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Table lines offer new materials, functions

Heath E. Combs -- Furniture Today, June 13, 2013

HIGH POINT - Occasional tables have long offered a hot mix of values to drive retail traffic.
     Today's trends in the category include a growing mix of materials, and the increasing popularity of contemporary styles. Sources also report a growing number of groups with lift-tops or other function, such as casters to accommodate motion upholstery. Small cocktail tables, nesting tables and groups with pull-out shelving are also popular.
     Most sources in the occasional category also say that these days, they tend to sell the bulk of product out of warehouses rather than container direct.
     Joff Roy, president of Jofran, said that most of the company's occasional table sales are as individual items - although the three-pack of a cocktail and two end tables is still important for retailers trying to hit a promotional price.
     "Whether it's because of budget or space issues, the flexibility of individually packaged tables is hard to beat," Roy said, adding that the occasional business is dominated by brick-and mortar retailers, which account for about 95% of the category's sales for Jofran.
     The company offers more than 50 occasional tables, with most sales flowing through its Boston and Seattle warehouses.

This Hudson occasional
This Hudson occasional table from Standard Furniture offers mainstream industrial styling, tubular metal legs and sheet metal framing in an aged steel color. Table tops and shelves have a planked, reclaimed wood look.
This mixed media No. 172 group from Jofran with X-metal base at stretcher ends and simulated wood grain retails for $199.
This mixed media
This No. 55092 occasional
This No. 55092 occasional group from World Imports has a faux marble treatment that company executives say is doing well at retail.

     Marc Luber, president of World Imports, said his company primarily sells three packs and offers a limited selection of individual tables. The company has about 35 table groups in its line.
     About 80% of occasional sales to retailers take place through the company's warehouses, while the balance comes through mixable containers with matching dinette groups, he said.
     He said lead times for the containers are longer, "but larger retailers use it as an opportunity to maximize margin, or buy for peak times (and) advertising."
     About a third of Steve Silver's occasional tables are sold in three-packs, and the product tends to be more promotionally priced. The company has about 100 tables in its current catalog.
     Chairside end tables have become a growing part of Steve Silver's occasional table assortment, according to Ed Addleman, a member of the company's purchasing team.
     Retailers buy occasional tables predominantly from the warehouse, he added.
     Jofran is having success with chairside tables after introducing a $99 retail standalone chairside program early last year to complement its accent chair program.
     Standard Furniture offers about a fourth of its occasional lineup in price-driven three-packs, and offers about 40 total occasional groups. Occasional represents about 25% of the company's business, officials said.
     "We do a large unit volume in three-packs, but have more dollar volume in non-three-pack groups," said Debbie Dilbeck, sales and merchandising executive assistant.

Sunny Designs has had successSunny Designs has had success with this Santa Fe group of occasional tables in a dark chocolate finish.

     At Sunny Designs, the company has more than 100 occasional table SKUs but only one style that is packaged in a three-pack, said West Allen, vice president of merchandising. Tables are stocked in its China factory warehouse so they can be mixed with any other Sunny Designs products to fill a container.
     Looking at what styles are selling best, Jofran has focused on casual contemporary that captures the feel of higher-end lifestyle product but has a consistent value pricing and function message throughout its line, Roy said.
     He added that merlot and espresso finishes still garner the majority of floor space, but that the company is also seeing success with clean, contemporary gray-browns and medium brown tones with distressed finishes.
     World Imports has done well recently in faux marble table groups, but also continues to have success with chrome and contemporary table groups, Luber said.
     At Sunny Designs, the rustic oak Sedona and Santa Fe collection in a dark chocolate finish are the best sellers, Allen said. A few groups of trunk-style tables with metal accent straps on the corners also do well.
     Most of Sunny Designs' occasional table offerings are styled to go with its entertainment walls, fireplace consoles and library walls. Chairside tables have also been popular because of their lower price point, Allen said.
     Standard's hot models include mixed media groups with varied finishes, natural stones such as slate and marble veneers, and mirrored surfaces (including smoked, bronze and black treatments), Dilbeck said. Best-selling wood finishes continue to be in medium tones or dark merlot and coffee stains.
     At Steve Silver, occasional is designed primarily to fit a look, function or price point, Addleman said.
     "We use a large amount of stone, either as the dominant material in the tabletops, or as an accent in wood tables," he added.
     Stein World is using mixed media materials such as slate, granite, travertine, stainless steel, tube and sheet metal, cast aluminum and iron, glass and mirror (including antique mirror), cork and sea grass.
     "Some of the new mixes have been very successful and we intend to explore that further with new projects," said Donnie Lesley, director of product development and merchandising.
     The company currently offers about 50 occasional groups in its assortment including about 20 introduced in the past 12 months.
     When it comes to function, Standard's Dilbeck said the company is designing more small cocktails along with storage ottomans, lift tops with storage, groups with pull-out shelving, nesting tables, and pieces with casters for mobility.
     "We have also added more chairside tables as they are good with motion upholstery and in smaller living spaces," she said.
     Castered tables now make up about 30% of the company's line, and about 10% are lift-top cocktail tables, Dilbeck said.Accents Table
     At Jofran, more than half of the occasional line is castered.
     "This reflects a double digit increase over a few years ago and is consistent with our mission to load our product with function," Roy said.
     At Sunny Designs, casters are becoming preferred on cocktail tables primarily due to the popularity of motion furniture. They continue to be added to most new table introductions where design allows, said Allen said.
     He added that the company offers two lift-top cocktail tables.
     "They are a great item because they provide a handy table for laptops and for dinner in front of the tube," Allen said. "The additional cost for the mechanism is a negative to the price buyer or you would see a lot more of them in the marketplace."
     At Steve Silver, about 20% of its lineup currently has casters.
     "This style feature has grown considerably over the course of time. At one time it was a convenience feature, now it also functions as a style feature," Addleman said.
     Standard's Dilbeck said that while some tables have sustained longevity, the company is constantly reevaluating and turning over its bottom 25% of sellers.
     At World Imports, turnover of the company's occasional line is slow, Luber said.
     "We have groups that have been in the line for as long as 15 years. They don't sell like they used to, but they still sell," he said.
     In occasional table pricing, Jofran's Roy said the market has migrated upward in the past few years. What was once a $199 or $219 cocktail table is now $249, and end tables that were $179 now retail at $199 or more.
     "Our emphasis is more on value than on retail price but if we were to look at it this way, we try to keep our cocktail table at $299 or less retail," Roy said.
     At Standard, retail price points have remained stable over the past three years, with typical pricing for a three-pack at $299 and individual SKUs at $199.
     Many occasional sources report that China continues to dominate the occasional business. Jofran said China continues to be the primary source for occasional tables and that its factories there have the best mix of labor, materials and knock-down expertise.
     Sunny Designs also primarily produces in its China factory, although two of its newest collections are produced in Indonesia due to available woods or finish capabilities.
     Stein World sources the majority of its occasional groups from China, but India and Mexico represent a growing percentage of the assortment, Lesley said.
     Luber said World Imports sources occasional tables from China primarily because most of the materials needed for better selling tables come from there and because of container mixing abilities there are important for product flow.

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