa and chair."

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