Assemblage was Bernards Furniture’s big launch at the fall market. The full home line aims to hit high value for a lower price point, the company says.

Case goods suppliers push hard into new product, new categories

Bobby Dalheim//Senior Editor of Case Goods and Global Sourcing//October 25, 2023

HIGH POINT — It was a big fall market for case goods suppliers, many of which expanded into new categories and others that introduced the largest number of new items ever. Quite a few suppliers entered new categories as interest turns toward becoming a whole home supplier.

Magnussen Home made its big upholstery debut, as did domestic manufacturer Copeland Furniture. Entertainment and office furniture specialist Martin Furniture got into dining, while Vaughan-Bassett made its return to the same category after a three-year absence.

Other companies, such as Bernards, AICO, Sherrill and Universal, unveiled some of their biggest product introductions ever.

Mid-to-lower-priced whole home supplier Bernards, for example, unveiled the 70-piece whole home Assemblage, one of the biggest launches it has offered. The line has more of a designer feel, according to President Micah Swick, with modern looks, earth tones and soft curves. The set includes three beds retailing at $699 and three dining tables starting under $500.

“Providing exceptional value is key and continues to be our focus,” said Swick. “Our strategy is to increase share of wallet and offer a better representation to our buyers.”

He said a customer’s buying experience is key to the sale. “Consumers want to be submerged in an experience,” Swick said. “That means setting up product in an environment they can get their arms around. That means curated vignettes. We want to show furniture in actual room settings, and we want retailers to show our furniture that way, too.”

New products will continue to be a chief focus for the company going forward, as about 85% of the company’s showroom this fall featured new products. “Retailers have been living with old products for a long time. They want new.”

Despite calling this market one of Bernards’ best ever, Swick acknowledged that business is down. Still, he’s optimistic.

“Imports going down isn’t a good indicator of business health,” he said. “Ocean rates went up in August after all, and the industry’s third quarter earnings reports were better than expected. I don’t believe consumer confidence is low. People will still spend if we give them a reason to.”

David Koehler, AICO
David Koehler

High-end supplier AICO had its largest production ever, according to President David Koehler, with 25 new collections. New items are evenly spread across the company’s categories.

“Business is tough, but in terms of customer reaction, this has been a ‘super’ market,” Koehler said. “One way we judge a market is if we can get that reaction. We hit it big this time.”

Like Bernards, Koehler said demand for new products from retailers is the highest it’s been in some time.

Companies “didn’t come up with new items over the pandemic really,” he said. “The appetite is now high. Inventory positions are stronger than they were a year ago. Our plan is to be very aggressive on new products and to acquire more market share. Next April, you can expect another big introduction.”

Notable was AICO’s new upholstered bed program, which allows buyers to customize with materials and finishes. Beds start retailing at $699 and ship direct container only.

Expanding retail reach

Vermont-based manufacturer Copeland Furniture’s big focus was its new Sierra collection, which includes upholstery — a new category for the company — and matching occasional furniture.

“We have some retail buyers that are specialists in woodworking but have lacked in the living room category,” said Ben Copeland, director of sales and marketing. “We saw an opportunity to be a resource for them.”

Copeland entered the upholstery category this market with the Sierra collection. Items have a wood focus and are made domestically at the company’s Vermont manufacturing plant.

“Over the past 10 years, we’ve developed our skillset in our upholstered elements. First, we did headboard panels and then upholstered dining seats. We’ve gained more experience over time.”

Reflecting the market and business in general, Copeland said, “In terms of scans, this is the best market we’ve had since COVID. Overall, we’ll finish 2023 flat or down a couple points from last year. The past eight weeks have seen an improvement, probably thanks to Labor Day. We expect to have an even better Black Friday.”

High-end manufacturer Stickley Furniture didn’t go with a big launch but instead opted to fill in the gaps of its existing lines.

“Last time we came with a whole group,” said Aminy Audi, Stickley CEO. “This time we decided to strengthen our existing lines. We looked at every line and asked ‘do we want to add something to fill in a gap?’”

The biggest add-on was to Walnut Grove, the company’s mid-century modern and Scandinavian-influenced case goods and upholstery line. Additions include a new high-backed dining chair, a small server and a 52-inch bedroom chest. New upholstery items include an 82-inch tufted-back sofa, a sectional and a coordinating slipper chair.

Stickley added a new chest to its popular Walnut Grove collection.

Besides Walnut Grove, the company also expanded its Mission line, which Audi said continues to be its top seller. Five new pieces also were added to Little Treasures, a collection of smaller, historically themed items.

Also notable for Stickley was its new express shipping program, in which select items ship in either 30 or 60 days.

“It’s no risk to us to stock items we know will sell,” said Beth Chang, director of marketing. “We’re just rolling it out now, but it has been popular so far. Selling something is certainly easier if we can get it to someone in 30 days.”

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