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  • Thomas Russell

Functional buffets top chinas in sales

HIGH POINT - Is the china cabinet going the way of the bedroom armoire?
     Suppliers of formal dining room say that appears to be the case, although many still carry them in their lines.
     What is moving ahead of the china cabinet as the next most popular item in a dining set, other than a table and chairs, is the buffet.
     One reason is that buffets are smaller in scale than a typical china unit, and their pricing reflects that. One upper-middle priced resource sells buffets at between $1,299 and $1,499 retail, compared with $1,999 to $2,499 for china cabinets.
     But even at the lower price points, today's buffets offer value-oriented features ranging from leaf storage and curio display shelving to wine and stemware storage.
      A.R.T. Furniture has incorporated such functionality into its units for several years and they are selling well as a result, said Bill Sibbick, vice president of sales.
     "We are putting in more function and that gives a little more incentive to buy the piece," Sibbick said.
     He said that when a full dining set is sold today, about 75% of the time it is with a buffet and 25% with a china unit. Fifteen or 20 years ago, china cabinets were sold with 80% of table and chair sets, he said.
     Sibbick also said that while buffets aren't as price sensitive as some other case goods due to their design and functionality, the extra bells and whistles haven't really driven the price up. By adding a leaf storage feature, for instance, "you have to make it a couple of inches deeper, but it hasn't changed the overall price that much," he said.
     Don Essenberg, vice president of West Coast sales for Universal Furniture, said consumers with larger homes and larger dining rooms will tend to buy both a china and a buffet unit. Consumers with smaller dining rooms lean more toward the buffet alone.
     The most important functional element of buffets, he said, is storage. Second is having an ample serving area.
"As with any type of function, you have to think it through and make sure it is meaningful to the consumer," he said, adding that buffet units also can back up to a sofa in open living rooms that connect directly to dining areas.
     Riverside Furniture sells about three buffet/server units for every china, said Mike Charlton, senior vice president of product development and merchandising.
     "You have to have a pretty big dining room to do both and a lot of people don't," he said.
     Riverside offers an entertainment function in a buffet/server unit available in Coventry, one of its bestselling collections. In addition to having silverware storage, the center drawer also holds electronic components such as a DVD player. The piece has a back panel with open slots for ventilation and wire management.
     At 58 inches wide by 38 inches high, the piece is about two inches taller than a typical buffet, which allows a TV on the top to be seen over dining chairs.
     "What it does is give the retail salesperson a story to talk about in terms of additional function," Charlton said. "Anytime we can incorporate multiple functions into a case we are going to do it."
     Stanley Furniture hasn't brought out a china unit since 2009, said Adam Tilley, vice president of product development for adult and youth case goods lines.
     "The china used to be a statement piece, but that is being replaced by lower pieces that are at slightly lower price points and that don't take up as much space as bigger Chinas do," Tilley said, noting that china cabinets haven't gotten much sell-through at retail of late. "People don't display them as much any more."
     At the same time, buffets don't skimp on functionality. Among the features in Stanley's units are door and drawer storage, including felt-lined silverware drawers and wine racks. Some also incorporate mixed media elements such as stone tops.
     While not citing specific price points, he said that buffets also are a third to half the selling price of a china unit.
"But if you are not selling the china, it doesn't really matter," he said.
     American Drew and sister La-Z-Boy company Kincaid Furniture also view buffets as increasingly important to their dining room business.
     "Even those folks that buy the large traditional formal dining, those consumers are not buying the large china cabinets the way they used to," said Steve Kincaid, president of Kincaid. "What they want is something that is not as fussy and more functional."
     Chinas do still sell in the line, but Kincaid said buffets and sideboards - particularly those with wine storage and marble tops - are selling much better.
      American Drew President Jack Richardson said his company also has seen buffets become more important.
One popular decorative option for buffets is a stone top, which also is suitable for plates and other serving materials, he said. He added that another piece, a decorative mirror, also works well when hung on a wall above a buffet, adding a nice vertical element to the room - something the china cabinet once provided.
     "Buffets give you a lot of hidden storage and I think younger couples aren't displaying fine china in hutches," Richardson said. "They may have some accessories, but the days of showcasing the family china have gone by the wayside."

UniversalUniversal Furniture’s Castella collection, which launched in October, includes this buffet in cherry veneers and select hardwood solids, shown here in an antique black finish. It features wine and other storage capacity.
This buffet is part of Stanley Furniture’s Arrondissement collection. It is made with rustic cherry veneers and has a maple inlay on the top. It has plenty of storage capacity
This buffet
Coventry is one
Coventry is one of Riverside Furniture’s bestselling collections. It includes this server and hutch, which is shown in a Dover White finish and also comes in a driftwood tone. Made with elm solids and ash veneers, the server piece also can stand alone as an entertainment unit.
A.R.T. Furniture’s Old World collection includes this buffet unit. It is made with cathedral cherry and avodire veneers and has herringbone inlay, burnished edges and a hand-rubbed finish. It also has wine storage and curio display cabinets on each end.
A.R.T. Furniture’s
This buffet

This buffet is part of American Drew’s Barrington House collection. It is made with cathedral cherry veneers with maple and ebony inlays and comes in a lightly distressed heirloom cherry finish. Featuring a silver tray in the top drawer and wine storage in the center, it also has hidden storage in the back for table leaves. It retails at $1,399.

Kincaid Furniture’s
Cherry Park
Kincaid Furniture’s Cherry Park sideboard is made with solid cherry and has a natural cherry finish. The inset photo illustrates how the company incorporates silverware storage into the case.

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