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Cindy Hodnett

Four markets show how industry's in transition

Cindy Hodnett Upholstery/Style editorCindy Hodnett Upholstery/Style editor
In my first 90 days at Furniture/Today, I've traveled to four furniture markets - Las Vegas, Tupelo, High Point and Valencia, Spain. It's been a whirlwind introduction to the trade side of the furniture industry, but also a valuable education for someone who's spent the past decade-plus covering home furnishings for the consumer.
     From a newcomer's standpoint, I've noticed that while each market is distinctive, they also share similar characteristics of transition. Manufacturers in each market are embracing the fact that business as usual has changed courtesy of the economy and technological advances, and they are adapting both their products and business strategies in response.
     First example - many suppliers are stepping outside the box of their own product comfort zones. This seems to be a no-brainer, but it takes a certain amount of chutzpah to go out on a creative product limb in a challenging economy, and there were examples of it at every market. The most recent was in High Point, and it came from the upholstery guru of a company known for traditional styles and neutral browns. This gentleman (and I think it is worth noting that this person is male) chose a colorful stripe fabric for a new modern-inspired sofa frame. The pairing took many of the company's regular customers by surprise, and while it may or may not make the final cut, it expanded the product potential of the manufacturer in the minds of all who saw it.
     Second, manufacturers at each market showed how they are coming up with ways to help retailers maximize their sales potential. From Spain to the Deep South and from East to West Coast, the phrase "any fabric on any frame" was ubiquitous, while delivery times continue to decrease and innovative displays allow dealers to maximize every inch of retail real estate.
     Finally, each market had examples of established companies where longtime owners had passed the reins to the next generation of leadership. The exciting thing about these companies was that the expected product quality standards - which kept the businesses' doors open during one of the worst consumer markets in recent history - was now combined with fresh perspectives and interpretations. The blend of past pedigree and future vision is bringing new life, and a reason for dealers to buy, to many showrooms.
     As one longtime member of the industry said during the High Point Market, it's imperative for manufacturers to work together to strengthen the industry as a whole since retailers are facing unprecedented competition for the consumer's dollar from the electronic and technology arenas. The similarities between individual companies are already there; maybe now is the time to openly share best practices to reinforce the entire collective.

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