follow us
Cindy Hodnett

What's in the making of upholstery innovation?

October 14, 2013

Innovation is always a hot topic going into market. Who is introducing something that is a must see? What new bell, whistle, fabric or finish is going to be the showstopper? Which company is doing the best job of bringing excitement to the industry?

But if you look a little deeper at the definition of innovation, you'll find it isn't just about creating something new for the sake of being different. According to one definition, it's about finding solutions for "new requirements, inarticulate needs or existing market needs."

So what does that mean for the upholstery category?

First, consider new requirements. Here's what we know.
Urban growth is strong, and it includes both young consumers and empty nesters that move to the city to be closer to entertainment venues, shopping and restaurants. Urban residences are usually smaller in square footage, dictating smaller-scale furniture as well as options that can work in industrial-to-residential interiors.

Consumers have embraced performance fabrics. People spill things and life is messy, so when there is an option for cleanable, durable fabric that also looks great, it will have an audience with folks buying new furniture for their home.

Next, think about unanticipated needs.

Technology has transformed our lives. The majority of us are always plugged in, via smartphones, iPads and laptops. And the next generation of furniture consumers - those not yet ready to live independently - has never known any other way of life. The marriage of technology and furniture will continue because it must. Genies never fit back in the bottle once they are released.

The same technology that connects us 24/7 leaves many people searching for a way to reconnect in a meaningful way. Family time is rare and desired, and furniture that supports the ideal will speak to the consumer. Look at the strength of the sectional if you have any doubt.

Finally, ponder existing market needs.

There is a lot of competition for the consumer's discretionary income, and furniture has to be pretty spectacular to compete with the sex appeal of a new iPhone or 60" HD television. That's not an easy task, but it is possible.

This market, there are several showrooms that are going to generate a lot of buzz. We'll have more about the big reveals closer to opening day, but suffice it to say that several suppliers have hit the innovation ball out of the park this time around. And how did they do that? Simply put, they didn't chase what was already successful. Instead, they thought long and hard about what did not yet exist in showrooms and then created it.

The furniture industry's challenges are myriad, but revisiting the art of creative product design is a strong first step in addressing consumer apathy. The iconic midcentury designers who are still lauded today stepped outside of the box to make something that had never been seen before in an industry ruled by tradition.

That's innovation.