Occasional furniture offers a chance to personalize homes while giving retailers quick and easy sales.
Consumers, retailers and manufacturers agree when it comes to the popularity of occasional, or accent, furniture. By definition, accent furniture should stand out from the remainder of a room’s furniture, lending decorative personality or interest to décor. While functionality is welcome in occasional pieces, it isn’t a requirement. The real goal for consumers is to bring a pop of color or drama to a space. Retailers are wise to this trend, and have many ways to take advantage of this popular category.
A growing demand
The ease of adding accent pieces, as well as their typically lower price points, probably goes a long way toward explaining their popularity with consumers. “We certainly have always had the philosophy that you can completely change a room with a new accent piece of furniture,” says Bill Cain, president of Chelsea House. “People love a small table they can put in the back of their car and take home without the hassle of deliveries. I only see this trend growing when the millennial generation ages and downsizes.”
Cain also feels the economic struggles over the past 10 years have contributed to the increased demand for occasional designs. “With the depressed economy, smaller changes in home décor became the mainstream,” he says.
Michael Rull, marketing lead for Classic Home, feels the shift in floor plans of newer homes is also fueling an increased demand for occasional furniture. “This trend results in more seating areas and needs for occasional tables,” Rull says.
HFA member Ian Lipton, owner of Nathan’s Furniture Store in Hazelton, Pa., finds much of the appeal of accent furniture stems from a shift in home sizes. “With homes becoming smaller, the sizes of the pieces are changing, and there aren’t as many large pieces,” he says.
The flexibility that occasional furniture offers consumers also appears to be a motivating factor in this category’s demand. “Customers are looking for more versatility with their furniture, whether that be using a piece in multiple ways or having the flexibility to use it in various rooms in their homes,” explains Lisa Rickert, CEO and creative director for Ave Home.
Focusing on the trends
What makes accent furniture so appealing to consumers and retailers alike is the fact that it provides the ideal opportunity for a little fun, color and personality. As Lipton explained, “There’s more interest in a variety of sizes and colors and much more is available now than there ever was. We show more, and if you show more, you sell more.”
Cain feels it’s the wide-open nature of the category that makes accent furniture so appealing because the designs are meant to be an accent and not a foundational piece. “The great thing about it is that you can be eclectic in what you make,” he says. “You can utilize color, texture, shape and functionality, and let your design imagination wander.”
Rull agrees that consumers feel free to take more style risks with occasional tables, which allows manufacturers a bit more creativity with their design direction in this category. He adds, “The challenge is to create beautifully styled pieces that meet the consumer’s scale and functionality needs. There is also a lot of competition in the category, and one needs to create product that stands out and sells itself to the consumer.”
Rull says consumers are also expressing an increased interest in functionality from accent furniture, from storage to products that are more tech-friendly. “They are looking for items that have features that allow for cord management for electronics,” he says. He has also seen an increased demand for mixed materials—metals, stone and woods, particularly reclaimed wood.
Beyond accent tables
While many consumers (and even retailers, for that matter!) might automatically think of tables when it comes to accent furniture, the category can be much broader for retailers who are willing to be more adventurous.
For instance, Rickert has seen at Ave Home a shift in her customers away from formal dining room furnishings. “I can see us making smaller tables and possibly barstools for eat-in kitchens,” she explains.
Another HFA member, Candi Hawkins of Black Carriage Fine Furniture in Grand Junction, Colo., shared that her store sells quite a few single occasional chairs or club type chairs. “People use them as accent pieces for a pop of color in the room,” she says, adding that the intention consumers have with the purchase of these chairs is definitely more as an accent item in a room than to match everything else. “A lot of people are not interested in matchy-matchy, so they’re adding a piece here and a piece there,” she says.
Stefanie Lucas, CEO of Boston Interiors Home Furnishings, a longtime HFA member in Stoughton, Mass., says accent furniture is not limited to a specific room in the house. “Even when you think of bedroom furniture, consumers can find it interesting to mix in a different nightstand with their dresser and chest. I think this is happening in all of furniture, no matter the category.”
Capitalizing on the interest
While consumers may love that occasional pieces don’t break the bank, that reality presents an obvious downside for retailers. The smaller price points that accent furniture brings to their sales mix can be a challenge. So how to capitalize on the consumer interest?
Cain’s advice is to entice consumers with displays. “Certainly, there is less money in small occasional furniture so you need to sell more units,” he says. “The smart retailer shows a customer how to use occasional furniture—they use it in their vignettes—and don’t just stack a bunch of smaller furniture up in one area.”
To set accent designs apart in the retail environment, Lipton says retailers must display pieces in a gallery display, as well as in their room vignettes. “The best case is to show them in a gallery, and then take the pieces and duplicate them in room settings and say, ‘Oh doesn’t that look great there!’”
Rull recommends retailers merchandise occasional tables with the right upholstery. “This can make or break a sale. Retailers often ignore this and just place tables randomly on their floor without much consideration to the aesthetic,” he finds.
Lucas finds occasional designs present an interesting challenge and advantage. “It used to be easier from a buying standpoint to buy a matched set, but that’s not the case now,” she says. However, she finds this offers an advantage to both retailers and consumers—it’s easier to purchase an item that can be used in many different ways. “You can be more creative with what you are presenting,” she adds.
Rickert cautions that too many retailers clutter their space, although she understands the urge to maximize the margins per square foot. “We like to keep things open and bright. Customers always comment on the ability to see everything in our showrooms.” She recommends using vertical space. “If the furniture has too much merchandise on it, consumers perceive them as display pieces instead of sale items,” she adds.
Changes in shopping
Another potential concern for retailers is the wide availability of occasional pieces. Since they are typically smaller, more and more outlets are offering consumers this furniture option. “I think people are buying more, and buying it across the board. You don’t see necessarily how large that population of folks constantly buying little accent pieces is because those purchases are being made at Big Lots and Macy’s and online from Amazon and at any one of the dot com retailers,” Lipton says.
Rickert says customers are increasingly turning to the internet to purchase accent furniture, but she says they are quickly disenchanted. “Yes, customers are buying a lot more occasional furniture online because many of those items can be shipped through what they call ground shipments,” she says. “But they are also inundated with false photography of items that have poor quality, but an attractive low price. Therefore, the consumer is often disappointed when their items are received.”
The internet hasn’t just impacted where consumers make their purchases, it has changed how they conduct their entire shopping process.
“Consumers are doing much more homework online before coming into stores,” Lucas says. “It makes them smarter and savvier before they even start the retail process.” She says brick-and-mortar retailers need to be aware of this factor and continue to make the shopping experience seamless and easy for consumers if they want to win out over online retailers.