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To appeal to new consumer, let's think small

Thomas RussellThomas Russell - Associate Editor
The winter Las Vegas Market offered plenty of new and beautifully designed case goods at resources ranging from AICO and Lexington Home Brands to Stanley and Hillsdale Furniture to name several. Whether buyers were shopping for European traditional, coastal or clean contemporary, there was plenty to choose from. Many of these resources were attempting looks, finishes and wood types they hadn't used before in their lines. The same could even be said of Lifestyle Enterprise, whose separate Forbidden City Show held for three days heading into the market offered looks the company had never attempted previously.
     As expected, the Las Vegas Market also featured some smaller scale product at resources including AICO, Somerton Dwelling, Winners Only, Coaster and Office Star Products. Smaller-scale dressers, dining tables and desks were among the highlights among companies seeking to market themselves to the next generation of furniture consumers, the Millennials.
     Small scale is nothing new, but is more timely than ever thanks to this group of consumers, which includes a lot of professionals coming out of both undergraduate and graduate programs. A lot of these folks will be living not in rural communities where their parents tend to settle or retire, but in cities with vibrant downtowns, nightlife and, of course, jobs.
     Unfortunately, these urban centers also are expensive places to live. According to a recent Wall Street Journal story, these costs are spurring the development of micro apartments. In addition to being affordable, they tend to be right in the middle of the action in urban centers. For furniture resources aiming to serve such young professionals, they also are - as their names imply - pretty small. How small? Try 300-500 square feet.
     I did see plenty of small-scale pieces at market, including beautiful accent pieces that can grace just about any room and take up hardly any space. What I didn't see were any upholstery or case goods resources with product small enough for 300 square feet. Even a storage bed with a nightstand or a dining table with a small sideboard would take up much of this space.
     It also made me wonder whether the industry is missing an opportunity here or simply developing only smaller-scale furniture aimed at retirees who are downsizing. It's really hard to say what this all means for the industry. After all, the Millennial who can only afford to live in 300 or 400 square feet probably won't always be living in that small a space. Like their parents, they'll probably want to own a home at some point or at least rent a larger apartment or condo. Then they will be ready to buy larger and better furniture.
     Do we leave the issue of really - and I mean really - small-scale living to the experts like Ikea, Target or Walmart? Or do we compete with those folks and scale back our own lines even more with furniture that resembles more daybeds and twin-sized beds versus kings or queens? This, it seems, will be a question that needs to be asked by an industry that talks a lot about the importance of Millennial consumers.

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