Hurt by falling price points and two decades of flagging consumer spending, furniture manufacturers gradually are awakening to the need to market their goods.
Although the industry ships $18 billion in furniture a year, manufacturers spend only $170 million annually on consumer advertising, Home Furnishings Council estimates.
"Unfortunately, we're in an industry with a lot of manufacturers, and few of them-about 10-are doing any meaningful consumer advertising," says Bill Martin, president of Lane Advertising, Altavista, Va., in-house advertising agency for Lane Co.
Lane is one of them. But having maintained a national advertising presence since the early 1920s, it has been an anomaly in the industry.
Among the manufacturers now appealing to the consumer through advertising are Lexington Furniture Industries and Thomasville Furniture Industries. And Bassett Furniture Industries and Broyhill Furnitiure Industries have started consumer advertising within the past two years.
Smaller players, such Tell City Chair Co., are considering national campaigns within the next year.
Furniture manufacturers traditionally spend their marketing money on trade ads, leaving the job of consumer advertising to retailers. But as the manufacturers neglect the consumer, consumers have been neglecting them: The percentage of disposable income spent on home furnishings fell to 0.7% in 1992, from 1.2% in 1970, according to the council.
The reason: More than 77% of consumers say they don't shop for furniture because they already have enough, says Britt Beemer, president of America's Research Group, a furniture-industry consultancy.
Part of the problem is that furniture makers have never given consumers a reason for buying furniture other than utility, says Allison McInnis, VP-marketing at Expressions, which makes and markets upholstery for Expressions Custom Furniture retail franchises.
"When you think about a car, it's basically a commodity," she says. "But car dealers over the years learned how to give cars different personalities. Your car now makes a statement about you. But furniture never really got past just being something to sit on."
That may be changing.
"There is a new feeling of marketing more strongly to the consumer and really concentrating on trying to gain more of that disposable income that's going into other areas," says Home Furnish-(Continued on Page S-7)
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ings Council President Robert Nightengale.
Lexington's ad budget has increased four-fold since it started national advertising four years ago, says President Jeff Young. He declined to give a budget.
Lexington spends the bulk of its ad budget on image advertising, created in-house, in shelter magazines.
Last year, however, the company produced its first 30-second TV commercials: two for its World of Bob Timberlake collection and two for its American Country West collection.
Expressions, likewise, plans to make its first foray into TV with a $5 million national campaign on cable breaking this spring to create a brand name for the chain, Ms. McInnis says.
"We feel there's an opportunity, especially on the national level, to establish a brand for upholstery," she says.
The campaign, to run on Turner Broadcasting's Cable News Network, was created by Peter Mayer Advertising, New Orleans.
In addition to the efforts of these individual manufacturers, the Home Furnishings Council has new plans to help the industry overcome its woes.
The council, comprising 165 manufacturers and 3,500 retailers, has undertaken a $3 million generic advertising campaign via Baron & Zaretsky, New York, and also has come out with a decorating guide, called Haven, for retailers to distribute to consumers.
Its most ambitious program, however, is in taking Haven to TV. A 30-minute syndicated show under that name is slated for Saturday mornings beginning this spring. Hosted by Joy Philbin, wife of talk-show host Regis Philbin, "Haven" will advise viewers on how to decorate their homes.
"Most people haven't got a clue on how to buy furniture, or what is quality furniture or who manufactures furniture," notes Expressions' Ms. McInnis.
By calling a toll-free number, consumers will be able to find out where to locate items featured on the show.
The program has secured station clearances in such markets as Baltimore and Hagerstown, Md., Cincinnati, Detroit, Kansas City, Mo., Las Vegas, Madison, Wis., Memphis, Mobile, Ala., and Tampa/St. Petersburg.
John Case, VP-marketing for La-Z-Boy Chair Co., says the show will help furniture companies establish better branding with consumers.
He says La-Z-Boy enjoys the greatest brand recognition in the industry, with aided awareness of more than 90%. "Without that benchmark, which is what this industry suffers from, we have consumers who are very, very wary and somewhat disbelieving when it comes to the shopping process." And that's one area in which Mr. Case thinks the TV show "Haven" may be able to help.
"There's a thirst on the part of women consumers to get some decorating help. To put that in a syndicated TV show is going to fill that void." M
Lexington spots tout its World of Bob Timberlake and American Country West collections.
Expressions Custom Furniture is expanding from catalogs to cable TV.
Joy Philbin hosts syndicated TV show "Haven," which will offer decorating tips to viewers.