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Making the list: upholstery buyers shop for color, coordinates and sharp prices at Showtime.

HIGH POINT, N.C. - Armed with long shopping lists and a keen eye for value, furniture makers are scouring the fabric showrooms here at this week's Showtime fabric fair. Most upholstery fabric buyers say they are hungering for something new - saturated colors, strong prints and new textures - all at sharp prices.

"I'm looking for more certain colors than I did last time - more of a color theme," explains Elaine Bolick, director of merchandising for Alexvale Furniture. "I'm looking for murky gray taupes, different shades of browns and rose colors - saturated, but subdued colors. I'm mixing more fabric than I did last time for more of a layering look."

Finding saturated, deeper colors is the number-one priority for upholstery buyers. "We are certainly hoping to find some more intense, defined color in response to what retailers are telling us," says Jack Arthur, vice president of merchandising for Norwalk. "There is so much washed, aged and patinaed looks that retailers are saying `where are the saturated colors, the punch?' Maybe not all the way to jewel tones, but defined colors."

"I want more colors," noted Alex Shuford, vice president of upholstery for Century. "The market and our retail customers are tired of all the neutrals from the past few seasons. The casual look is fine, but it needs some accent."

Kristine Capra, vice president of merchandising for Highland House, says a design done in yellow and blue was the number two fabric on the floor at the April market. "We want to find something to succeed it," Capra says. "I'm hoping that blue and yellow is out there.

"I'm also seeing combinations of eggplant and greens and gold colorations as a correlation," she adds.

Dietra Smith, director of upholstery merchandising at Pennsylvania House says: "We're zooming in on aubergine, grape, and reds. And green is an industry mainstay. We are also continuing our coral/salmon collection. When you say orange, people are shocked, but ours is soothing."

Ron Cooke, vice president, merchandise manager, Lane upholstery division, comments, "There is a very definite European flavor - more coastal, southern Spain colors, truly sun-drenched colors that we are looking for."

Greg White, product manager for stationary and bedding upholstery for La-Z-Boy, says he hopes to find a strong new color direction at the market. "We want to see more of the relaxed goods coming, but with more influence of color."

Terry Allen, vice president of design for Peasron, says, "We are looking for a comfortable, transitional, bigger, slightly more colorful look. We want comfortable-looking fabrics, but not of the extremes of Shabby Chic."



Demand for printed fabrics, as most converters ten it, has declined over the last several seasons. But furniture makers insist that printed fabrics - when colored and designed correctly - are desirable at the retail level.

"Prints to an extent have slowed down, yes," says Smith of Pennsylvania House. "But if it's the right look, price and application, it will sell."

"We felt that in the last couple of seasons they got distracted doing packages with wovens and neglected the original artwork print designs," comments Norwalk's Arthur. "We're hoping that some of those people will return to emphasize nice print designs in traditional and transitional looks.

"We process 90 to 110 pieces of customer's own material here and I spent a number of days looking at the COMs," continues Arthur. "There were a good number of nice prints that they weren't finding on our wall. And COM carries a penalty so it's something that a customer paid pretty considerably for to meet their needs. The message to me was that we need to freshen our print offering."

Notes Highland House's Capra: "Of the 300 some fabrics we put in, four of the top five were prints. That tells us that prints are coming back."

While furniture makers are sure that prints will sell, they say that a good print can be hard to find.

For example, Tom Mate, director of merchandising for Frederick Edward, anticipates that finding salable prints will be his biggest obstacle at this season's Showtime. With the exception of one supplier, he says, "It's tough to find good volume prints."

"We will be reviewing some prints and I hope to find something wonderful," says Century's Shuford. "They haven't wowed me lately. We usually start with a wonderful print and build the rest of our showroom from there."

Lane's Cooke says that there, "needs to be a resurgence of prints. And not just in cotton, but in linen too."

Adds Annette Murdock, director of upholstery marketing and fabrics for Drexel Heritage: "The print selection has been limited and we're looking forward to finding some sources that will have prints available in an English style with good drawings and so that they can be merchandised with our wovens."



Most upholstery buyers are calling for exclusive patterns and colorways this time around and, for the most part, they will shy away from buying complete packages from one vendor, opting to create their own coordinated looks.

"I would never put in a package," says Bob Williams, vice president at Mitchell Gold Co. "The risk is that I'd see it at another showroom at higher price points and low price points. If I see a fabric that I feel will be all over the market or a competitor will have it, I will avoid it."

Still, Bolick at Alexvale says she hopes to find more complete lines of strong patterns from each vendor. She explains, "The last time you really had to look and buy bits and pieces from every manufacturer and mill." She says that she is already working with key vendors to create exclusive numbers.

Exclusivity is more important than ever before, say furniture makers. "In the competitive realm of upholstery, we are going after exclusive looks in every category and price point," says Smith. She too is already working with a number of mills and convertors for unique looks. "We are upping the percentage of exclusives," she adds. "Last season, 23 out of 100 covers were exclusives. This time, 30 to 35 will be exclusives."

Lisa Michael fashion director at Bernhardt, says: "One thing that we do is work as early as we can to work up some special fabrics and special ideas."



The word at April's International Home Furnishings Market here was that fabric suppliers would be posting price increases due to the rash of raw-material-price increases in the last six months. As a result, some furniture makers say this market will be more price driven than ever before.

Explains Bolick: "We've gotten letters on price increases. One French company posted a 40 percent price increase on a fringe, for example - we can't take that. We have to go back and say we can't raise prices on a sofa that way. People that need to run looms will absorb. Those that are running will pass them on."

"We are going to take real close look - do a line-by-line analysis and see what the recent increases have done to it. In a lot of cases, prices were passed on to us," Norwalk's Arthur explains. "We will take a hard look at that rice and see if it is a value to our line." Like Bolick, Arthur notes that suppliers that needed to fill up their weaving capacity have already set promotions in motion for mid year.

"Price is number one," says Smith of Pennsylvania House. "A great look at a good price, perceived value. We're seeing strong looks in the $5 range - where we need to be. Value is number one. Retail is soft so we do whatever we can."

Highland House currently. uses a three-tier fabric price structure, but according to Capra, the company may develop a new grouping to accommodate good-selling fabrics that are higher priced. "We think we'll have to develop a whole other category to hit those price points. Mill prices have gone up and in order to justify good value, we think we'll have to develop a whole category in between. We win develop product around them to adjust the price and value. The goal is to get a great fabric and great frame."

Said Williams at Mitchell Gold: "We are so conservative on our pricing anyway. I've gotten fabric and when I know what the price is, it will fan in a certain grade. If a fabric is not a value, I won't put it in a certain grade. The last few markets we have increased our fabric grade and got a good reaction."

Top 10



1. Strong prints 2. Saturated, defined colors 3. Vintage, worn-looking fabrics and colors 4. Exclusive designs and colorways 5. sharp prices 6. Non-traditional toiles 7. New fabrics sources 8. Coordinating fabrics supplied by different converters and mills 9. Washed goods at a range of prices 10. Random, easy-to-cut-fabrics
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Author:Rush, Amy Joyce
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Date:Jul 10, 1995
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