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Larry Thomas

Buyers eye lighter colors, better leathers

Eduardo FilgueirasEduardo Filgueiras of Brazilian leather supplier Nova Kaeru shows off the skin of the pirarucu, a huge fish found in the Amazon River that can weigh up to 500 pounds. His company, which featured numerous exotic leathers, was one of five Brazilian leather companies that were firsttime Showtime exhibitors.
HIGH POINT - Despite concern about unpredictable pricing, leather suppliers at Showtime left the event in an upbeat mood amid positive sales trends.
     Suppliers said buyers showed particular interest in a wider variety of colors - especially lighter fashion colors - and better-quality leathers.
     Against a background of recent increases in raw hide prices, the interest in higher-grade articles was a bit of a surprise, but suppliers said it allows furniture manufacturers to better position leather upholstery as a premium product.
     "People are always looking for something with a soft hand," said Giovanni Guidi, president of Euroleather. "It can add a lot of value to the product."
     Guidi and other suppliers said tanneries have been passing along increased hide prices rapidly in recent weeks, and some suppliers grumbled that a few tanneries didn't notify them about a price increase until after their price lists for Showtime were completed.
     "It seems like I'm raising prices every 30 days," quipped Bo Stadler, U.S. sales manager for Germany based Heller Leather. "Raw materials prices just keep going up."
    Steven Judd, president of Leather Trends, said he believes prices will continue to rise because demand for leather - especially from the automotive and footwear industries - continues to rise faster than the supply of available hides.
     "There are fewer cattle out there, so the supply of hides is down," Judd said.
     Judd was among those reporting strong interest in color, which means anything other than brown and black in the leather upholstery business.
     "Colors were very strong for us, especially the grays," he said.
     Kurt Schweitzer, president of Wipelli USA, said he had an uptick in orders for yellow during the show, while officials at Carroll Leather said buyers were especially interested in blue, and the Moore & Giles booth reported considerable interest in various shades of orange and red/orange blends.
     "Blues and grays are very hot, but I can't give away green," said Joe Franck, vice president of Carroll's upholstery division.
     Franck said recent price increases have caused furniture manufacturers to rethink how they merchandise starting grades of leather, which often are corrected-grain hides with numerous flaws such as barbed-wire cuts and insect bites that hamper the tanning and finishes processes.
     Alan Naness, president of Design Resources, said recent price increases are providing an opportunity for increased sales of his company's bonded leather, which is called Next Leather, for entry-level products.
     "At the lower end, (tanneries) are having to use cheaper finishes to meet a price point, and that means the hand isn't as soft," Naness said. "This makes our product a better value ... because we can offer the look and feel of good leather at a much lower price."
     Making their debuts at this year's Showtime were five Brazilian tanneries that showed in the International Pavilion in the Suites at Market Square.
     Heading the list was JBS, which is a unit of the world's largest meatpacking company. Other Brazilian exhibitors were Apucarana Leather, Romeu, Nova Kaeru and Gobba Leather.

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