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Clint Engel

Sales trends spur hope at High Point Market

Business bouncing back after dip in February

HIGH POINT - Retailers, encouraged by the housing market rebound and improving sales trends, are headed to the High Point Market with fairly lengthy shopping lists and an eye on some key categories, color and style trends.
For some stores, business started off well this year but dipped in February as the realization of a payroll tax increase sunk in for consumers, and tax refund checks were delayed for many. But some retailers now say business popped right back up last month, helped by an early Easter and the arrival of those tax refunds in mailboxes.
A better consumer mood has helped liven the buyer mood just in time for market. Retailers say they will be seeking more color - both in upholstery and case goods - as well as more modern looks, more eclectic accent pieces and more American-made goods.
The popularity of motion upholstery - particularly power motion - shows no sign of abating, and there will be even more emphasis on leather and sectionals, if that's possible. In case goods, home entertainment is on many shopping lists, including the big wall units that had fallen out of favor a few years as smaller consoles made their run.

Power and color

"From an upholstery standpoint, two words: power and color," said Oscar Miskelly, partner in Jackson, Miss.-based Miskelly Furniture.
The power motion category got off to a slow start but the consumer has come around, he said. Women and older consumers in particular find it easier to operate that manual motion.
Now the entire motion category, including sectionals, is eating into the tradition stationary sofa side, thanks to good looks from Southern Motion, Ashley, Franklin and Jackson/Catnapper, for instance. Miskelly buyers will be checking those showrooms and others for the latest.
At the upper end of its price spectrum, the reception for power motion has been even stronger, Miskelly added, "because there's just not that much of a price difference between a $1,799 manual motion sofa from Flexsteel to the step-up $1,999 for power."
Shopping for colorful looks will be equally important, he said, adding that the fashion apparel industry is leading upholstery and that bright colors - including orange, yellow and turquoise shades - are helping product stand out on the sales floor. Among the color leaders for Miskelly are Jonathan Louis and Fusion, he said, adding that "Ashley is finally coming around, too."
What's more, color has splashed over into case goods, with products from imported case goods and accents supplier Bramble and others doing well.
"It's been a nice change to add some color to the world of merlot that's out there," Miskelly said.
In addition, entertainment wall units have come back with a vengeance, he said. The retailer had all but vacated the category a few years ago, but consumers are back in the market for the large systems, and Miskelly's business in wall units - with piers and light bridges - is up 50% year to date. Count on its buyers to shop for fresh looks here, from companies such as Aspenhome at the high end of its price range to Oak West at the lower end.
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based City Furniture, which like many retailers reported a nice pickup in business in March, won't be looking for any dramatic changes in style trends, but the retailer will continue hunting for more modern and contemporary looks with an eclectic touch achieved by mixing in upholstered beds, for instance, or varied finishes and standout accents.
Traditional bedroom and dining room groups are becoming less important, President Keith Koenig said. "We clearly see the more sophisticated customer is getting more and more eclectic," he said.
The company, which operates multi-line City Furniture as well as Ashley Furniture HomeStores, recently pushed into higher price points with Bernhardt galleries in its City stores. Koenig said Bernhardt is a perfect example of a source that creates that eclectic look - with multiple finishes and unusual accents - and said his buyers are eager to see the latest from this new resource.
City also does a lot of business with motion upholstery importer Man Wah/Cheers and believes President Steve Barr "has some wonderful things up his sleeve we're excited to see," Koenig said
"Motions, better leather, more sectionals are just a bigger part of our business," he said. Cheers, HTL, Natuzzi and a few other sources are doing well on City's floors and will be shopped closely.
In case goods, City will aggressively shop Casana, which Koenig says always has a "great lifestyle and modern contemporary offering," as well as the latest contemporary designs from Idea Italia.
He said he's also excited to see what's new in the Metropolitan Home collection from Lacquer Craft USA. City already has committed to the collection and expects it to ship in the next couple of months.
"I think it will be a home run on our floors - well designed, great quality and good value," he said. "And it's another brand like Bernhardt, that I think will resonate with customers"

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