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Larry Thomas

Motion, leather among stars in upholstery spaces

LAS VEGAS — Buoyed by a modest uptick in business and an optimistic corps of retail buyers, upholstery exhibitors were decidedly upbeat as they wrapped up the winter furniture market here.

Many reported heavy traffic, especially on Monday and Tuesday, the first two days of the show. And several said they were shopped by dealers on Saturday and Sunday before the official opening.

Exhibitors said motion showed no signs of relinquishing its status as the

The new U-750 leather sofaThe new U-750 leather sofa, with its distinctive curved front design, was a market winner for Best Home Furnishings.
fastest growing upholstery category, although leather appeared to be regaining steam as prices have stabilized. Plus, stationary frames featuring fashion forward fabrics also attracted attention from buyers.

"Business is still tough, but retailers can see light at the end of the tunnel, and they were buying," said Phil Cooper, executive director at leather upholstery resource Comfort Design. "We were slammed on Monday."

Those sentiments were echoed by Greg Sicard, sales manager at Best Home Furnishings, which produces stationary and motion products.

"We're finishing up a great January, and last January was a strong one, too," he said.

Sicard said motion, particularly power motion, was strong at market, and said dealers surprisingly showed interest in leather colors other than brown and black.

"A lot of dealers have told us they are showing red on their floor because it's something different - even if they wind up selling the sofa in brown," he said.

Lane also reported success with its motion lineup, particularly a new home theater group called the Transformer, while fast-growing Southern Motion attracted considerable attention with an expanded recliner lineup that featured memory foam seat cushioning.

Bo Morrison, director of home theater merchandising at Lane, said the Transformer blends elements of home theater seating with motion furniture. It features a drop-down table in the center seat that has everything from reading lights to a charging station.

"The dealer response was fantastic," said Morrison.

One of the largest upholstery introductions at market was at Homelegance, which dramatically expanded its upholstery lineup with 60 new frames - about 40 of which are already in stock domestically.

"We made a huge investment in inventory before the first sofa was ever sold and it seems to be paying off," said Jamie Collins, executive vice president of sales and marketing. "One of my reps was in a panic because he ran out of order pads."

Much the same "problem" was evident at Palliser, the prominent Canadian producer making its Las Vegas Market debut.

"Our West Coast reps thought they were having an extra Christmas," quipped Cary Benson, president of sales and marketing. "We saw many people who do not shop us in High Point. Several told us they hadn't seen the line since the San Francisco Market ended (in 2005)."

Flexsteel executives said they had very positive feedback from an expanded lineup of frames covered with a faux leather fabric it calls Nuvo Leather. At market, the company showed several of its most popular motion styles with new Nuvo Leather covers.

"This part of our line is absolutely on fire," said Lee Fautsch, vice president of home furnishings sales. "It allows us to return to the price points we had abandoned as leather prices went up and up and up."

And with leather prices stabilized for the time being, executives say it should create a clear distinction between leather and faux leather covers, and allow for leather to be positioned as a premium product.

"Our business was good last year, and we're off to a good start this year," said Peter Bjerregaard, president of the U.S. division of upper-end producer Ekornes. "The market was great."

Leather was also strong at LaCrosse, which had success with seven new seating groups. The groups featured sofas with eight-way, hand-tied seating systems and typically will retail for $1,299 to $1,399.

"We were very pleased with market," said Chris Podshun, president. "I'm sure we doubled our traffic from last year."

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