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RTA crossover: breaking into case-goods territory.

HIGH POINT, N.C.--It was crystal clear at market that the lines of demarcation between ready-to-assemble furniture and conventional case goods had almost disappeared.

Armed with design-intensive products for virtually every room in the home, RTA makers sought to blend the convenience and value of RTA with the look of case goods, relying on crown moldings, bun feet, raised panel doors and more.

RTA buyers, many of whom were shopping for items as well as collections to help spark fourth-quarter sales, remarked on this focus on higher-styled, higher-priced assortments.

"The lines are definitely blurring," said Rick Lamb, vice president of merchandising for Home Express. "By virtue of enhanced styling, function and quality, RTA makers have made it inncreasingly difficult to simply look at a product and determine if it is RTA or a case good."

"A good example of a new line that speaks to that point is a new RTA youth bedroom from Armstrong," said Jim Bufalini, furniture buyer for Venture Stores. The suite, called Forget-Me-Not, is designed for a young girl. It features a floral applique, which, in conjunction with its case-goods size, "really shows how the lines between case goods and RTA have blurred," Bufalini noted.

"I spotted evidence of this blurring virtually everywhere I looked," added Bob Young, furniture buyer for Sears' Homelife Stores. As one example, he mentioned a new group of products in traditional designs from Sauder. It's called the Bradford Collection and features crown-like top molding, solid-wood finials, traditional pediments and bi-fold doors.

"This line, which comes on the heels of Sauder's successful Heritage Hill Collection, a traditional cherry line, marks a further thrust into the world of decorative case goods," Young explained.

However Young and others were quick to point out that these introductions offer more than good looks. "Vendors such as Sauder also moved product forward in terms of enhanced assembly techniques," Young said, referring to the twist-lock fasteners and slide-on moldings in the Bradford Collection.

"The ongoing efforts of RTA makers to enhance both the look and quality of RTA has made it dear that not only is RTA here to stay, but it will continue to steal market share from lower-end case goods, Young noted.

Kevin Sauder, vice president of sales and marketing for Sauder, the nation's largest RTA manufacturer, agreed. "In many cases, RTA makers are outdoing their case goods counterparts m terms of offering consumers better styling, better drawer systems and a host of other functions designed for today's needs."

As evidence that these gains have not gone unnoticed by retailers, Sauder, using Nebraska Furniture Mart as an example, pointed out that at one time the retailer used to show Sauder products only in its clearance centers. "Now," he said, "they merchandise our furniture adjacent to futons and electronics. They are not ashamed of RTA and merchandise it accordingly."

Other retailers, such as John Friedlander, senior buyer at Office Depot, noted that RTA makers have maintained a steady stream of product enhancements.

"Look at what we stock now, compared to what was available a few years ago," he remarked.

Friedlander, as did other retailers, praised RTA makers for their ability to introduce products that "anticipate and meet the expectations of the consumer."

Helping to carry the RTA banner were market introductions from a variety of manufacturers, some of them best known as makers of either case goods or upholstered furniture.

Flexsteel, for example, a maker of upholstered furniture, showed an extended line of RTA upholstered recliners at this market. Noting that the quality of the four styles of RTA recliners is "identical to those of their set-up counterparts," John St. John, sales manager for Flexsteel's motion division, said retail reaction to the "no-tools-needed" line was strong.

Ira Meyers, president of Ravinia Furniture Industries, a maker of upholstered furniture, reported positive retail response to a new line of RTA upholstered sofas, sleeper-sofas, love seats and chairs.

Traditional RTA makers, including O'Sullivan Industries, the countrys second-largest maker of RTA furniture, sought to parlay its success with a recently introduced Scandinavian line into line extensions, including a new bedroom suite.

According to Mike O'Sullivan, vice president of marketing, "The plan is to take one of our hot looks--Scandinavian--and target it to Generation X."

Although many of the young people lumped together as Generation X may not be able to afford high-end furniture O'Sullivan maintained, "They can certainly buy value, which does not have to mean promotionally priced furniture."

O'Sullivan's Scandinavian bedroom suite features concealed drawer slides and hard board drawer bottoms covered in a matching maple paper. There are five-drawer and six-drawer chests, a mirror headboard and night stands. "And, of course, since we are competing with case goods, all of the items in the suite are case-goods sized," O'Sullivan reported.

Ameriwood Industries also focused much of its attention at market on products that represented "better design and enhanced features," according to Scott Kearney, vice president of sales and marketing.

Ameriwood presented five new lines, one of which is a new bedroom suite called Southern Meadows, which features faces that incorporate rush and rattan, and bun feet. The correction has a case-goods look.

Ameriwood, as did other RTA makers, clearly crossed over into case goods territory with the introduction of a number of RTA end tables and coffee tables designed to coordinate with other furniture, just like mainstream case-goods lines. It expanded its seating assortment with new solid-wood and upholstered Parsons benches.

Fournier moved forward with an expanded assortment of California Oak, a line of home office and entertainment pieces characterized by solid-oak doors, drawer fronts and facial moldings. New items here include a room divider, a comer TV cart with glass doors, a comer computer center and a hutch with slidingdoor.

The company also showed a portion of its next-generation assembly techniques in Rapid Lok, a fastening system designed for fast assembly. The new system, the company said, will allow it to ship some of its RTA furniture partially assembled.

Bush showed a three-piece home theater cabinet that will be the first of its products offered to retailers either assembled or in flat-pack form. In flat pack, the home theater is expected to carry a suggested retail of $599; fully assembled, it will be $799. Bush was among the first RTA makers to test the waters with end tables and coffee tables.
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Title Annotation:ready-to-assemble furniture
Author:Allegrezza, Ray
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Date:Apr 29, 1996
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