• Cindy W. Hodnett

Power of Upholstery: Sellers duel for upholstery dollars

Leather stationary sofas lead the way with best selling price point

HIGH POINT - Stationary upholstery is a $12.7 billion industry, and the art of selling sofas has never been more competitive. With price points almost equally divided between low, medium and high, a lot of money is changing hands for stationary seating, and retailers and manufacturers are employing a variety of strategies to attract buyers.
     In retail, El Dorado Furniture, based in Miami Gardens, Fla., has created a niche by implementing "wide area" same-day delivery and boulevard showrooms, in which the interiors are transformed into old-fashioned city streets with benches and street lamps and are surrounded by as many as 20 themed storefronts that open into specialized furniture shops.
     Company officials say that the boulevard concept enhances the shopping experience and is a big customer draw. El Dorado offers style and customization options within the boulevard setting, and upholstery buyer Suen Capo said the company tries to fill voids in the market and remain fresh to consumers.

"We divide our retail space by styles," Capo said. "The traditional stationary upholstery is featured with the traditional case goods, likewise with contemporary. It's all about the fabric combination when it comes to upholstery. We already know what is accepted with our customers and we try to incorporate those designs and color patterns when selecting a frame and combination.
"If a product is right for us, we don't limit ourselves to a certain number of vendors," she added. "We are always scouting for new vendors in all categories that we carry in our stores. If we have an interesting idea, we always give it to the vendor we consider most suitable to create the product."
Manufacturers stress that customization options are crucial to healthy sales figures. Most understand that the era of one-style-fits-all furniture has passed, and many are building business by taking customization in unexpected directions.


         "We are always creating new styles and adding fabrics," said Angelo Marzilli Jr., executive vice president at manufacturer Decor-Rest. "This is an endless process to offer changes and current fashion updates. Customers want their personal selections for their lifestyle, and our customers are influenced with fashion magazines and want their homes to look the same. We offer higher grade fabrics to add glamour and unique different yarns and embroidery."
     Marzilli said Decor-Rest offered lower price points at one point, but found "$399 to $599 price points were not successful."

El Dorado’s Benetti Italia is the Florida-based retailer’s top-selling traditional line.El Dorado’s Benetti Italia is the Florida-based retailer’s top-selling traditional line.Boliya is one of El Dorado’s top contemporary sellers.Boliya is one of El Dorado’s top contemporary sellers.

     "The Decor-Rest upholstery line is medium priced with fantastic looks that are perceived to be high-end," he said. "(The line offers) great value for the price points."
     At manufacturer Emerald Home Furnishings, upholstery Vice President Jeffrey Katz said that the company's "sweet spot" is the $499 to $799 retail price point.
     "Emerald aims for a middle price point," Katz said. "We offer quality and fashion at an affordable price. We have the best construction story at middle price points by offering premium construction including eight-way tied coil seating and all-wood frames. Retailers can attain higher margins with our features, benefits and fashion."
     Marshfield Furniture is in the medium to medium high price range, according to company president William Mork. He said that the company is focusing more on offering custom products, adding that timely responses to materials price increases has become crucial to maintaining financial health.
     "Variable price increases were eating away at our profit," Mork said. "So we tried to work with our vendors, and we had to put in some price increases. A lot of manufacturers were like us and too slow to respond to material increases. A number of us came to that realization at the same time. I think we've finally stemmed the tide of equity erosion.

The CarltonDecor-Rest said sofas like the 2179 offer high-end looks at mid-range price points.
Marshfield’s Essentially
inclueds this sofa at $549
Marshfield’s Essentially Yours line inclueds this sofa at $549 wholesale and chair at $379 wholesale.

     "A big part of our strategy is that furniture has to be memorable, it has to be saleable and it has to be usable," Mork said. "We've taken a more aggressive approach to design, but we have also stayed the course with what we do well. We can offer one piece of furniture for someone in any combination of 500 fabrics. There are a lot of options."
     Michael Thomas and Miles Talbott are high-end upholstery manufacturers and sister companies. President George Jordan said the companies have adopted lean manufacturing strategies to remain competitive, as well as evolving into expanded style choices.
     "Typically, what doesn't work is when we try to spread ourselves too thin," Jordan said. "We have kept our foot on the pedal as it relates to style and will continue to do that, for example, by expanding into brighter color palettes for leather and introducing a new collection of accent chairs. But we have always offered more of a new traditional look, and we have done very well by doing this.
     "I think there is almost a communication gap between what retailers and consumers are purchasing. Retailers are following a lot of trends in the shelter magazines, but new traditional and transitional furniture is a bread and- butter market for us, and our fabrics and frames sell very well day in and day out," he said.
     Jordan said the showroom layout for Michael Thomas and Miles Talbott will be "mixed up a bit" for the High Point Market and will include blue and green, pink and gray and vibrant yellow colorways. He added that the options program offered by the companies allows buyers to "build their own customizable piece," paying homage to the prevailing consumer desire for eclectic furnishings.
     "Social media allows people to see what's out there and people have more ways to get exposed to fashion," Jordan said. "Things like our Benjamin Moore paint finishes allow buyers to update something that's been there forever and the program did very well at the last market. Clean and uncluttered is still very popular, and eclectic is the new norm."

Cindy HodnettCindy W. Hodnett | Upholstery/Style Editor

As the Upholstery/Style Editor for Furniture/Today, I spend my work hours studying the sloping curves of sofa frames, the intricacies of fabric and the nail head trim and button accents that function as jewelry on a piece of upholstery. I research the companies that bring these things together for retailers, and ultimately consumers, and interview industry leaders about their business strategies and where they think furniture is heading in the future. And when traveling, I provide a sneak peek at what I'm seeing, whether at international markets or in High Point or Las Vegas.

I look forward to sharing what I see and I hope you'll feel free to do the same. Email me at chodnett@furnituretoday.com or follow me on Twitter @CynthiaWHodnett.

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