Bonded leather making inroads in upholstery
Product is better, and can hit key price points
Gary Evans , Larry Thomas -- Furniture Today, August 29, 2011
HIGH POINT — Disparaged by many when it hit the market about five years ago, bonded leather continues to gain wide acceptance as an alternative to genuine leather as upholstery manufacturers and retailers struggle to remain competitive during a prolonged industry slump.
The product, which consists of leather fragments and fibers glued, or bonded, onto a backing, is emerging as the key cover choice at the opening and even medium price points of many leather upholstery lines.
In fact, while firm numbers are difficult to come by, some sources maintain that bonded leather may now account for up to 50% of the leather segment.
Much of the shift, they add, is driven by higher prices for top-grain leather, but it's also due to recent significant improvements in the look and feel of bonded leather. Moreover, because the bonded product comes in rolls like fabric, it's easier for upholstery manufacturers to handle than irregularly shaped hides and results in less waste.
"It's certainly taking (retail floor) slots away from leather," said Don Hunter, senior vice president of major accounts at Catnapper, the motion upholstery unit of Jackson Furniture Inds. "We have some bonded leather sofas that are among our best performers."
Hunter said rising leather prices have made it next to impossible to hit key opening retail price points of $799 to $999 with top-grain leather or even leather/vinyl covers.
As an alternative to both leather and fabric, bonded leather is selling "very well" at Nebraska Furniture Mart, according to upholstery buyer Cathy Urbanek.
"I'd say it's a huge number as far as my sales go," she said. "We've had it for about two years now and it keeps growing from month to month. I wish all my categories were like this one."
Urbanek said that manufacturers waited to see if there would be any issues with bonded leather and when there weren't, added it to their lines. "They've got the color real nice, and everyone we've tried it with is selling. No matter if it's Ashley or Broyhill, it's selling in every price range."
For more on this story, see the Aug. 29 print edition of Furniture/Today.