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Larry Thomas

Leather business remains strong as new players enter category

The Belfort sofaThe Belfort sofa from Leather Italia headlines a new program featuring eight-way, hand-tied construction and all-leather covers.
HIGH POINT - A plethora of leather upholstery resources - including several new entrants in an already-crowded field - kept buyers busy at market here as they attempted to keep the category's sales momentum going.
     Exhibitors said showroom traffic was good, and most dealers remained upbeat following a strong first quarter. They're hoping products introduced here will keep cash registers humming into the summer and fall.
     "Despite all the negative things out there, I'm still doing good business," said Michael Parasmo, president of Prestige Motion, a leather upholstery importer. "I've beefed up my quality story. I'm using better leathers. And it's working."
     Prestige was one of several resources, including Klaussner, Craftmaster, Elite Leather and Drexel Heritage, that showed off significantly expanded leather programs. Z-Line Designs and A.R.T. Furniture, meanwhile, made their debuts in the leather upholstery category, while Nu Mobilia and Premier Furniture made their High Point Market debuts, and Violino showed its line in a new freestanding, 30,000-square-foot showroom building.
     That has only intensified the competition, especially at retail price points of $1,000 to $2,000.
     "We have to differentiate ourselves," said Sam Contreras, CEO of Era Nouveau, which specializes in leather motion products. "We're trying to fit into a niche, as opposed to having something for everybody."
     Contreras said dealers were especially receptive to the all leather covers that are the centerpiece of his company's program - an assessment echoed by Mike Campbell, CEO of Leather Italia.
     "Our new program with eight-way, hand-tied construction, coil-on-coil seating and premium aniline covers received great reviews," said Campbell, noting that the new sofas will hit the key $999 and $1,099 price points.
     Drexel Heritage's new Leather Selections program, on the other hand, targets sofa price points of $1,999 to $2,499. Each of the six sofa groups, seven recliners and two sectionals will be kept in-stock in one leather color, and nine additional colors are available on a special order basis for delivery in 10 to 12 weeks.
     "With this new program, we've selected appealing combinations of leathers, nail head trims and our most popular finishes," said Denise Alala, vice president of Drexel Heritage upholstery. "This allows for great pricing on in-stock frames and a quick turnaround to make both the retailer and customer happy."
     Italian powerhouse Natuzzi, meanwhile, reported success with its new education center, a program that features portable signage, product information and other point-of purchase materials suitable for display in an area of just four meters by six meters.
     "This is designed for those who don't want to do a dedicated gallery, but need more sales tools," said Joe Mussallem, president of Natuzzi Americas. "It was very well received."
     Hong Kong-owned Violino raised its market profile significantly with the opening of its showroom, the first new freestanding showroom building in downtown High Point in several years. Christopher Stevens, newly named president of sales and marketing for North America, said the new facility and its product line were hits with dealers.
     "We wanted to invest in High Point, and we wanted to invest in the U.S. market," Stevens said. "It seems to be paying off."
     Officials at Z-Line said they were very pleased with the reception given their first leather upholstery line, which initially will be available on a container-direct basis, but will be added to its U.S. warehouse program in the coming months.
     "Leather is off to a great start," said Justin Smith, vice president of sales for the new leather upholstery division. "Our retail customers know they can on us to do what we say we're going to do - and ship it on time and with a very low defect rate."

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