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Accessory Trend Update

Furniture World Magazine


Leading retailers relate current accessory trends.

Growth in accessory and occasional sales is nothing short of phenomenal," said Stefan Wille, President, Aktrin Furniture Research. "Smaller items like giftware have also been growing relatively fast. Beginning in the '90s, sales slowed down but did not decline as did furniture sales. The reason is that accessories are just less costly. There's an old adage, if you cannot afford a suit, you can still improve your appearance with a new tie! The same is true with home decor. If you cannot afford a new dining room suite, you can make your home more attractive with the purchase of an occasional table, a nice lamp, an area rug, a vase or a picture.

"Another factor is the aging of the population. Big ticket items are usually purchased at an early stage in the life cycle, and replacement and improvement purchases are made at a later stage. Statistically, approximately 60 to 70% of furniture needs are purchased between three and four years after the first marriage."

Donna Messer reinforces Stefan's analysis. President of ConnectUs Communications Canada, Donna's second hat is that of International Trade Specialist for the CGTA's (Canadian Gift and Tablewares Association) big Show, to be held in Toronto August 11 to 15 at the shuttle-connected International Centre and Congress Centre. More than 500 of the 850 exhibitors will be housed in the many halls of The International Centre, including an expanded Canadian Collection and Showcase Canada. This is concurrent with the Toronto Summer Home Furnishings Market centered as well at TTIC where the 75 permanent showrooms of Canada's Furniture Mart are also located, and other factory showrooms situated nearby.

Donna told us, "There is a big, rapidly growing export market with Germany in Aboriginal jewelry and art. Total Canadian exports including paintings, drawings, original engravings, carvings and sculptures of Inuit and Dene art reached $50.5 million in 1994 of which $41 million went to the U.S." Donna said an average size industry operation is estimated to be one to six employees with total employment of about 20,000. "The Canadian craft and giftware market is estimated to be worth $600 million. In addition to the large companies, there are about 250 to 300 export ready craft and giftware producers in Canada with individual sales averaging between $200,000 to $250,000 a year. Important considerations are price points and quality. Increasing interest holds out the potential to substantially increase sales into the U.S. and Asian countries."

Over 22,000 visitors from Canada, the U.S., Europe and Asia were attracted to the Show last year and officials are preparing to welcome a much larger contingent in August 1996.

Linda Hilgerdenaar, Garden Hill Galleries, feels that the consumer is "Staying home more, redoing living space, doing smaller things first. Furniture stores are coming into a new era, they are creating a total package, bringing it all together to enhance their floor vignettes and up their sales a little bit more. It's a new way of thinking for the consumer, too; they are accessorizing their rooms, coordinating, finding the right pieces. I'm an outdoors person and I prefer landscapes, rainforest, wildlife. We've discovered that's what goes best in British Columbia, In the north they are not so keen on outdoorsy stuff, they have it all around them. In Toronto, Victoriana and florals are favorites. Different areas of the country demand different styles, there are marked regional differences. Top colors now are navy, robin's egg blue, deep burgundy, mustard yellow, and hunter greens are still holding on."

At Seaforth, Ontario, Barbara Bettles of Box Furniture is convinced that she is "Selling more and more prints and other accessories as the years go by. In our store, I look for prints that complement, that are color coordinated. If you display prints properly, they will sell. You have to give the customer ideas as to how prints can be grouped, how several small prints in an arrangement can look much nicer than one large print, for example. People can visualize them in their own homes. We use mirrors in these groupings, too.

"We treat lamps and cotton throws similarly in color groups. Garden Hill prints are doing really well for us. What the customer in our area wants is a variety of price points. When they're buying for a children's room, they don't want to spend a lot of money but they can get two smaller, attractive prints for $29 or $39; they look nice, and the purchase doesn't impact their budgets adversely."

Millie Lax, Leeazanne Canada/Custom Acrylics, assured us there has been "No decline in my business, In fact, business has been escalating. Our product is different enough that it's moving well."

John Martin, founder back in 1938 of high-end Decor Inc. of Westmount, Quebec said "Sales suffered, one million each year in the last two years, (because of the Quebec political situation) and now that people have stopped separation talk and are thinking more of really living than just discussing issues in the last few months, sales are going up. Lamps, occasional furniture and objets are all very big, especially little decorative boxes, little pieces of furniture, tables, end tables and coffee tables."

At Ennisclaire Interiors, Oak-ville, Ontario, Grant Wilson is "Placing a lot of emphasis on accessories. We probably have a lot more accessories than the average furniture store. Accessories sell furniture and furniture sells accessories! It's certainly helped increase our business in the last nine months. We use cocktail and dining tables for full accessorization and have little specialty areas, wall systems and curio cabinets, where we display collections of pieces."

The Ennisclaire sales floor is 36,000 square feet, "Half middle of the road, and half very high end. We accessorize both areas completely, keeping price points in mind, and it's working well."

Capel Inc. of Canada's showroom manager, Samatha Eveleigh is convinced that consumer preferences have "Evolved. They are renovating and redecorating rather than moving, and they have learned they can change the mood and color of their rooms with area rugs and accessories. Our sales have gone up considerably. People are stripping tired broadloom, refinishing wood floors and using area rugs instead. Hooked rugs are still strong. More and more people are looking for all wool, not necessarily hand-knotted rugs, but for good quality machine made items, which are just as tightly woven, more consistent, have less frequent flaws and a better price, perhaps a $1,000 to $3,000 difference in price. The pile is not as high, which helps to make machine made rugs more practical.

"Country braids are in, they're cozy, kind of back to pioneer days, and they are being used in more contemporary settings. Lodge is fading for homes, but still strong for cottages, resorts and retreats. For romantic Victorians, a very strong trend, hand tufted French Country, hand carved from India, in 100 percent wool is going very well"

We called Maurice Coulter, Harvest House Furniture in Schomberg, Ontario, and he said "We like to offer one-stop shopping to our customers, furniture together with accents and accouterments. For instance, when we sell a bed we also sell the mattress cover, sheet set, dust ruffles, pillow shams, and quilts. A bachelor bought a single bed the other day. I ended up adding 35 percent more to the order with linens, covers, etc. This is a key, integral part of any selling today. It's an adjustment for the retailer, but it's amazing how receptive the customer is. We know there is an excellent potential in rugs and other accessories; it's a learning curve for us.

"Rugs help us define our vignettes, and we color coordinate with the upholstered furniture. Accessorizing serves as an aid to the prospective customer, it helps their decision."

Patti Nicoletti, Anthony's Art Design, is "Making presentations in collections with accessories. Everyone in retail with whom we deal is stronger in vignettes. We're offering table, floor, accent, and torchere lighting with candleholders, vases and fruit dishes to complement them in style and color specific to the setting. And we're working with all styles, contemporary, modern, French country and traditional.

"In our experience, retailers feel the collection approach works best now, for instance Leon's, Canada's largest furniture chain. They are getting repeat customers. The consumer is not dropping large dollars any more, and repeat business is becoming more and more important. Retailers want a loyal, returning, building, solid customer base. Customers want service and look. We all have to be creative."

Said Diane Leon, "My philosophy exactly! We are at a medium price point, but I've always had medium to high end accessories throughout our stores to spruce up our vignettes. Every accessory is tagged for sales and we train our salespersons to sell the entire package. The customer buys the look. There are a lot of people out there who don't really know how to create a look. If they can see it already in place, and get advice about how to build their own decor, we've made them happy and we've made a sale."

And then, of course, there are the gargoyles and the fountains, and decorative accessories like picture frames. All of which Allan Hume, United Design, said are "Doing exceptionally well." Allan sells into furniture stores, gift shops and nursery chains. "Customers are using fountains in hallways and in solariums both for the look and for the water's soothing sound. Stone Garden gargoyles have taken up residence inside too as accent pieces, as well as occupying their traditional prominent positions in garden locations. We've noticed that British Columbia and Alberta are miles ahead of Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces. Westerners tend to be more trendy, but the rest of Canada is following close behind.

"I was listening to a Faith Popcorn interview recently. It's her theory, and I believe she's right, that people are concentrating more and more on what they want for themselves within the home. They're not out to impress the neighbors any more. They want things that give them personal pleasure. Hence the interior fountain rather than the designer silk tie. That's the vision for the next century.

"We're designing decorative accessory packages now for the furniture shows with fountains in the center surrounded by stepping stones and statuary at three different price levels. We're convinced they'll do well."

When retail floors showcase accessories, consumers with cash in their pockets have been known to buy whole settings, sofa, loveseat, chairs, with complementing lamps. pictures, mirrors and area rugs. But those consumers still waiting for the good times to roll are definitely in the market for that special accessory item to spark their existing decor.