• Larry Thomas

Is it leather or something else?

HIGH POINT - Furniture industry baby boomers who recall the famous 1970s advertising campaign "Is It Live or Is It Memorex?" might be experiencing a bit of déjà vu when they look at leather upholstery.
     Is it top-grain leather? Bonded leather? Leather splits? Polyurethane?
     At times, even the most seasoned leather veterans admit it's hard to tell the difference.
     But while purists are horrified at the thought of using anything but top-grain leather, many others say the use of bonded leather or other non-top grain covers is a key part of their merchandising strategy.
     Executives say top-grain is fine for middle and upper price points, but it's nearly impossible to hit the key promotional sofa price points of $799 to $999 without using a non-top-grain product on at least a portion of the item.
     "Bonded leather is doing extremely well for us," said Chuck Tidwell, vice president of merchandising and product development at Franklin. "It allows us to hit a price point that we used to hit in opening price-point leather."
     Tidwell said the company has considered using a low grade of leather for the seat and back cushions of its entry-level products, but said recent manufacturing improvements have given many bonded leather covers a better look and feel than an entry level grade of leather.
     "At that level, the leather is so heavily corrected that it will chip and peel," he said.
     Anthony Teague, senior vice president of sales and merchandising at Jackson Furniture, agreed, saying that bonded leather is also more durable and easier to clean than genuine leather.
     "Especially if you have children or pets, bonded leather just makes so much more sense than leather," said Teague.
     He said the top-selling sofa frames in the company's stationary Jackson line and its Catnapper motion upholstery line both have padded bonded leather covers that have the look and feel of a thick, heavyweight leather.
     "That's where the action is for us," he said.
     Other upholstery resources are taking a slightly different approach. Best Home Furnishings, for example, often combines bonded and top-grain leather to hit key entry-level price points (bonded leather is used on less-visible back and side panels), while leather upholstery stalwart Natuzzi last year launched a separate brand, Softaly, that uses much the same technique.
     Resources such as Klaussner, Broyhill and Violino, meanwhile, have begun merchandising sofas with all-leather covers that typically hit retail price points of $1,199 to $1,799.
     Instead of using bonded leather on the back and side panels, they keep the all-leather mantra by using leather splits - the less-expensive layers of a cowhide below the top grain.
     "We're not looking to be a bottom feeder. If anything, we're trying to take the price points up a bit," said Chris Stevens, Violino's president of sales and marketing in North America.
     Paul Peters, product portfolio director for Broyhill's upholstery business, said his company was very pleased with last month's launch of a special order leather upholstery program that features domestically made all-leather sofas at $1,299 to $1,699. He said the new program will complement Broyhill's line of bonded leather sofas, which hit price points as low as $899.
     "Top-grain still has an extremely important role to play in the marketplace," Peters said. "We think there's a great story to tell at the middle price points."
     He acknowledged there could be confusion between the new program and its bonded leather line, which Broyhill calls Performance Leather, and said it's important for the company to explain the differences to dealers.
     "I think it would be naïve to say there hasn't been some confusion ... but we clearly communicate what Performance Leather is," said Peters.
     Greg Sicard, sales manager at Best, said his company takes a similar approach with its bonded leather product, which Best calls Performa- Blend.
     "We purposely chose that name so we can explain (to dealers) what it is," he said. "As long as you are being honest with everybody, there shouldn't be an issue with it."
     Lane officials did the same things at last month's High Point Market with the introduction of several recliners and sofas covered in Tru Leather, a product the company says is 85% leather and 15% polyurethane coating.
     According to literature distributed at market, Tru Leather is manufactured by extracting the collagen fibers found in leather scraps and then weaving the fibers back into the leather to create a consistent thickness, color, feel and pattern.
     Lane says this process maximizes yields from leather hides and eliminates the tanning process, which has been criticized as unfriendly to the environment.

One of the most
One of the most popular items in Broyhill’s new special order leather upholstery program is the Gannon sofa, which has a top-grain, all-leather cover.
Lane’s new Marco recliner is covered with Tru Leather, a product the company says is 85% leather and 15% polyurethane coating.
Lane’s new Marco
The Treynor sofa
The Treynor sofa from Best Home Furnishings, which uses bonded leather on the back and sides and top grain leather everywhere else, hits the key $999 retail price point.
Ekornes uses a top grain leather cover that is cut and sewn in its Norwegian factory on the upper-end Buckingham sofa.
Ekornes uses
The Milano
The Milano sectional from Franklin features a bonded leather cover called Smart Leather, which allows the company to hit key promotional price points on various configurations.
Klaussner builds the all-leather Sherman sofa domestically and makes it available in more than 30 colors with 21-day shipping.
Jackson Furniture’s
Jackson Furniture’s popular Brantley sofa has a padded bonded leather cover, which the company says is easier to clean and more durable than many grades of genuine leather.
One of Violino’s newest allleather sofas, which retails for $1,499, features memory foam seat cushions and down back cushions.
One of Violino’s
The Brescia
The Brescia sofa from Omnia uses a rich, all-leather cover that enhances its transitional styling.

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