The sexiest thing in bedroom this spring is giving consumers what they want
High Point April Market product features typically focus on the design trends influencing the category. In bedroom this season, that means cleaner silhouettes aimed at younger consumers who “don’t want as many froufrou elements,” says furniture designer Abby Lane. “We’re still trying to contemporize traditional silhouettes. I’ve also been playing a lot with metallics and bringing more metals in. Hardware is becoming a lot more than a knob, and I’m doing a lot more custom hardware designs, because as the cases are getting cleaner, the hardware is becoming more important.”
Jamie Collins, executive vice president of Homelegance USA, reports seeing more casual finishes on traditional silhouettes producing a rustic modern style. “There’s been a lot of heavy industrial and heavy distressing in the market, which is not something that you usually see in our price point, because historically, our consumer has not understood distressing,” says Collins, who chalks this new development up to the Restoration Hardware effect. “Restoration and some of the other specialty retailers have presented more rustic finishes to the masses. That’s helped us to create some more interesting finishes with more distressing and more depth, and not necessarily on industrial product.”
Trends in consumer buying behavior are also impacting how furniture designers like Lane are approaching the category. “Where it used to be, from the high-end all the way down, that everyone was doing ‘matchy’ groups, consumers are not necessarily buying a whole set of bedroom furniture today,” she says.
Certainly, consumers’ interest level in more eclectic designs has much to do with where they are in the marketplace in terms of price point. At Homelegance, for example, Collins says it’s still “a matchy-matchy world.”
“I do think that some of the younger consumers today are more willing to mix and match than the consumers we’ve been selling to all these years,” he says. As Millennials come in, they are more willing to take risks. I’m very happy that the market has gotten to a place where a company at our price points [bedrooms start at $299 wholesale for low-end paper here and range up to $3,000 retail] can do some more sophisticated things.”
Not Tonight Dear, I’ve Got a Headache
Still, for traditional full-line furniture stores, the current trend toward eclecticism can be headache-inducing, both in terms of merchandising and inventory control. Nobody knows this better than HFA member Lael Thompson, chief operations officer at Broyhill Home Collections in Denver. “About one-third of the time customers we’re working with are trying to integrate their purchase with something they already have,” he says.
So, what’s a retailer to do when a shopper has already purchased an upholstered headboard elsewhere, and just wants to buy a nightstand and/or a dresser? For decades the industry’s answer was largely to force-feed shoppers entire suites whether or not that’s what they really needed or wanted. But that was before the rise of online retailers and empowered consumers who can obtain practically anything they want with a couple of clicks.
“We have a sort of ‘adapt or perish’ reality in front of us,” says Pat Watson, vice president of merchandising at Hooker Furniture. “Consumers are less brand-oriented and in my opinion a little less quality oriented. They’re not looking for things that they’re going to hand down to their children; they’re looking for things to last them a couple of years, until they move on to the next town or the next chapter in their lives.”
In response, Hooker—a traditional case goods supplier long known for comprehensive product introductions and major collections that encompass both bedroom and dining room—began introducing what it calls “short” bedrooms last market. “When I first came on board a few years ago it wasn’t unheard of for us to have whole-home collections of 90-plus SKUs,” Watson says. “Today, it’s maybe 50. Retailers were telling us that our collections were a little bit big to handle, and we really began reacting to that about three markets ago. There were so many pieces and options that it was difficult for dealers to know how to buy the collections, and it was difficult for us to flow them.”
Smaller whole home collections now account for Hooker’s first tier case goods business, says Watson. The second tier, he says, is “what we’re calling boutique collections, about 24 pieces, with accent, occasional or entertainment added in.” The third tier is bedroom only, which Hooker introduced last market. Three more short bedrooms will debut this Spring with about 14 SKUs.
“We’re taking a hybrid approach to the marketplace,” he explains. “The bigger whole-home collections tend to be a little bit higher price point, and there are a lot of retailers today that just don’t have an appetite for even a 50-piece collection, much less what we did just a few years ago. As business continues to evolve, we’re tailoring our product offering to the marketplace instead of saying, “Hey! We’ve got these 90-piece collections. How do you like me now?”
While the number of pieces in each of Hooker’s collections has decreased, the variety of available finishes and materials has increased, which enables retailers to make more eclectic presentations on their floors. “It’s still a suite of furniture…dresser, mirror, bed, nightstand, chest, but the chest may not match the dresser in terms of finish and so it feels to the consumer like something that they’ve curated themselves over a period of time.”
When it comes to style, Steve Lush, executive vice president at Hooker (former president of retailer Robb & Stucky), reports that although traditional is still a large part of the assortment, “We’re really excited about continuing our penetration into the casual modern market this Spring. We believe that wire brushing, sandblasting, texture and organic are the keywords in the category.”
Twin Star Home, a long-time leader in electric fireplaces, has recently expanded into broader collections of home furnishings for living room, office, and yes, bedroom, led by designer and creative strategist Jena Hall. “Each home and every consumer’s taste are different, yet our research tells us that the need to have function and beauty is almost totally universal,” says Lisa Cody, vice president of marketing.
“From the consumer insights driving our product development and innovation, we know that our pieces have to fit into multiple places and offer flexibility,” Cody says.
“We also know that the bedroom is a quiet sanctuary, so we are developing product that can bring the warmth and ambience of a fireplace easily into the bedroom. We believe that retailers that offer flexibility and function, will see consumers easily relate to their store.”
Come on Baby, Light My Fire
Along with subtle shifts in style trends and new options to build excitement (and tickets) in the bedroom, industry observers suggest that much of the pillow talk at High Point this Spring will center on a new custom program designed to engage consumers dissatisfied with a diet of canned suites.
“This industry used to care a lot about the consumer and meeting the consumer’s needs, but when we started to off-shore, even the size of a nightstand and a dresser changed because it was a matter of how many widgets would fit in a can,” says retailer Thompson. “There are still great bedroom values out there, but due to the sourcing models, everything has been pared down to the essentials.”
Having cut his teeth in the unfinished furniture business, Thompson says he has always been about enabling his customers to select the wood, the finish and the hardware. “When we moved over to the finished side of the industry, not having those options was very difficult for us as retailers. To get out of the commodity rat race, we adjusted our business model to try to provide as much choice as possible for our customers. We’ve also tried to move our product assortment up in the world to really focus on middle and upper-middle, and now we’re almost 100 percent special order.”
Even so, while Thompson found ways in his retail business to provide good quality products with high-value propositions in dining and upholstery, the bedroom category remained a challenge until last High Point April Market. That’s when fellow HFA member Tom Olinde steered Thompson to Artiste, a division of A.R.T. Furniture.
The Wakeup Call
Artiste is a custom case goods program featuring nine case goods styles, 23 bed styles, 11 finishes, 17 fabrics, 38 hardware styles and three hardware finishes. While custom bedroom programs are not new, what is ground-breaking is special order from Asia, offering any piece, in any finish with any hardware combination delivered to the retailer within 8 to 10 weeks.
According to Jessica Norby, director of sales and marketing, “We’ve been programmed and trained as a society that it’s in the consumers’ hands. It’s the have-it-your-way mentality and consumers today expect to have the power to make choices. The furniture industry has been a little late to the game in that and we’re just now catching up.”
Artiste’s program centers around a flat-screen, in-store kiosk surrounded by a selection of product samples. “We want consumers to be able to find us online obviously,” Norby says, “but our main goal is to drive traffic to the retail floors where they have all the physical assets available for customers to look, touch, feel and imagine what the product will look like.”
Initially rolling out in a beta test to a small subset of the A.R.T. customer base (approximately 150 retailers have already committed to the program) the Artiste team is seeking to work out any kinks and perfect the program before the major launch in the latter half of this year. One of Thompson’s customers was the first to place an order.
“I didn’t have any finish samples or anything,” says Thompson, “I took them to the Artiste rendering program, and it was so powerful and so accurately detailed that I was able to sell a $6,600 bedroom set entirely sight unseen.”