RTA getting second looks with stylish new designs
Thomas Russell -- Furniture Today, March 19, 2012
HIGH POINT - Years ago, ready-to-assemble was probably never considered "designer friendly." Instead, RTA conjures up images of boxy executive desks and file cabinets.
But recognized leaders in the category haven't let that bad rap keep them from producing new and stylish designs that reflect the needs of consumers - and in some cases, even designers.
The plus for the category, according to those resources, is that customers can get good designs at affordable price points, making RTA a potentially better value than before.
Judith Ets-Hokin, vice president of sales and marketing for RTA and office chair specialist Euro Style, said the line has started to draw more interest among designers who particularly like its sleek European contemporary styling and combinations of metal and glass.
Some of those customers don't order anything at first, Ets-Hokin said, since they don't typically order products in lower-middle or promotional price points. In fact, one shopper boasted that she spent more on lunch that day than a $38 chair.
But many return after finding it hard to resist pieces such as desks that retail for $400.
"Where everyone has been complaining about the downturn, our business has grown due to the fact that we are very affordable," she said. "We have actually grown every year since 2000, but the amazing growth started in 2008 and 2009. For us, home office has just exploded in the last four to five years."
"People who come to Euro Style are looking for good value, something that is affordable, yet that is practical, holds up and that looks good," she added.
Bush Furniture stepped up its style footprint with the launch of its Kathy Ireland Office line last year. The line's four main collections address distinct style statements, ranging from New York-inspired contemporary to American traditional - as well as the needs of working moms, a target customer base.
What are the main advantages that your company has as an RTA specialist in today's marketplace?
|“Certainly the premium for floor
space is increased because office
furniture takes up a lot of floor
space. We come up with creative
footprints to allow customers to
touch and feel the product in
a small footprint, while giving
them the ability to understand
the line. Another great example
of the Bush advantage is fully demonstrated in our
Kathy Ireland Office program, which combines the
best qualities of traditional RTA and case goods.”
Mark Weppner, vice president brand management, Bush Furniture
|This home office group is part of the Kathy Ireland Office line by Bush Furniture. Shown here in a white finish, it features frosted glass tops and doors on the companion bookshelf storage unit and console.|
“Most of our types of products are selling better because we are more lightweight and (consumers) like our looks and styles.... One group (of retailers) is selling our higherend products and one is selling our lower-end products and they are both really successful.”
Jim Sexton, president and CEO, Z-Line Designs
The Skyline computer cart from Z-Line Designs has a metal frame with a silver powder coat finish, a pullout keyboard tray and a frosted glass work surface. It retails at $129.
“Our chief advantage is that we know that innovative style and comfort in furniture is associated with Italian design. Our designers are Italian and we have factories in Italy as well as East Asia, where our quality control associate is a well-known Italian who works with factories in Italy and who lives in China. We count on him to make sure our products are made in factories who value their workers and the products they produce.”
Trig Liljestrand, president, Euro Style
Euro Style’s Ballard collection features silver printed tempered glass tops and shelves, a wenge stained legs and frame, and silver powder-coated metal stretchers that secure the desk top to the base.
"It is bringing fashion into home office," said Mark Weppner, vice president of brand management of the line. He said New York Skyline, for instance, has sleek contemporary lines and stylish elements such as frosted glass tops.
"It is gorgeous, but unique in terms of traditional home office furniture," Weppner said. "You see in it an element of higher-end office, or European-style office."
The footprints, he said, also are designed to fit into either dedicated office settings or family rooms where moms can work alongside young children. One desk in its Grand Expressions line, for example, has a small scaled L-component where a child can sit and do homework while mom pays bills or checks emails.
Most home office resources interviewed for this story do much of their business at office superstores or other big box retailers like Best Buy and Target. While the more stylish footprints help solidify their positions in those venues, they also can help the manufacturers land more placements in traditional retailers.
Irv Blumkin, CEO of Omaha, Neb.-based Nebraska Furniture Mart, said his store has a dedicated area for RTA, taking up about 5,000 square feet of the 25,000 square feet the store devotes to home office and home entertainment.
He also said his store is in the process of purchasing the Kathy Ireland Office line.
"It is well thought out and the concept makes sense," he said. "We are always looking for new ideas from a merchandising standpoint and Kathy Ireland has a strong brand.... The customer will be the one to vote, and it remains to be seen (how well it will perform), but we are optimistic enough to try it out and give it a nice display on our floor."
He added that RTA in general is relatively simple to stock.
"From a warehouse standpoint, it doesn't take up much space, and for those who want to get the goods right away, there is always a benefit," he said.
Jeff Child, president of Salt Lake City-based R.C. Willey, said that the store used to buy a wider selection of RTA than it currently has on the floor. That's largely due to the values that consumers are finding in veneered and assembled case goods.
Still, he said, RTA has a place on the floor, largely representing entry level price points.
"The standard RTA customer in our store is looking for a lower price point," Child said, noting that typical RTA desks sell from about $199 to $299.
In addition to executive desks, R.C. Willey sells some small laptop-friendly footprints as well as L-shaped configurations. Stylish contemporary footprints made with metal frames and glass shelving are among the most popular.
"The whole category is changing," Child said, adding, "The style does help to sell it, but may not raise the average ticket price."
Contemporary designs represent the core of Z-Line Designs' business. While Z-Line continues to sell larger, more traditional style executive desks, most of its SKUs are desks with metal or bentwood frames and glass shelving and work surfaces. The bentwood frame desks, which offer a generous 48-inch-wide work surface, retail from $159 to $199.
The company also offers desks as low as $129. But even in reaching that price point, it refuses to sacrifice in terms of design, said Jim Sexton, president and CEO.
"This is something the consumer and the vendor won't let us do," he said. "They expect us to come in with great looks, and that is what we are doing.
"You have to have the look before anything happens," Sexton added. "If you don't have the look, it's not going to happen."