The category is still dominated by tents and slides, but Millennials are starting to see the children’s furniture in a different light—for themselves.
It would be easy to consign youth furniture to a back corner of your store, wait for the occasional parent or grandparent to wander in searching for a bunk bed and focus on the other rooms in the house. But retailers may be missing a lot of opportunities by not giving a little more consideration to kid-centered furniture designs. By 2020, there are projected to be more than 76 million kids under the age of 18 in the United States. If you haven’t considered carrying youth furniture or, like many furniture retailers, offer the bare minimum, you could be missing out.
Beyond kids and tweens
One reason more furniture retailers may want to pay closer attention to the youth furniture category is related to the current love of tiny houses. Finding items to fit smaller spaces can be a challenge, and a solution could be furniture intended for kids’ rooms.
Anne Jensen, marketing director at Maxwood Furniture, has seen an increased interest in their kids’ furniture products from Millennials who are interested in tiny houses. “The type of product they’re looking for is not the regular, massive master bedroom furniture,” she explains. “Now they’re looking for a loft that allows them to save on square footage, while still looking great. They are trying to furnish their homes so it fits their lifestyle.” She stresses they aren’t just interested in finding the cheapest option, and, as a result, Maxwood Furniture has seen an increased demand for their beds that can hold adult weights. “We make sure all are sturdy, and all our beds are tested to hold up to 800 lbs.”
More and more people with second homes are considering youth furniture. Both bunk beds and lofts afford extra room when square footage is tight. Scott Coor, vice president of sales and marketing for Trendwood, has started to see interest in a triple bunk bed based on newer homes’ smaller bedrooms. “With the new homes being built, the second, third or even fourth bedrooms are very small. In a child’s room, people are trying to incorporate more storage, particularly under the beds, and that’s one of the reasons why bunk beds are popular.”
Particularly as the real estate market continues to rebound, retailers would be wise to pay attention to the housing trends in their area. If you’re in a vacation destination, there may be a greater demand for space saving sleeping options. If your market caters to homes with smaller footprints, again the smaller scale options found in kids’ furniture could be just what consumers are seeking.
Rules and regulations
The downside of this category is the increased regulations that govern youth furniture designs. From testing for lead to ensuring taller items won’t tip, everything from the hardware to the paint is gone over with a fine-tooth comb during the manufacturing process. Coor explains that even existing products with no changes are tested every year to be recertified under federal safety standards. “There’s a lot of work involved in conforming to regulations,” Coor says.
Jesse McNeece, a partner at Kangaroo Trading Company, concurs with Coor that keeping abreast of regulations can be a challenge for youth furniture manufacturers. “Keeping up with the testing that California requires, because they set the stage for the rest of the country, is an ongoing challenge. We’re testing almost constantly,” he says.
Even without the regulations governing them, these manufacturers all stressed they are focused on crafting the sturdiest possible product for children’s rooms. “The one thing we try to do is build a piece of furniture that will last, not something that will survive just one child,” McNeece explains. “We want to build something that can last through multiple children.”
Even without the stringency of the regulations guiding them, Coor says Trendwood has focused its efforts on offering a mid-priced line of domestically made, solid pine youth bedrooms. “We can’t be everything for everyone, but we can be the best at what we do.” He adds, “We understand the consumer and the retailer, what’s important to them, and we’re always listening and trying to come up with different ideas. We think being specialized in an area, and understanding that area, is an advantage.”
HFA member Jerome’s Furniture is a third-generation, family-run business. Founded in 1954, it operates 13 home furnishings retail locations in San Diego, Orange, Riverside and Los Angeles counties. Recognized as a top 50 retailer, Jerome’s Furniture’s executive vice president Jim Navarra sees one of the challenges for both manufacturers and retailers of youth furniture to be the consumer’s view of the items as a short-term solution, rather than a long-term investment.
“Many families see traditional youth furniture as a temporary need; one that would last only five to 10 years before their kids grow up and move out,” he explains. As a result, the consumer pays more attention to price. “That creates a challenge for manufacturers and retailers to offer good quality furniture at competitive pricing. It’s not uncommon for quality children’s bedroom furniture to cost as much as master bedroom furniture,” Navarra says.
Despite this challenge, the demand for youth furniture won’t be going away any time soon. “As families continue to grow, so will their demand for such items. What is changing, though, is how they view the kids’ bedroom and its place in the household. Families are looking at their kids’ room as eventually becoming a spare bedroom once the child has outgrown it,” Navarra explains.
This line of thinking plays into Jensen’s views that the category can have appeal beyond just a kids’ room. She finds that more and more consumers are interested in products they can reuse or repurpose. “People are tired of throwing stuff away. They’re waking up to green living and a more sustainable way to furnish homes,” she says. The idea of having a good quality product, which may have begun as furnishings for a child’s room, but that can be reused later in a guest room or in a vacation home, is in Jensen’s mind another aspect of consumer behavior today and an important trend that’s here to stay.
Trends to come
Kids and play go together, which is why companies such as Maxwood Furniture have worked to incorporate that trend into their product line. “We’re seeing a lot of desire for the need for play—things like slides and tents, fun accessories, a more playful way to furnish the room,” Jensen says. Creating an environment that caters to kids, even using a more traditional bed, with something as simple as a cute accent tent, helps design a room with kids in mind and one where they want to hang out and play. “It’s something we’ve really seen a lot of demand and excitement around,” Jensen says. As a result, she explains Maxwood Furniture has significantly expanded their line of slides.
In other trends news, McNeece finds grandparents playing a significant role in youth furniture purchases. “I think that the grandparents are spending a lot more on their grandkids than in the past, and they’re buying things for both their homes and for their kids’ homes so the grandkids have things in both places.” Another trend that he sees continuing is the increased quality going into youth furniture across the board. “For years, there were only limited styles and fabrics in youth furniture, but now you see more styles and better fabrics in colors kids like.” He also cites things like an increased offering of cleanable fabrics. “It’s not just a low-cost fabric on a kid’s chair anymore,” McNeece explains.
Function is another trend driving change in youth furniture designs. Coor mentions the inclusion of charging devices for smartphones and tablets in many youth furniture designs. “That’s a big deal now, to put charging devices in the products, because all the kids have a laptop or something, and that’s where they charge that equipment. We’re trying to incorporate more technology like that in our beds and desks.”
Boosting showroom displays
Grabbing families’ attention with strong floor displays is always the goal, no matter what category. With youth furniture, the displays need to also convey safety and durability. Navarra says Jerome’s Furniture is revamping its youth displays because he has found it’s an area that families evaluate when making not just a purchase decision for their kids, but also when determining if the retailer is a company they trust. He says, “Buying youth furniture is an emotional investment for many parents, and they want to feel a familiar-like bond with stores like ours. That goes beyond how the furniture is displayed. Every facet of the customer experience, including our online presence, must support our Real Family Values mantra.”
The bright colors and fun feel that most children’s furniture offers can be a draw in the sea of brown and gray of other categories. McNeece finds that the brighter colors can bring a retail floor to life. “You see a little bit of that in adult furniture these days, but it really comes out in the kids’ department,” he says.
Jensen feels that overemphasizing the bright, kids-themed décor is where many retailers go wrong. She urges retailers to use more grown up options for the accessories to promote a higher level of sophistication and quality, as well as to emphasize the idea that this furniture can play a role beyond childhood. “I would say to retailers, you already have a playful, colorful bed on the floor so don’t overdo it with kids’ accessories, use the type of stuff you would want—find a mixture,” she explains.
Coor encourages retailers to devote space to youth furniture and keep the kids in mind when styling it. “That’s a huge deal, spend some time to make a fun area, where kids can say ‘Wow that would be cool if I had a room that looked like that!’” He finds it is just a matter of the right product and the right paint. “You’d be surprised how many retailers in the youth business don’t make that effort—if you’re going to be in it, you have to carve out a little area and make it look like a kid’s room, not like the rest of the store.”