New tech, new pieces keep motion upholstery hot

HIGH POINT — Ongoing functional development through technology and new piece configurations, and reliable product flow were the big talking points in motion furniture showrooms at October market.

The technology behind motion furniture keeps evolving as producers look to have the ease of use match the comfort the category offers. Buyers at High Point Market saw a multitude of new features at a range of vendors.

Motion furniture components supplier Emomo uses its Beyond Smart finished goods line as a platform to showcase its latest developments, and several were on display at October market.

Those included an infinitely adjustable touch-light spindle that mounts in a powered socket on motion seating arms or nightstands.

“The socket also is adaptable to other accessories that we’ll develop in the future,” said Vice President Rosary Tang.

Another development at Emomo is a tablet holder with wireless charging. Many features also are on display in the iLounger power recliner.

“The attached table with power and wireless charger is height-adjustable,” Tang said. “There’s also heat for lumbar, a cooling function for the cup holder, massage and Bluetooth audio all in one chair.”

Also at Beyond Smart is Emomo’s new “audio leg” for sofas. Along with the speaker’s hidden location, users can stream quality sound to the leg via Bluetooth.

Finally, Beyond Smart introduced the Power Studio Lounger, a zero-wall proximity sofa that opens into a full-size bed, with micro-pocket coil seating and sleep surface. Positioning buttons on both sides are located toward the back of the piece. The tariff-free lounger is produced in Missouri by MSW Mfg. utilizing a sleeper sofa mechanism from Leggett & Platt.

In addition to its Soundstage immersive soundbar technology, Copper River introduced its second-generation Aura personal sound amplification system, which amplifies ambient noise in a room to assist the hearing impaired.

“We added this into styles other than lift chairs such as recliners,” said Joe Savovic, managing partner. “The new Aura chairs have Bluetooth on board.”

Focus on exclusives

Parker House had a hit with the launch of its FreeMotion line of cordless rechargeable battery packs for reclining furniture. Available in three power options — 2,500, 5,000 and 7,500 mAh — the batteries let consumers go “cord-free” and place motion recliners, sofas, loveseats and sectionals anywhere in the room.

“We’re also offering product with these batteries built in,” Parker House President Chris Lupo, said of the proprietary technology. “That includes a six-piece power sectional with three recliners that comes from the factory pre-wired to work off of one battery. We’d been developing this with our battery manufacturer for 18 months.”

FreeMotion battery packs feature intelligent power display and are offered in three models: the P25 (2500 mAh), P50 (5000 mAh) and P75 (7500 mAh), with suggested retails starting at $149. Professional signage and point of purchase materials are available to retailers carrying the FreeMotion program.

Abbyson came out with an exclusive feature called iTable Mini, which miniaturizes the function found on some drop-down consoles in motion sofas by locating all the charging, audio and video streaming and motion operation in an arm-top unit less than the size of a tablet.

Abbyson Senior Vice President Rodd Rafieha designed the unit, which was six months in development. He said it helped make October market Abbyson’s best to date in High Point.

“The main reason is this proprietary technology and offering it in higher-styled motion,” he said. “We’re going to be very specific on who we partner with on this, those retailers who’ve shown commitment to (us) will be the first to have it available.”

Those retailers will get a large POP banner to explain iTable Mini on sales floors: “The marketing aspect is crucial when you offer technology in helping the salesperson sell that technology on the floor,” Rafieha said.

Lea Unlimited rolled out reclining chairs with zero-gravity positioning options that utilize innovative “Komflex” technology.

“You can buy a chair with extending footrest, and you can buy a chair with zero gravity, but ours does both,” said Lea CEO Laurie Cryan. “It has a dynamic back technology so that the chair bends to such a degree as you recline that your eyes are at the right level for TV watching, playing games or reading.”

The chairs also have air chambers that expand or contract when changing positions to provide optimal lumbar support, and a “relax” mode causes the chamber to pulse for relieving tension. Rather than a control panel on the arm with multiple buttons, the chairs have two memory settings and two “joy sticks” beneath the arm on the side for simple operation.

“Also, every piece of the cover is removable for replacement or repair,” Cryan said. “We collaborated with the automotive industry on that.”

Solving the supply chain

Getting the product to retailers in a timely fashion was a bigger focus at market than ever for many motion vendors. Supply chain and quality hiccups in Vietnam have retailers taking a fresh look at China according to Jay Carlson, president of Nice Link Home Furnishings, which had a major motion launch of around 30 groups at market featuring the details such as sophisticated stitching, nailheads and other treatments at which China excels, as well as a Bluetooth-enabled “speaker leg” from Emomo.

“We want consistent quality when they open the box,” he said. “We’ve had people come running back and say ‘China’s where we need to be right now.’ We’ve looked at Cambodia, but it would have to be very basic product, and you have to train them.”

While many were fleeing tariffs on Chinese goods to places like Vietnam, Barcalounger stood pat with its Chinese manufacturing partners. That move put the company, which relies on stocking inventory stateside for shipment under 48 hours — usually 24 — in a strong service position that’s led to double-digit growth this year including two record months back-to-back, according to Vice President Bruce Sinning.

“We made the corporate decision based on the (complexity) of our product that we wouldn’t move product out of China at this time,” he said. “We couldn’t move our broad assortment of colors to Vietnam and maintain acceptable lead times.”

China’s ability to flow goods helped Barcalounger grow business in September even as consumer confidence waned.

“Out of the 305 SKUs we have in the line, we’re out of three right now,” Sinning noted.

Palliser is capitalizing on its North American production to build business, and it’s offering product development to match the delivery promise.

“We’re seeing a shift in what our customers are buying, and their willing to trade up to get that function,” said Palliser Motion Product Manager Fran Stewart. “Power headrests have become the ‘power windows’ of our industry. There’s still a place for less function, but we’re seeing significant increase in more power. Fifty percent of our (motion sales) include power headrest and more. That was around 20% two years ago.”

In its Elements collection, a motion/stationary hybrid for sectional seating, each piece is offered with or without power.

“With every piece and style, we’re incorporating unique function,” Stewart said. “You have the option of all motion, part motion or stationary.”

Features include stable, ratchet-style adjustable armrests and pivoting laptop tables that disassemble for storage in the arms. Another innovation in Elements is new corner seating.

“Square corners are usually not used a lot, but our corner seat back is engineered to have a slight recline and power headrest, and can be right- or left-facing,” Stewart said. “The wireless charging panel with zero-draw USB port is in the corner unit. We also have a queen or double sleeper option, and under-seat storage in stationary seats.”

Domestic producer Franklin Corp. launched an import container program called Kinsmen East this market to fill a supply gap in its line for finished motion goods out of China. The program features eight frames available in fabric or leather and retailing from $599 for fabric to $1,499 for dual-power motion in leather match.

“It’s a piece of the puzzle for merchandising,” said Vice President of Sales and Marketing Peyton Passons. “It’s targeted more at our West Coast business and more price-sensitive customers. A container to the West Coast is cheaper than freight from Mississippi right now.”