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Top ten trends at 2012 TCHFM PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alixe MacRae   
TORONTO (30 January 2012) - This year's Canadian Home Furnishings Market (TCHFM) was generally viewed as "conservative" due to fragile consumer confidence and the weak US demand for Canadian-made product. Yet, there were some significant trends, if you wanted to dig beyond splashes of colour and some metallic accents.

Dining room comfort
The wooden chair is literally on its last legs. The upholstered chair is everywhere. Not only does this add much needed fashion to the expanse of wood it also adds a more comfortable alternative that can be used as additional living room seating.

One manufacturer (Dine-Art) stated his parson's chair was his best-selling SKU (stock keeping unit). The evidence went well beyond his showroom. If you are retailing dining room, re-jig your chairs to reflect this trend.

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The Fab Four sofa from Brentwood Classics was one of the must see new products as this year's Canadian Home Furnishings Market. Having this on the retail floor will give any retailers upholstery presentation a splash of interest and eye appeal. It's also an item that will appeal to certain customers.

Small space innovation
While the leading upholstery manufacturers continue to craft small scale pieces; the prime innovation comes from the case goods and occasional furniture manufacturers and importers. For example, DeFehr Furniture captures dead air with pier beds that add storage to normally unused wall space.

Under bed storage was a novelty just five years ago and accounted for less than 5% of bedroom sales. Now experts are telling me over 20% of their business includes this option. Drawers have become the preferred option because many consumers find lifting the mattress is just too much work.

As condominiums continue to shrink and seniors downsize, this trend will continue to grow.

Small scale occasional put on a strong showing at Artage International while multi-purpose occasional continued to be one of Magnussen's best offerings. The coffee table becomes a desk, a game surface or a place for a meal.

Sofa beds with comfort and style
Your dinner guest drank just a little too much wine; your best friend is visiting or your son is moving back in (for a few weeks, you hope). Since your condo does not have a second bedroom, where do they sleep?

Sofa beds have often been seen by both retailers and consumers as hard, ugly and dreadful to sleep on. Well, Simmons Upholstery Canada - a division of Superstyle Furniture - has completely redesigned it offerings and they look amazing. The coordinated fabrics make it easy to satisfy the fashionista and regular consumer. Chair Tech, another Canadian producer, used TCHFM to introduce some new modern designs that allowed me to sit comfortably for over 30 minutes with no temptation to move - definitely an improvement over older generation sofa beds.

Add pop to your sea of neutrals
How boring can your showroom look? Consider shades of beige/brown with the occasional shot of gray. Home furnishings are fashion. Take 10% of your floor budget (maybe less) and invest in colour and some glam. Get some jeweled toned or metallic pillows to add some zip to your collection. Buy some amazing chairs; your upholstery supplier should have them - if not, check out NCA Design for some wow pieces.

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The Butterfly chair from NCA designs was another head-turner at this year's TCHFM.
Even if you don't sell one of the fashion forward items; you will up your image; but you will sell them. The Beatles settee from the always fun Brentwood Classics will put a smile on your customers' face.

Remember, accents are jewelry and all women like at least some bling.

Baskin Robbins has 31 flavours; but a well-respected news source has reported that 25% of their business is plain vanilla. If they only sold vanilla (rather than the 31, one for each day in an average month), they would not be one of the leading ice cream vendors in North America. They even named a flavour for the Beatles during their historic first visit to the U.S. all those years ago. If nothing else, Baskin Robbins teaches us one simple lesson: don't be boring.

Home office
Like under bed storage, many manufacturers abdicated home office when IKEA and Sauder started dominating this often difficult to manage but still vital to the consumer category.

Now-a-days, executives telecommute and highly paid managers are often required to spend only one day per week in the office. These people are demanding quality home office furniture and not prepared to settle for something that would co-ordinate with a home-made, brick-and-board bookcase.

They have status and money and are delighted when they find product that fits their life style and expectations. Aspen Home, B&G and Huppé got into the game years ago, and now AP Industries is jumping into the category with a great line of product in a wide range of finishes.

While Huppé and AP are offering more modern and contemporary designs; B&G is focusing on more traditional product. Some manufacturers are adding drawers to their sofa tables so they can also be used as a laptop desk.

A bedside table is a box that could be a filing cabinet. Even the office bound executive spends hours at home answering urgent emails that are purely business. Give this person some decent, Canadian-made furniture.

Juvenile/seniors/condo bedrooms
While many TCHFM exhibitors continue to offer both still princess beds (Eztia has one of the best) and always needed bunk bed; many of their most successful double beds - and small scale companion case pieces - were presented so as to be suitable to almost every age.

Parents want their kids to enjoy and use this furniture for many years; maybe through college. Some smart manufacturers (Ideal is a good example) were offering their beds in all sizes. Retailers who floor what is initially positioned as a juvenile piece in a double bed size will find they can increase price points and margins by grabbing those customers who are migrating into the 450 square foot condo.

Take a hard look at this category as most TCHFM exhibitors were offering product to meet any consumer budget. Mazin had a strong presentation in this category with its imported line-up, which also had styles that should attract a wide age range.

No, no merlot
While merlot may be the vanilla of the furniture world, there are other choices. Grey tones were among the most popular finish options at this year's only national furniture event. For example, DeFehr's new bedroom was stunning in this finish, as were the new dining groups showed by Bermex and its sister company, Bertanie.

Grey is clearly emerging as a designer favourite, so retailers should ignore this finish at their own peril. The best show the wood grain while adding a level of sophistication merlot lost quite a while ago.

Customize me
Canadian furniture manufacturers learned years ago that when China said "take it or leave it, that's the way we mass produce it" it was their opportunity to shine by offering a range of finishes, fabrics and leathers with a reasonable delivery time line.

For upholstery producers, the ability to offer ‘tag orders' has become a sine qua non of their existence - the Canadian sofa maker who can't or won't do this doesn't exist anymore. But at TCHFM, they started taking this one step further with more than one offering the standard 86-inch sofa in 92 inches at an upcharge.

On the case goods side, Bermex has offered oversized tables for year for those consumers who are willing to pay.

Consumer today can literally built their own piece of furniture as they are not simply being offered their choice of finishes and fabrics, but also their choice of arms, backs, seats, legs or any other component one can think.

But here's one word of warning for those retailers who offer these programs: get the full price of the piece up front; buyer's remorse is not an option for highly customized product.

Trade me up
This is coming from a surprising range of big retailers usually known for rock bottom pricing.

It seems they analyzed their returns and service calls and found they're losing money on these items. It could be they're tired of selling more products for fewer dollars. No matter what the motivation; let's hope it's not a resolution that will disappear in a month or two.

In any case, it will be the customers who win if retailers want to sell better home furnishings.

Logistics
More and more manufacturers and importers are talking about the importance of turnover to their retail base. Many cite Magnussen as a leader in this regard. Holding inventory is expensive; but many consumers want near-instant gratification. The smart wholesaler gives the retailer what they need; good value (for realistic mark-up) and a ship date factor that satisfies the pickiest customer.

The differentiation is in the profit
Products may be similar, but the key to success is the all-mighty bottom line. The best retailers invest less and reap more. A long time ago, Sears Canada learned that a sell-buy model for major appliances turned an under 20% markup product into a profit machine. Do the math, and avoid containers whenever possible.

Hire more excellent sales associates, buy carefully, make money and enjoy life.

A regular contributor to Home Goods Online, Alixe MacRae is one of this country's best known merchandisers, having held senior positions at a variety of well-known Canadian retailers including Stoney Creek Furniture, Sears Canada and The Bay.

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