Canadian retailers talk about hot merchandising trends.
As the twenty-first century approaches, the home theatre trend, in the mind of the consumer, has become an accepted need. When shopping for a home, buyers now assess floor plans for electronic placement, proper locations for big screen television and advanced stereo sound systems.
Retailers are rapidly gearing up to cope with what promises to be strong growth. Andy Dhanda, and his partner, Kamal Kang, own Furnishing 2001, two stores in Markham and Mississauga, both part of the sprawling 4.5 million Metro Toronto region. In each store there are complete "Experience Rooms" with all the electronics, cabinetry and upholstery required to convince the customer.
Furnishing 2001 opened in January, 1994. Dhanda said, "Big televisions are now becoming very economical. More and more people are buying them. Then they need furniture to house the electronics and, very important, comfortable seating so they can really enjoy their purchase. And that's when they realize they need us!"
The "Experience Room" is vital in Dhanda's opinion. "The customer tries it; when they hear it, they want it."
Laurier Furniture, one of the first companies in Canada to develop a home theatre furniture program for the retailer, supplies Dhanda and his partner. Vice President Marketing, Laurent Mercier, said, "Furnishing 2001 was one of the first retailers to come on board. We've had excellent response in both Canada and the United States. The consumer is responding very well in this category.
"Proper accommodation with appropriate ventilation, power bars and so forth enables you to hide every single piece of electronic equipment, the wiring, and the storage."
Black lacquer is the most favored finish across the board, although Dhanda, in Toronto, prefers the lacquer and wood combinations.
In Ottawa, the nation's capitol city, Christine Buckman of Colonial Furniture, reports "Modified versions of home theatre settings" in each of their stores. "Home theatre is in evolution still. We're selling units that take 33 inch televisions, one of the most popular sizes, with stereo speakers and a surround sound built in function. And we have multi-media tape holders with pull-out drawers for CD, cassette and VHS.
"Seating is key, and for home theatre we feature motion sofas that recline. They're very innovative with storage for ice buckets, jacks for telephones, cup holders, slide-away panels, some that lift up. There's a two-seater unit with a table and leaning pad. And there's a great cocktail table that lifts up to dining table height so you can have dinner comfortably without moving from your home theatre base!"
Leather is important, she told us, "but not in motion. Chenille, plaid, and solid colors with floral pillows, greens toned into sage or olive, nice reds" are big in Ottawa. In casegoods, "oak is number one, and contemporary is coming on strong in black, blue tones and slate."
Carl Swan, General Merchandise Manager for The T. Eaton Company's department stores across Canada, said "For home theatre, we're cross merchandising electronics, casegoods and upholstery. We will be doing setups in our flagship stores complete with surround sound in three or four months time.
"Department stores are not as advanced as specialty stores in this segment. We're talking big ticket values; large televisions, cabinetry and upholstery add up, a good substitute for going south! But, home theatre is definitely one of the growth areas, together with home office and juvenile."
At Sear's Canada, Stuart McLeod, Business General Manager, told us that an "Experience Center" has been placed in their flagship Guelph store. "The electronics are in place, consumers can turn on more and more sound, generate a layering of sound. There's a display of entertainment centers and wall units adjacent to the Experience Center."
Sears have also installed Centers in their Edmonton and Calgary stores, and "We'll be in Toronto by the middle of September. Sales are on the increase, It's a growth area in big ticket sales."
La-Z-Boy Galleries are providing home theatre conscious consumers with innovative seating alternatives. Doug Dobbyn, who is in charge of Galleries nationally, is convinced that "The customer has to look at the total room and the amount of money they want to spend on it. Get them into the store and show them upholstered furniture first. If you don't have something comfortable to sit on while you're watching your favorite programs, you're defeating the purpose of home theatre!"
There are now 47 La-Z-Boy Galleries across Canada. By the end of the year there will be almost 60, and two more free-standing stores will open in September and October.
"There'll be special home theatre groupings in all our Galleries. People are buying sectionals, or pieces of sectionals, depending on the size of their rooms. For smaller spaces, we have two styles of corner wedge tables. Customers are looking for convenience so there are pull-down trays, drawers that open in front, storage for magazines and books, you name it!"
All our experts emphasized the need for enthusiastic personnel who understand their products. With cross merchandising in three areas, defined teams devoted to home theatre and home office areas appear to be the way to go. Some retailers are inviting suppliers to talk to floor sales people during regular meetings to expand their product knowledge. It's well worth spending time analyzing your own needs to take advantage of the long term home theatre growth opportunity.