Thursday, January 29, 2009

Struggles in the Home Furnishings Market

We at Greenjeans felt the recession early, and Julie Scelfo's article, "The Meltdown in Home Furnishings" in yesterday's New York Times, sheds some light on why.

" 'The impression everybody in this industry seems to have is that because this economic meltdown started with the housing market, anything related to home got slammed first and worst, and that included home furnishings,' said Warren Shoulberg, the editor of Home Furnishings News, a trade publication. 'Other than the auto industry, I think the home furnishings industry has pretty much gotten hit the worst.' "

With Domino magazine ceasing publication after the March 2009 issue, following the demise of Cottage Living, Country Home, O at Home (an Oprah mag), and perhaps most incredibly the 106-year-old House & Garden, the home furnishings and design market clearly is not what it was a few years ago.

" 'If you’ve got less in your pocket and you’re worried about putting food on the table, you’re not going to be buying new throw pillows just because Pottery Barn has a new color,' Mr. [Joseph] Feldman [an analyst at the Telsey Advisory Group in Manhattan who studies retail markets] said. 'Given the state of the economy, consumers are doing more with what they have.' "

I know that's true for me. It seems to have been true for our customers, too. And obviously it's why we're holding off on our plans to reopen with a space dedicated to local furniture.

While the Times article focuses mostly on commercial home furnishings businesses, it also applies to the struggle of independent furniture makers and other designers and craftspeople as well. If the big guys are struggling, you know the little guys are too.

Two of the biggest craft fairs of the year take place next month: the Buyer's Market of American Craft in Philadelphia, a wholesale-only show, and the American Craft Show in Baltimore, which is both wholesale and retail. Not to mention the New York International Gift Fair, a huge wholesale show with a large Handmade section, taking place this week. These shows are full of home furnishings offerings, and are major sources for a lot of stores that stock such items.

I'll be honest: from a business perspective I am nervous for these shows. Nervous that exhibitors won't make enough money, nervous for the show organizers because I am sure there has been a decline in the number of exhibitors registering to show. And nervous for the wholesale buyers who are looking for certain price points that might be unrealistic for the handmade market.

My prediction is that we're going to see a lot of cutting boards in the booths of furniture makers, coasters and trivets in potter's booths, and uncomplicated ornaments and bottle stoppers with the glassblowers this year, indicating an effort to come up with items that are more affordable to buy and less of an investment to produce. And I expect that there will be a lot fewer people shopping than just looking this year.

We all know this recession won't last forever, but weathering this storm is no easy trick, and for those whose businesses center on home furnishings -- retailers, makers, and show organizers alike -- the challenge is awfully dramatic, to say the least.

On the other hand, perhaps there will be a boom in home furnishings once the economy gets back on its feet. After so many months and years of holding back, customers will want new pieces for their home.

In the meantime, let's be thinking about how to present independently made home furnishings in new ways so that when the economy does come back online, we're ready to roll!

Posted by Amy Shaw for Greenjeans.


Good-Grace said...

Insightful post. Hopefully we can all ride through the next few years while this mess is straightened out. (and hopefully it will not last *longer* than that... ugh.)

It is so disappointing that the sources (the magazines you mentioned) of inspiration for so many folks (and me included) have gone belly up.

christian said...

This is also the industry that I work in and therefore it makes me real sad when I see another company go under.