HIGH POINT — As with every other price point, motion furniture is a growth category at the high end. The challenge vendors at that level face is maintaining a style story that goes along with the function.

Consumers at higher price points do want function, but not at the cost of motion features that might not fit their vision for overall décor. Manufacturers of premium furniture, however, are adapting their customization and fashion strengths to motion, which they see as an opportunity that should only grow.

Stickley, for example, looks to expand motion with new pieces, high-grade leathers and fabrics. It stepped into the motion game five years ago when it started building out recliners and sectionals for its 400 Series of customizable upholstery. At the end of 2017, it added motion for Woodlands, a program with a more select group of options.

Ben Radoll, vice president of product development, said motion accounts for 15% of Stickley’s current upholstery business.

“We’d like to get this number north of 20% by end of 2022,” he said.  “We currently offer motion in seven collections and are very productive when motion additions are integrated into our line. We’d like to see this expand to 15 collections by end of 2022.”

Stickley is growing motion and recliner business through two option programs. The 400 Series, a mostly leather program, has 31 SKUs with five arm options and two choices each for backs and base. The 14-SKU Woodlands series has five arm options.

“We’re looking to really ramp up the 400 Series with new technology, the right arms and the right backs,” Radoll said.

A look at the looks

Stylewise, about 70% of Stickley’s current motion production has traditional styling, with half using nailhead applications.

“We’re seeing a movement towards higher-grade leathers and are taking a position to better satisfy customers looking to Stickley for premium motion furniture,” Radoll said. “We have a lot more customers going for the top grades in leather because we’re deemed as a more premium resource.”

A trend in stationary upholstery toward tufting is reflected in motion seating at American Leather.

“We see a huge, huge movement on anything tufted,” said Creative Director Spencer Bass. “Tufted in stationary has been big, and most of our motion looks like stationary.”

Bass pointed to a recent iSeries introduction, Verona, as an example.

“It has very plush quilting, and it creates a luscious seating experience,” he said. “We also expanded our A-Series in April with different back choices including buttonless tufting.”

American Leather got those and other introductions into production quickly, and despite a cancelled High Point Market in April, the company already sees heavy action for the new goods at retail.

“We attacked in a whole different way with amazing videos and live webinars with retailers so they could see the function,” Bass said. “We sold almost as much product as we would with a normal market because we gave our reps the ammunition they needed.”

American Leather also is achieving more of what Bass called a “living room” look in recliners.

“We made the seat wider and took the arms to the floor,” he noted.

Cheryl Sigmon, vice president of merchandising at Bradington-Young, who sees a trend toward transitional and updated traditional styles in the line, also noted more tufting and channeling, and next year’s new goods will reflect that.

“We’ll introduce chairs, swivels and recliners in two new styles in April,” Sigmon said. “One is tufted, and the other has a very unique channel treatment.”

The company continues to see action stationary look motion such as in its Luxe for Living program utilizing an Ultramech domestic mechanism that allows recline function without splitting the back.

“We’re also covering motion with fresher, lighter lifestyle colors so it’s not all brown, brown, brown,” Sigmon added.

Andy Bray, president at Vanguard Furniture, sees motion there selling best in transitional and contemporary styles utilizing very high end fabrics and leathers. Polished chrome bases that lend more of an accent chair look also are trending at Vanguard.

Matching style and function

Reclining seating’s style also relates to the category’s functional aspects at the high end, where consumers expect comfort and function but don’t always go for the cup holders, lighting and visual gadgetry often found in more commercial goods. Bray said that’s the case at Vanguard, for instance.

“Ideally, it doesn’t look like a recliner,” Bray said via e-mail. “The functionality is hidden, and it looks like any other high-end piece of upholstery. That means, from every angle, including the side and the back, the functionality is hidden. No gimmicks, no cup holders, no USB — technology will change 20 times before the item is retired — no refrigerators, no gadget storage; just beautiful upholstery that happens to recline.”

Bray said swivel function is important as well, and the same is true at Bradington-Young, where swivel chair business is booming.

“Our Artemis swivel from October is the best swivel introduction in the history of the company,” Sigmon said. “Generally we’ll get eight to 10 placements for a swivel intro, and we got more than 40 this time.”

Power also continues to grow in importance for Bradington-Young’s seating: “We’ve seen an increase in power function with stand-alone recliners, and an uptick in adding lumbar function,” Sigmon said.

A place for manual

Power gets a lot of headlines, but manual function remains a big seller for recliners at American Leather, which has proprietary smooth-operating manual mechanisms.

“Recently we launched two new ‘re-invented recliners’ and six new Comfort Air recliners, and we’re already seeing big turns on those in the stores,” Bass said. “Those are push-back recliners, and we were able to get that out immediately.”

Manual function still makes up more than half of Stickley’s motion sales, but power is growing.

“We moved into power headrests about 18 months ago, and we now see 44% of all sales with this feature on collections where they are available,” Radoll said.

Stickley customers, he added, aren’t looking for all the bells and whistles, although articulated headrests are a growing functional feature.

“We’re not a shake-and-bake resource with things like heat and massage,” Radoll noted. “Our customers want things like quick, smooth closing, quiet motors in power. We do look for better, subtle USB function; our customers have no shortage of gadgets.”

Articulating headrests in both traditional and wall-hugging reclining seating is a popular feature as well at Vanguard.

“Additionally, in the Huntley Motion program, the headrest operates independently from the back and footrest mechanisms within the piece, offering endless reclining positions,” Bray said.

Sectional success

What sorts of pieces — recliners, sofas, loveseats, sectionals — are moving best for upper-price motion goods? Sectional configurations are having almost as much impact in motion seating as they are in stationary upholstery, and the high-end is no exception. All resources for this article cited modular seating as a growth area.

Stickley is seeing strong sales in recliners, but also with sectionals in its motion categories.

“Families are filling larger spaces with continuous sectional seating, and our do-your-own programs in the Woodlands and 400 Series allow for customers to choose the styles that best fit their footprint,” Radoll said. “So, much of our business is done in sectionals. Motion is still a smaller portion of our game, but we’re cognizant of the category. Considering the relative newness of motion for us, it’s doing very well, and that gets us moving into providing more items in the category.”

American Leather sees big movement in sectionals. “People aren’t traveling, they’re staying at home and investing in these large sectional configurations,” Bass said.

As Bradington-Young’s sectional business grows — up 21% so far this year — the company is reintroducing pieces that now have more relevance.

“People want comfort, and we’re selling more sectionals,” Sigmon said. “We’ve added a console with hidden power plugs and USB ports in the storage area so you can’t see the plugs. We got kudos for that at October market, but in fact it’s a console we introduced in 2014 that didn’t go. Now sectionals are so important, it’s created an appetite for more consoles.”

She noted that when Bradington-Young introduced its luxury motion furniture, the sofa had been the best seller.

“The sofa still sells, but now it’s incredible the number of sectional orders we’re getting these days,” Sigmon said.

Sofas and sectionals featuring independent motorized footrest and headrests for infinite seating positions are strong at Vanguard, where Bray said space considerations are key.

“Wall-away mechanizing allows customers to place against the wall to save space in their homes,” he said. “The leg rest and seat cushion easily slide into place while the back of the seat goes into the full-recline position. For added comfort the headrest can be independently adjusted. … Wall-away recliners are great space-savers for customers that don’t have a lot of room, yet still want to recline.”

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