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Consumer Reports ranks top sofas

Gary Evans -- Furniture Today, December 28, 2004

HIGH POINT -- Ethan Allen, Flexsteel and Broyhill got a boost last month when they were picked as the top three of a dozen sofas tested by Consumer Reports.

As reported in the January issue, Ethan Allen's Preston 207693 sofa ranked first in the magazine's comparison of frame construction, cushions, spring support, upholstery quality and other factors. Flexsteel's Christopher Lowell Home Collection Euro-Sport sofaFL100-31.R ranked second, and Broyhill's Fontana 100397050 sofa ranked third. Flexsteel and Broyhill, below Ethan Allen in price, were picked as Consumer Reports Best Buys.

Other sofa ranked in descending order were Thomasville's Brunswick, Crate & Barrel's Huntley Grand, La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries' Elaine, Pottery Barn's PB Basic Sofa, Drexel Heritage's D105-S, Jennifer Convertibles' Rebecca, Wal-Mart's Carrington Tiffany Sofa, Ikea's Ektorp3, and Value City's Pitkin Moss.

Retail prices ranged from Thomasville's $1,840 and Ethan Allen's $1,780 to Ikea's $600 and Value City's $450.

"Obviously, we were very delighted with it," said Tom Baldwin, director of advertising and public relations for Flexsteel. The magazine does not allow its use in advertisements, but Baldwin said he imagined "every one of our sales associates is going out with one or more copies" and will spread the news of the ranking by word of mouth.

"It will work very well that way," he added. "We're very honored to have that rating."

Spokesmen for Ethan Allen and Broyhill didn't respond to a request for comment.

The magazine said sofas tested represented "typical products from leading brands and the major types of retailers, including manufacturers' stores, catalog houses and mass merchants."

Since the sampling is small and the price and quality so varied, the report may be greeted with some skepticism by both upholstery manufacturers and retailers. And higher end producers may likely take issue with the magazine's stand on springs:

"Disregard the term 'eight-way hand-tied springs.' It's no longer synonymous with comfort or high quality. Other types of springs — coil, cone, S-shaped, and grid — can be just fine; they mainly influence how comfortable the sofa feels to you."

Besides its assessment of the dozen furniture pieces, two pages of the three-page article are devoted to teaching consumers how to size up upholstered furniture "like an expert" and how to uncover value.

Flexsteel's Baldwin said that the magazine called for information on the collection the sofa came from and its fabric number.

"It was six months ago when they did that," he said. "We knew it was coming but we didn't know where we ranked in the testing. We did not know anything other than it was going to be part of a story. In fact, we didn't even know when the story was going to be published."

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