Remarks of "outstanding," "well-above expectations," and "another record market" were among the common reactions from sales and marketing sources at leading case good manufacturers during the International Home Furnishings Market April 23-May 1. The responses were tracked by Appalachian Hardwood Manufacturers, Inc. (AHMI), a High Point, N.C.-based trade association which promotes "The World's Choice" lumber and products from the Appalachian region of the United States.
AHMI is unique because its primary membership is lumber producers, but it has an associate division for hardwood lumber consumers. During furniture market, AHMI staff surveys its furniture producing membership about introductions and results of furniture market.
For Spring 1998, more than 85 major introductions were announced by various manufacturers. These include traditional and contemporary with an emphasis on a new style defined at "boomer casual." The category targets the baby boom generation, those born from 1946-1964, with more traditional styles and a casual twist. Hardwoods used in these designs include maple, ash, oak and cherry and the look is natural with a dry finish.
The casual trend, like all designs, spreads rapidly, said Steve Kincaid, vice president of manufacturing at Kincaid Furniture Co. He said furniture designers used to take two years to establish a trend. That time has been reduced to six months at all price points.
"It has become very competitive and the companies who are taking more chances, offering better products and improving service are doing very well," Kincaid said. "We had a record opening day at Kincaid in attendance and orders written and we expect a good spring and summer."
Kincaid said furniture retailers were interested in lighter woods like maple, birch, ash, and cherry. He said clean, muted grains were popular.
Retailers saw Contemporary Shaker from Stanley Furniture in maple for the first time in 1997. For spring of this year, Stanley offered the line in cherry finished in a lighter stain that enhances its natural character.
"We also had a youth group in cherry and a Florida style made from poplar solids that were well received," said L.A. Powell, Stanley Furniture lumber buyer. "Our representatives tell us they have booked a lot of product and we've had good traffic. That's why we come to market."
The lighter tones and others with dark finishes were popular with customers at Richardson Brothers Inc., reported David Williams, vice president of sales. The company unveiled two major collections in oak and cherry that were well received and orders placed.
"Our attendance was excellent and the people who came were buying," he said. "We found that retailers are looking for solid wood and quality is still an obvious choice for everyone."
Quality has become synonymous with Appalachian hardwoods. The tight growth rings and consistent color of species grown in this region make it a favorite for furniture manufacturers.
It is also stressed at Keller Manufacturing Co. President Bob Byrd said retailers were seeking quality and function.
"Solid wood. Solid wood. That's what we heard," Byrd said. "Our orders were up 10 percent in the first quarter and profits were up 20 percent. Our retailers told us they had a good January- February- March, while April was not as strong.
"We expect the late spring and summer to stay very good based on our work at market," he said.
Thomasville Furniture Industries gallery and showcase programs limit the dealers who visit their showroom at market. Jim Adams, vice president of marketing, said those who came this year were ready to buy.
"If the stock market will remain stable and the housing market continues to grow, this could be a very good year for the home furnishings industry," he said. "Thomasville Furniture had an excellent response to our new products and our existing lines remained strong. We are very pleased with market."
The survey results should be pleasing to AHMI member companies, said Executive Vice President Mark A. Barford. A positive market translates into increased business over the next six months.
"Everyone we spoke with was upbeat about the direction the home furnishings industry appears to be headed," he said. "We are excited to hear the emphasis on quality continues because that's what Appalachian is all about. We offer the finest quality resource for wood products."
Based in High Point, N.C., AHMI represents more than 190 producers and distributors of hardwood lumber from the eastern United States. To learn more about the association, visit its website at www.appalachianwood.org.
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