13369 Thu, 12/20/2007 - 4:54pm
By Nancy Meyer
HIGH POINT, N.C.-The future of the ready-to-assemble furniture category was on the minds of manufacturers as the top guns from the major retailers were in town asking big-picture questions.
High-level executives from Wal-Mart, for instance, came to the High Point Market to query RTA vendors about what a home office will look like five years from now, and how technology advances will affect home entertainment going forward, sources told HFN. But Circuit City and many other big boxes were here, too, asking similar questions, they said.
What retailers came away with was a broad spectrum of responses, all hinting that next year's office RTA may already be obsolete, what with wireless connectivity allowing consumers to communicate, work and play while in motion, particularly in the home. Big desks and dedicated workspaces with built-in storage will fade, while small storage solutions and multi-use furniture pieces (that don't resemble desks) will become more important, vendors said.
"WiFi and the laptop changed everything," said Jim Sexton, chief executive officer of Z-Line Designs. "The whole world [of wood office furniture] will go away, as people are more mobile in the home, and cool-looking, contemporary desks--but not fixed--will become more important," he said. Z-Line will remake 60 percent of its wood furniture business in the coming year as a result of new consumer behavior, he added.
RTA manufacturers were equipped to address future trends with introductions this market. Coffee tables with lift-up tops to allow for comfortable laptop use were prevalent from all the major suppliers. Small, rolling laptop carts (not quite desks) with storage were also shown, as were smaller footprint desks and more decorative storage options that can be used throughout the home.
New home entertainment offerings included pieces that integrate audio/visual components, such as surround systems (from Ameriwood), and all-in-one tilt mounting kits for flat-panel TVs (from Z-Line).
And as case goods continue to hit lower prices from such players as Ashley and Rooms To Go, RTA vendors have had to be more creative and step up their offerings. Sauder Woodworking and Bush Furniture are leading the charge, with better real-wood furniture that comes partially assembled.
"They're narrowing the gap between case goods and RTA, so we need to keep showing value and innovation," said Kevin Sauder, CEO of Sauder. So far, case goods players haven't conquered the entertainment-at-a-price-point business yet, he added.
Sauder's big push this market is the Steadfast subassembled, real wood and wood veneer furniture groups that feature quick and easy setup. Upholstered RTA from Avenue Six, Linon, Adesso, Dorel and others fit this trend as well.