Details Matter to Millennials
Home & Textiles Today Staff -- Furniture Today, October 25, 2013
Depending on who you ask, there are multiple answers to the question, "Is there any difference between a $500, $5,000 and $15,000 sofa?" Additionally, many responses will follow a query of, "What can suppliers and dealers do to attract the next generation of consumers?"
But when the two questions are considered as a whole, i.e., how can high-end manufacturers and retailers gain Millennial consumers, the answer can be summed up with one word - details.
The Millennials are defined as between the ages of 18 and 32 per a recent Furniture Today/Apartment Therapy survey. Three-fourths of the survey group are working full-time and 20% have incomes of $100,000 or more. According to the 2013 Furniture/Today Consumer Buying Trends Survey, Millennials made up 14% of all furniture and bedding buyers and accounted for 12% of the total dollars spent in 2012.
Clearly, the Millennials are a powerful consumer force. But everyone agrees that they shop differently and that they are looking for something that is not their parents' furniture.
"We can't return to the way we did business before, nor should we," said Paul Watson, president of the Americas for high-end furniture source Christopher Guy. "Business changes and the people that don't change go out of business. The furniture industry is the last to embrace any kind of change, but the challenges have always existed. It's just a different set of circumstances.
"As an industry, we've done a terrible job of getting the message out about an aspirational life," Watson said. "But you look at things like housing, and most high-end homes are going to have a Sub-Zero refrigerator in them. In the furniture industry, we expected our dealers to get the message out, but that is not the most effective way to do it."
At Christopher Guy, an interactive website, social media and online videos have become ongoing marketing tools that accompany print advertising. Watson said each medium brings value to attracting Millennial consumers.
"We find that print media is as important as social networks," he said. "For example, our ads in Architectural Digest help us achieve brand awareness and this creates demand from consumers. We speak to our core audience about the value of good design and the cachet of luxury. Just as no one buys an Hermès scarf to have something to wear around the neck, no one buys a Christopher Guy chair because she needs something to sit on. "
"The Millennials are interesting because they are not easy to pin down," said Cecil Adams, creative director for Currey & Co. "I think it's still a little early to figure out what their priorities are, but there is an interest in authenticity and handmade craftsmanship. In terms of high-end products, I feel like this generation is interested in quality-not necessarily, heirloom, but making sure if they are spending money, then they are getting something worth what they are spending."
Century Furniture's Alex Shuford III said that high end Millennial consumers make purchases based on their lifestyle values.
"We believe Millennials shopping for luxury products are seeking authenticity of product, brand and experience," he said. "They have an affinity for the artisanal, the personal, the local. These qualities are impacting every experience they seek out, from where they choose to eat to what they choose to place in their homes."
Century's national sales manager, Jay Paschall, agrees.
"I think the Millennials are less focused on their homes and more interested in other aspects of their lives - travel, entertainment, technology," Paschall said. "I believe they may be more accepting of the volatile world and more flexible, looking at things as less permanent. Good design and price/value are not opposite thoughts. This group understands the global nature of the world."
Century addresses Millennial consumers with more relaxed finishes and less formal designs. Paschall said that more high-end business is being done through interior designers and that creating brand awareness is key for high-end companies.
"We're seeing a renewed interest in our input into retailers' displays, and it seems that we are more involved than in recent years," he said. "I think this will allow us to become more of a brand to new consumers. After all, I believe their buying power is affected greatly by branding in their everyday life, and many retailers are trying to become better branded."
Swaim is a full-line luxury supplier that was founded in 1945. Upholstered sofas range from $6,000 to nearly $15,000, and Vice President Rhonda Swaim Warren agrees that the high-end retail landscape has changed.
"The big department stores that used to sell high end have gone very cost-conscious," Warren said. "High-end is not out there for people to go see and sit on like it once was. Now, it's in the showrooms and through designers."
Casey McDaniel is the marketing director for Swaim and is also part of the Millennial demographic. She said that online shopping is embraced by Millennial consumers in every category, adding that high end furniture retailers are beginning to adapt their floors accordingly.
"You can sell case pieces from photos, but upholstery is a little different," McDaniel said. "More retail floor space is given to upholstery because people still want to sit on it before they buy."
Swaim is introducing 35 new SKUs of upholstery at the fall High Point Market, many by John Mascheroni, an Italian designer who has developed furniture for Swaim since 1974. Warren said Mascheroni's style fits lifestyle trends.
"When John started with us, the scale of furniture was much smaller," Warren said. "Then in the 1980s and '90s, everything went much bigger. But now, it's going back to the way it was."
Smaller scale is one design element that attracts Millennials. Another is clean, simple silhouettes and "real" designer furniture, according to Parker Goss of furniture source Highland House.
"Our partnership with Candice Olson is a huge part of our strategy to attract the high-end Millennial consumer," Goss said. "Millennials appreciate Candice's clean design ethic, her vast experience as a practicing interior designer and her longstanding presence on TV."
"Millennials are connected electronically all over the world, through other electronic means outside of a website," said Richard Graves, vice president of sales and marketing for upholstery source Paladin Inds. "We are in the midst of restructuring our social media to reach even more 20-to 30-something consumers."
While technology has created a global search engine for all consumer purchases, the high-end furniture category is still designer driven. Designer Lillian August said that social media is an important first step for designers, and retailers, to embrace when reaching out to Millennial consumers.
"The blogging network has changed everything," August said. "You have to be conscious of social media; that information channel is so important. Years ago, a lot of people were shopping with their mothers when they bought furniture, but that is gone. Now, everything often starts online, and it creates a need for consumers to be extremely savvy. The designer is more of a crucial part of the process in high-end furniture purchases than ever before."
A polished chrome frame adds an edgy detail to Paladin’s accent chair.
The Marcoux sofa by CR Laine is an updated classic with neotraditional style. Shown in Lenno Indigo Belgian linen with nail tape white for contrast, it retails for $5,232.
Currey & Co. designs products like the Merevale chair to appeal to the Millennials’ preferences for authentic, hand-crafted items.
The Kino sectional by Candice Olson for Highland House highlights the designer’s modern take on traditional with classic proportions and a clean profi le. Retail is $3,999.
Upholstery manufacturers emphasize the importance of unique details in high-end product lines. This box chair by Dorya features distinctive design elements from all sides.
A sculptural wood inset detail defi nes the new twin-seat that will be introduced at market by Christopher Guy. Retail is $7,476.
This detail on the back of this sofa by Swaim Upholstery allows fl exible room placement. Pricing is $5,630 COM or from $6,155 to $14,891 in varying fabric grades.
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