13384 Thu, 12/20/2007 - 7:20pm
Last time I checked, people were still pretty much sitting on sofas and chairs, sleeping on beds and eating at least some of their meals on tables.
In other words, furniture had not become an endangered species, relegated to extinction and destined for quaint displays in museums about the way people used to live way back when.
How to explain then the words chosen by a public relations firm that announced the closing of Leath Furniture, up until now one of the bigger regional furniture operations left in the country?
There in the release is the company's chief financial officer, Barbara Snow, quoted, speaking of how the "difficulties in the furniture industry," had caught up with Leath, forcing it to close.
The release also further states: "The company's regretful decision comes as a result of unfavorable financial conditions, including the decline in the furniture industry."
The decline in the furniture industry?
Sure, the furniture business is having a tough time, going through a massive adjustment of its manufacturing base, suffering through the impact of a slowing housing market, and trying to gets its sales and marketing in sync with a rapidly changing customer base.
But, "the decline in the furniture industry?" Have people suddenly given up sitting, sleeping, eating and all the other activities associated with furniture usage? I'm not close enough to Leath to know what went wrong there. Was it the same thing that happened to Rhodes and Seaman's and Huffman Koos and Breuners? These were all one-time regional powerhouses that couldn't move fast enough to stay on top of industry changes.
But give or take a few credenzas, the industry is selling just about as many pieces as it ever did. What's different is where those are being sold. Everyone talks about the growth of the single-branded furniture dealer, stores like La-Z-Boy Gallery, Bassett and Norwalk. Where do you think those sales came from in an industry that isn't growing much year over year?
Where do you think the explosive growth of Ashley's HomeStore operation has come from? This 200-plus-unit chain barely existed five years ago, but this year is poised to be the biggest retailer of furniture in the country.
How about IKEA? The industry loves to park IKEA off to the side and say it is really not in the furniture business. But it is, and every piece it sells is a piece traditional dealers don't.
Crate & Barrel? Restoration Hardware? Pottery Barn? Williams-Sonoma Home? Each may have its ups and downs, but you don't hear them talking about the "decline" in the furniture industry.
Like much of the home industry, the furniture industry laments the good old days and wonders why things aren't the same rather than trying to move with the changing time.
Leath was a good operation for a long time. It was in business more than 100 years. But did it jump on next-day delivery the way City Furniture has? Or into decorating services as Robb & Stucky has? Or coordinated room settings the way Rooms To Go did on the low end and Ethan Allen has on the high end?
People who do business in the home furnishings industry are lucky that their basic product will never become obsolete and go the way of eight-track tapes, pay phones and telegraphs.
That's when you have a decline. What the furniture business has now is called something else entirely: change.
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