Zoe Wong, left; Gabriele Natale, Man Wah

Upholstery exhibitors bring consumer solutions, convenience, flexibility to market

HIGH POINT — The magic formula for a successful market in any city varies from company to company, but numerous manufacturers at the recent High Point Market shared one similarity.

In a city-wide market event that includes 2,000 exhibitors and more than 13 blocks of showroom space, the companies who reported a positive market were the ones who marketed their market, offering solutions to consumer pain points through product, story and value propositions.

The value equation

Zoe Wong, left, and Gabriele Natale, Manwah

Manwah’s showroom was filled with buyers from across the U.S. as the company introduced its latest “best in class, quality, and value” upholstery. The laser-focused strategy continues to translate into success for Manwah in 2024, according to President Gabriele Natale, who said that the company just enjoyed its second best first quarter in its history.

“This is going to be a hard year, but we’ll fare very well,” he said. “When business is challenging, retailers look for a safe haven, and we are a safe haven. We’re in a very good place, and we are optimistic about this year.”

During an exclusive interview with Furniture Today, Natale was joined by Zoe Wong, executive director, Man Wah Holdings Ltd. and daughter of Dr. Wong Man Li, founder, chairman and president of the board of directors.

Noting that she is also optimistic about Man Wah’s future growth, Wong said that she believes the leadership team’s emphasis on relationships will support both existing and future business.

“We have to introduce a new generation to Man Wah,” she said. “We look at colors and lifestyles and consider how our motion can be enhanced or adapted to meet new consumer preferences.”

Referencing a different mindset among younger consumers like herself, Wong said that she believes home furnishings will become increasingly important to a demographic that has not yet reached its full earning potential.

“We’re not like our parents, and we don’t feel like we have to save every penny,” she explained. “We like to entertain at home, and we want to ‘wow’ our friends. We want to show our lifestyles, show our personalities. Man Wah makes what people want, that is what drives our product development.”

Michael Hsieh
Michael Hsieh

At Lifestyle Enterprises Inc., CEO Michael Hsieh said that the company is focused on a variety of upholstery categories combined with affordable price points for younger consumers that fill a need in the marketplace.

“Many consumers under 35 are living in apartments and not yet in a home,” Hsieh said. “They are looking for functional, stylish furniture at a price they can afford. We offer that as well as a scale story that allows consumers to configure their furniture exactly as they need.”

At April market, Lifestyle focused on several targeted categories in upholstery including lifestyle living, functional stationary, modular and motion.

“We think functional stationary is its own category,” Hsieh said. “We’re transforming stationary looks with surprising lifestyle features many people didn’t think they could find in stationary upholstery. Think about chaise that doubles as a toybox or sheet/blanket storage or pop-out beds that provide extra bedding options for sleepovers, guests, or grandkids. In our company, it all comes back to value. We are a value-driven company.”

Consumer solutions

Lee Boone
Lee Boone

At Luxfort Home, modular stationary and motion sectionals attracted interest from buyers looking for configurable upholstery to meet consumer demand. President Lee Boone said that the flexibility is a necessity for some target demographics and that the word about the line is spreading as the Luxfort product hits retail floors.

“Modular furniture offers so much flexibility and if a consumer is younger and moves a lot, it’s just easier,” Boone said. “It’s also easier for the retailer to manage because their customers have a lot of options.”

Luxfort also introduced new power motion upholstery and beds, “accent” recliners, smaller scale pieces, and pieces with integrated technology including built-in projectors for beds and sofas.

“We have added features like reclining headboards and hotel reading lights to the beds, and a projector can be added,” Boone said. “For the new sofa, there is a projector that allows you to project a 90-inch-wide image on the wall. So if someone doesn’t want to have a large television on the wall, they can still have the same visual experience and then hide the projector when it’s not in use.”

Rick Lovegrove
Rick Lovegrove

At Four Hands, the Amber Lewis x Four Hands collection had an enthusiastic and robust buyer audience before market began. Comprised of 200 SKUs across dining, upholstery, outdoor and décor, the new collection is the first branded collection “ever” for Four Hands, according to Rick Lovegrove, president of upholstery. He added that Lewis, an interior designer, creator, and founder of Los Angeles-based Amber Interiors Design Studio, has been a Four Hands customer for several years, a factor that swayed the decision-making process.

“We have always respected her work,” Lovegrove said. “We’ve been approached by a lot of people, but it didn’t feel right before. This felt right.”

Available to the trade through Four Hands and to consumers through Shoppe Amber Interiors, the collection launched simultaneously before market on the Four Hands website, Amber Lewis’ website, and across social channels for both companies, and the first orders immediately started coming in.

“We sold 500 pieces the first day,” Lovegrove said. “The reaction has been overwhelming in a wonderful way and greatly exceeded our expectations.”

Describing the collection as “all about layers,” he said that Lewis’ signature aesthetic is about combining old with new and mixing modern touches while incorporating a nod to European antiques. The materials chosen for the upholstery in the collection include genuine shearling, aged leathers, and chenille velvets, among others.

“Amber worked on every single piece. We traveled around the world to develop the product; she was not just putting her name on it.”

Universal Furniture debuted new indoor and outdoor furniture and hosted several standing-room-only educational sessions outlining effective business practices, materials, and trends. Company officials said that attendance statistics confirm buyers’ response.

sean oconnor - use this one 1-2024
Sean O’Connor

“Our traffic was up 20% overall vs. spring of 2023, and we saw our dealers and designers encouraged about our two new indoor collections, an expanded upholstery assortment, and our new introduction in outdoor furniture,” said Sean O’Conner, president. “Some customers have been holding back for a while, and they were ready to shop for fresh new looks for their floors this market.”

Wesley Hall introduced a new collection with design icon Bunny Williams, and the 40-SKU group attracted fans of Williams’ aesthetic as well as buyers sourcing classic design. Zack Taylor, president of Wesley Hall, said that the first few months of 2024 are going well, and he is optimistic that the trajectory will continue.

Zack Taylor
Zack Taylor

“Orders are strong for Wesley Hall and fortunately, really ramped up at the start of the new year,” Taylor said. “We are seeing activity from retail chains, several reporting stellar January and February (sales), and interior design-based businesses as well.”

Taylor said that new product introductions underscore the long-term goal of building the company’s future consumer base while supporting existing customers through signature options that align with a “highly visual” next-gen consumer demographic.

“Clearly this younger generation, aka the Instagram/TikTok set, are hard wired for visuals,” he said. “They craft, document and share every aspect of their lives. They carefully consider and control every detail of their posts, much like an author considers and controls every turn of phrase. I believe and witness this same attention to visual content happening in the decisions they make for.

“I believe the rampant nature of this visual appetite will inspire and direct the design process,” Taylor added. “The ‘new generation’ of visual connoisseurs will emulate, replicate, and personalize trends they experience via social media. And they will share what they create, inspiring others to follow suit.”

Success with storytelling

Evoking daydreams of an island getaway, Lexington Home Brands debuted introductions in Tommy Bahama as well as new outdoor groups. The materials story includes rattan, bamboo, and raffia while the fabric story showcases tropics-inspired greens, corals, and blues.

“We included a lot of new fabrics and warm materials,” officials said. “We haven’t done an island-resort style in a while, and buyers are definitely responding to it.”

England Furniture welcomed buyers to the company’s 60th anniversary celebration for one part of the spring market story. Part two centered around several product introductions designed to accommodate lifestyle stories including four new stationary groups and a new motion group.

“We’re more transitional style this market,” said Megan Hudson, merchandising manager. “And we’re including deeper seating as well as over-scaled, deep comfort – what I call our ‘slouch couch.’”

At American Leather, the story shifted from Wabi Sabi to Kintsugi, both principles representing the beauty of imperfection.

Veronica Schnitzius
Veronica Schnitzius

“It is about handcrafted, artisanal,” said Veronica Schnitzius, president. “We build product for life; it’s the only way we know how.”

Barcalounger continued to evolve several consumer lifestyle stories for the company’s 16 product divisions. President/CEO Larry Smith said that the company has developed motion upholstery for every age, from toddler to senior.

“Our kids’ recliners are built like a regular Barcalounger, and we came to market with 900 last fall and left needing an additional 4,000,” Smith said. “This market, we’re showing everything from nursery to kids to gaming chairs along with our recliners, and a lot of buyers are surprised when they see the diversity of products we offer.”

“I think Market is like the NFL draft,” said Carlos Bosch, president of Violino Furniture. “When teams set up for the draft, they have to do their homework and decide who they are going to go after. There is always a big hoopla, but the reality is that you will only really know down the road how successful someone is going to be.

“It’s the same with furniture,” he added. “We know something is successful when it does well at retail. Buyers come into the showroom looking for inspiration and for things unique and different.”

See also:

  • Launched two days before market, Four Hands’ first branded collaboration with Amber Lewis is taking off
  • Smorgasbord of spring market’s sofas and seating | with photos

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