HIGH POINT — As expected, motion upholstery and recliner vendors spent most of their time at the October High Point Market discussing shipping and immediate product availability with customers showing up for a lightly attended show.
They made adjustments in terms not only of product rollouts, but also their personnel presence and schedules.
“We didn’t make all our reps come if they didn’t have customers, and that’s very unusual for us,” said Roberta Woodard, Parker House senior vice president of product development and marketing, adding that most absent reps were from the West Coast. “This seems a more regional event.”
Still, on opening day Parker House had two scheduled appointments but was able to work in around a dozen.
“More people are showing up without appointments, and we’re able to work them in since we have a large showroom,” Woodard said, adding that Parker House had a very strong Premarket, around 30% of a normal market’s business. “Even if we’re down 50% here, between Premarket and October we’re looking at a fairly normal market.”
‘What can you ship?’
This market season, it’s more about product that can ship in the near term to serve ongoing high demand at retail, and many showroom conversations reflected new goods’ unusual secondary status at a major market.
Parker House’s domestic warehousing position combined with aggressive ordering through the pandemic is paying dividends right now, Woodard said, and driving business this season.
“People look to us for inventory, and we have it. If we’re out of something it’s only for one to four weeks,” she said. “When COVID-19 first hit and everyone was cancelling orders, we told the plants to keep producing. When we had customers cancel container direct orders, we took those on ourselves and brought them in as warehouse goods.”
In addition to stuffing its own warehouse, Parker House leased back its former Chino, Calif., facility and loaded it with 150 containers’ worth of product. Word got around.
“We looked at this as an opportunity to take market share,” Woodard said. “There are a lot of people who haven’t done business (with us) in a while who’ve come back, and we’ve opened a lot of new accounts in the past couple of months.”
The emphasis on what’s available now was true at Premarket, and it held true this month, said New Classic Furniture President of Sales and Marketing Scott Hill.
“Based on the customers we’ve seen so far, it was the same as Premarket,” he said. “Right now we’re showing the goods we can get to them in the next few weeks, and then showing them what we can get to them next year. It will be March, April, May before most retailers are looking for new goods.”
New goods later
All that said, retailers always want a fresh floor, and the good news is that a lot of goods scheduled for April that haven’t been seen are in better shape to hit stores earlier than usual after their first showing.
Take 300 South Main, which showed its new motion line for the first time this October. Originally scheduled for Las Vegas launch, the goods are getting ordered from the Vietnam plant in time to beat Chinese New Year and Tet holidays.
“We’re looking to ship orders middle to late March, and customers are okay with that,” said President Ken Salm. “People say, ‘I’m covered through then (with current orders) anyway.”
Parker House went ahead and placed orders on April intros that no one had seen in person.
“That will be available in another two weeks,” Woodard said. Along with in-line goods at market, “we gave customers new product availability in a shorter amount of time.”
With many manufacturers raising prices, Master Motion President Michael Nanni said he’s holding steady.
“Our model from day one was geared to low-cost production,” he said, adding that the key is discipline in terms of SKUs and options. “We use a modular frame that can go together in different combinations; I want to build a lot of the same piece of furniture. I have 15 different styles all built off the same frame. The differentiation is in the detail.”
Nanni also questions just how many colors of leather are needed. Master Motion offers 20.
“If you have the right brown, do you really need another?” he said. “Companies like Louis Vitton spend millions developing and promoting leather colors. That’s my leather board.”
That sort of approach makes it easier for factories to run production more efficiently.
“If you’re changing all the time, you’re running the factory on its highest learning curve all the time,” Nanni said. “My philosophy is that while you’re running the volume, you can practice the newer stuff on the side.”
The company’s manufacturing partners also are looking to increase efficiency (and lower cost) with processes such as quicker cooling for foam, faster component processing and robotic cutting on smaller pieces of leather.
Still a place for manual
Sometimes it seems motion is all about power, but manual operation still has a place. Some consumers feel the wiring or need for batteries creates complication.
At the high end, Vanguard offered a “re-invented” smooth-operating manual option in a new set of recliners in its Michael Weiss line, also available in sofas.
“You can get it in any fabric or leather you want, and it doesn’t look like a recliner,” said Ed Tashjian, spokesman, noting the new mechanism allows more positioning options than most manuals. “It’s a better mechanism, heavier duty. When you try to hit a low price point, you buy a price-oriented mechanism, and we don’t have to do that.”
He noted that some higher-end consumers still don’t like power.
“To them, it says ‘Bubba’ furniture, and this has a sculpted metal base, paneled arms and doesn’t look like a recliner,” Tashjian said. “What is different in motion is lifestyle, fashion and new superior mechanisms.”
Adjusting to ‘new normal’
Planning corporate strategy and setting tangible goals for markets has become more complex than ever, and like many manufacturers, both Jackson Furniture Inds. divisions, Jackson and Catnapper, are massively oversold. It would have been an easy decision not to show new product, or even take a pass on market, said Anthony Teague, senior vice president of sales and merchandising.
“However, we are embracing the opportunity to have face-time with our customers to answer their questions, address their concerns and communicate our plan for growth,” he said. As we like to say, we are ‘playing to win’ — a mentality our customers love — and they are rewarding us with more floor space.”
By building capacity with additional hiring, overtime and second shifts and a new factory in Asheboro, N.C., Teague said JFI is shipping “considerably more” than pre-pandemic levels, with further production in the works.
“It is imperative that our dealers understand our mindset is one of sustained growth, not just a temporary fix,” he said, and the company came to market to outline its plan of attack to customers, including what he called “perhaps the strongest new product introductions in our history” across all categories in fabric and leather.
“By taking this aggressive approach, we believe we will continue to gain share and strengthen partnerships with our existing customer base, resulting in a permanent steepening of our sales trajectory,” Teague said.
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