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  • Thomas Russell

Dining season spreads Over more of calendar

A.R.T. Furniture’sThis dining set is part of A.R.T. Furniture’s rustic Whiskey Oak collection. It is made with cluster oak veneers and features leather dining chairs with nail head trim.
High Point - As dining room furniture has evolved into more casual footprints, so has the time of year known as "dining season."
     In the past, this typically would occur in the last quarter of the year as people spruced up their dining rooms for holiday entertaining.
     Whether that dining season still exists depends largely on who you ask. Those whose lines include more casual dining footprints say it's now a year round business.
     "It is level for us all four quarters," said Mike Charlton, senior vice president of product development and merchandising for case goods resource Riverside Furniture, whose assortment includes both casual and semiformal looks. "We don't see a huge spike (in the fourth quarter). The old traditional buying patterns just don't hold up anymore. People buy what they want to buy when they want to buy it."
     Even resources such as Stanley, Universal and Fairmont Designs, whose assortment includes mostly formal but also some more casual footprints, report fairly steady sales in the category throughout the year.
     Adam Tilley, vice president of wood product at Stanley, said an analysis of 10-year average sales activity showed that 49% of its dining business was done in the first half of the year and 51% was done in the second half.
     "Business does pick up (in the second half) but it is pretty minor," Tilley said. "You need to be strong in that category year-round."

AICO’s Platine de Royale is part of the licensed Michael Amini and Jane Seymour line. It has French and Italian design influences and comes in a platinum finish.
AICO’s Platine
Stanley’s Avalon
Stanley’s Avalon Heights collection features the Art Epoch double pedestal table, which is made with highly figured ropy cherry and mapa burl veneers.

     Even so, a number of retailers still rely on their dining resources to have a good assortment before the holidays. It's when many tend to promote the category and they want to be prepared when activity picks up.
     "There is still a seasonal component to the dining business," said Walter E. Smithe, president of Itasca, Ill.-based Top 100 store Walter E. Smithe Furniture. "The late third quarter and fourth quarter is a busy time for it."
     Irv Blumkin, CEO of Omaha, Neb.-based Nebraska Furniture Mart, said the company has experienced a good dining season this fall.
     "As people get ready for the holidays and have guests over, they want to spruce up their dining," he said. "It for sure is stronger in the fall than any other period."
     He said the category is not as strong as it was 10-15 years ago, particularly with fewer suppliers and retailers in the category. But he said Nebraska Furniture Mart has remained committed in this period of consolidation.
     "We are willing to devote space to the category, where other stores have gone away," he said, adding that while consumers may be buying more casual footprints, "there are still people buying formal."
     This being the case, suppliers find they need to have a strong fall season stocking position, whether in an overseas or domestic warehouse.
     "It is always a time when we start planning ahead - starting in May - and begin to forecast what inventories we need to be at in the third and fourth quarter," said Steve York, vice president of merchandising for Fairmont Designs' residential division. "We do have some spikes in some territories, and we do pick up a little bit of sales during dining season.
     "Retailers still look at Fairmont as a collection house company with formal dining," he said, noting that the company carries a strong dining inventory in its Memphis, Tenn., and Buena Park, Calif., warehouses. "We do more warehouse business during the third and fourth quarters."

Fairmont Designs’ Grande Estates dining set has traditional design elements and features this pedestal dining table, which extends to 108 inches with two leaves. A table and six chairs retails at $1,499.
Fairmont Designs
Najarian’s BrentwoodNajarian’s Brentwood dining set is made with cherry and primavera veneers and poplar solids. A table and four chairs retails at $1,199.

     Case goods importers AICO and A.R.T. Furniture, both strong in formal dining, report that dining season is alive and well.
     "There is a bump in sales and part of it is driven by us," said Chuck Reilly, senior vice president of sales and marketing at AICO. "We still plan our production around - and retailers we sell to still advertise and have events that drive traffic to dining room around - the holidays."
     Reilly added that the company also maintains a strong stocking position in the category in the third and fourth quarters.
     Bill Sibbick, vice president of sales and marketing at A.R.T. Furniture, said its formal dining business is 25% higher in the fourth quarter than any other quarter of the year. A.R.T. carries inventory in its China and Ontario, Calif., warehouses.
     "We gear up inventory-wise and we prepare for it, so we don't run low when the opportunity is the highest.... As we get closer, we try to bring more to Ontario for immediate delivery," he said.
     "It is the top-selling category in the quarter," Sibbick added. "Everybody wants to buy a new dining room for the two times of year that they use it."
      Greg Harden, president and CEO of domestic case goods manufacturer Harden Furniture, said his company sees dining sales throughout the year. But he also noted that its strongest case goods sales overall - including bedroom and dining room - take place in the last third of the year.
     "A lot of it is driven by retailer advertising," Harden said.
     He added that because the company is a custom manufacturer, it doesn't tend to build a lot of inventory. Custom orders get built in four to six weeks.

This dining set is part of the St. James collection by Standard Furniture. Featuring this leg table, it bears traditional design elements that are popular in the formal dining category.
Standard Furniture
Cabinetmaker’s Cherry
This dining set is part of Harden Furniture’s Cabinetmaker’s Cherry collection. It is in solid walnut and is shown in a natural walnut finish. The table, 113 inches long and 49 inches deep, retails around $8,085. The Whiteface buffet, shown behind the table, retails for $7,140.

    "Our domestic manufacturing helps us with that as well," he said. "There are a few chairs we import from the Far East, but for the most part, we manufacture products here so we will not see a surge in inventory in the fall."
     But like others, he said the category is indeed changing. Customers are buying large dining tables to go in a dining room or great room. But china sales have waned while items like consoles and mirrors have risen, Harden said.
     Retailer Walter Smithe said that now would be a good time for the industry to better define formal dining and determine how consumers wish to use dedicated dining areas.
     "We are in a state of flux in terms of formal dining," he said, noting that many dining rooms aren't big enough to fit a complete set. "There is still room for a big table, but the rest of the traditional (case) pieces can't fit. Everything is so much more a la carte."
    Due to lack of demand, Stanley Furniture hasn't developed large-scale chinas with many recent collections. Instead, it has focused on smaller side pieces. But it remains committed to the category and has five more formal sets on the drawing board. Some of those will ship in 2014 while others will ship in 2015.
     "We are getting requests for it," said Tilley. "Our formal dining business has been pretty strong.... We are very comfortable in formal dining from a design and merchandising standpoint and our customers are comfortable with us and we get great placements and displays at retail."

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