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Larry Thomas

Buyers interested in better-grade leather, seating

Alpha sofaThe Alpha sofa is one of two seating groups being produced at Simon Li’s first-ever U.S. factory.
HIGH POINT - An interest in better-grade leathers and improved seating systems kept leather upholstery showrooms busy at market as buyers searched for ways to avoid low-margin entry-level products.
     Producers said they had positive feedback on seating groups at middle to upper end price points, noting that buyers viewed such items as a ticket to higher margins and fewer service issues.
     "It was a good market for us. We expanded our use of memory foam (as a cushioning material) and people were very enthusiastic about it," said Chris Stevens, president of North American sales and marketing at Violino.
     Stevens said memory foam cushioning, which is now used in about 90% of his company's stationary and motion sofas, is popular because the product has instant consumer recognition and delivers a recognizable comfort benefit.
     "People who previously said they didn't need it now are saying they must have it," Stevens said. Sofas with leather/vinyl covers and memory foam cushioning feature starting retail price points of $799 in stationary and $999 in motion, he added.
     At the higher end of the market, the focus, as expected, was on all-leather covers. American Leather, for example, reported success with a new collection by designer Stanley Jay Friedman, while Bradington-Young, a unit of Hooker Furniture, found a winner with a lineup of domestically produced leather recliners retailing for $1,499 to $1,999.
     "We had rave reviews," said Mike Delgatti, president of Hooker Upholstery. "There was a lot of interest in the premium recliner segment." Marshall Evans III, president of sales at mid-priced resource Leather Italia, said interest in all-leather covers was high in his company's showroom, as well.
     "Three or four years ago, we had a lot of dealers who were all bonded (leather), but now they are moving toward all-leather," Evans said.
     Palliser President Cary Benson agreed, noting that one of his company's biggest market hits was a leather recliner designed by Rick Lee that retails for $1,499.
     "What we're finding is that people want good value, but not the absolute cheapest thing that's available," said Benson.
     Evans said Leather Italia was especially successful with a new line of leather swivel chairs that will be part of its quick-ship program.
Leather SectionalThis leather sectional is a key component of HTL Furniture’s new Muse line of European contemporary seating.

     "It was a good order-writing market," added Leather Italia CEO Mike Campbell. "Attendance probably was down a little bit, but we had good quality buyers in the showroom"
     Another middle to upper end resource, Simon Li, also had a strong market and received favorable feedback on several new motion groups and the first two seating groups from its new U.S. factory.
     "Our customers are starting to realize the value proposition we represent," said Dwight Hardison, Simon Li's vice president of merchandising.
     Several new leather upholstery resources focusing on middle and upper-end product also reported successful debuts.
     Officials at HTL Furniture said they had success with the company's new European contemporary brand called Muse, while Bracci, a new high-end line imported from Italy, got off to a good start and its first ever market.
     "Our product was well received. The customer recognizes the difference," said Bracci president Mauro Bracciale, a 20-year veteran of the leather upholstery business. "We're bringing Italian design that's scaled for the North American market."
     Sofas in the Bracci line retail for $1,999 to $4,999, while sectionals retail for as much as $12,000.
    Stefanie Lucas, president of the Domicil brands at HTL, said the Muse line has been well-received by buyers seeking to add a contemporary line that blends well with other styles.
     "The idea of using contemporary isn't as scary to people as it used to be," Lucas said.
     Also making a quiet debut at market was Avalon Furniture, a leather upholstery line built in Cambodia at a factory owned by Luca Ricci, the founder of DeCoro. Mike Bradshaw, vice president of merchandising and operations for Avalon, said the new line utilizes hardwood frames and top grain leather covers. He said no leather splits or bonded leather is used.
     Only a few pieces from the line were shown at market, but he said a full rollout will take place at the April market.

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