• Larry Thomas

Better quality leather still making strides

The upperend VoloThe upperend Volo sofa from Natuzzi Italia includes a mechanism developed for high-leg designs.
HIGH POINT - Increased interest in better-quality leathers drove buyers to leather upholstery showrooms during market as they sought to improve margins and freshen sales floors.
     Exhibitors said buyers were looking for products to make their stores stand above their competition and they honed in on higher-grade covers as well as lighter, brighter colors and fresh contemporary and transitional styles.
     "They were looking for new, fresh ideas and concepts," said J.T. O'Rourke, sales manager at upper-end resource W. Schillig. "It was nice to see the enthusiasm and energy in our showroom."
     O'Rourke and several other executives said showroom traffic was brisk well before the official April 20 opening day, as buyers eagerly sought out product introductions.
     "Market went well for us. Although overall attendance may have been down, we were 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.
     Chris Stevens, president of North American sales and marketing at Violino, said buyers were almost immediately drawn to new sofas that feature memory foam cushioning and higher-grade leathers because those items can deliver better margins.
     Non-promotional goods are important to retailers, he said: "They want to make dollars. They don't want to exchange dollars."
     Cates said Natuzzi enjoyed 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.
Distinctive stitchingDistinctive stitching patterns and a full pad-over chaise helped make the Jordan sofa a winner for El Ran.

     "We're trying to maximize the amount of seating for smaller living spaces," Cates said of the new group.
     Simon Li reported similar success. The company, best known for its traditional styles, branched 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 enjoying success with higher-end goods was American Leather, which unveiled a home theater seating system that retails for about $2,900 per seat; El Ran, whose biggest market hit was an all-leather sofa retailing for $2,499; and AICO, which reported 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 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 responded 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 were at Elite Leather, which featured a pair of new sofas and several lighter leather colors, and at Palliser, which rolled 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 were 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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