A Retailer’s Best Friend
Futon Covers - Hot Topic
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Part 1

Futon Cover Update:
Quality Fabrics, Great Selection, and Smart Merchandising Make Futon Covers Hotter than Ever

By Andrea Mainardi

Imagine hearing about a business opportunity that offered the ideal constellation of features: a growing demand, an uncomplicated product, a limited number of competitors, and relatively high and stable profitability. This opportunity doesn’t even take much of an investment to get into. To top it off, let’s say selling’s a snap and customer service problems are minimal. Too good to be true, you’d probably say.

Uncovering the Scoop

Yet that’s more or less how retailers described their futon cover business when we asked them last month. After conducting a nationwide telephone survey of a broad base of both specialty and other futon furniture retailers, we learned a lot about the product selection, what’s hot and what’s not, what works and what doesn’t, and how much they charged for it. What we were looking for was firsthand information about the trends, opportunities and challenges of the cover or fashion aspect of the futon retailer’s business. What we found out was a lot of good news. What lingered on our minds were some questions about the next phase of futon cover marketing.

The Futon Cover: A Retailer’s Best Friend

Futon covers are a growing and profitable part of retailers’ annual trade. They bring in an average of one fifth of a retailer’s annual gross revenue and carry a relatively handsome margin. “It’s a captured part of business,” explains Anne Mali, owner of Itsa Futon in Port Richey, Florida. “Everybody who buys a futon buys a cover. And in order to buy a good one, they’ve got to buy it here.”
It is precisely because the product line is not a commodity that it is so valuable. Unlike other home furnishing accoutrements often carried by specialty stores, quality futon covers with matching accessories are not available at furniture, gift, or department stores. In fact, retailers told us that they not only sell to people who purchase futon frames at their store. Many customers want to purchase futon covers for futon frames they purchased elsewhere. They come to a specialty store to choose from a broad selection of colors, patterns and quality fabrics.
Futon covers are also a valuable product for the retailer because they enhance the image of the futon product. For example, the beautiful fabrics that adorn futons in a store window offer a strong emotional appeal.
They’re often what cause a customer to stop, look, and eventually walk into a store. “The quality and design of today’s fabrics and futon covers allow us to better compete within the furniture business,” commented Kyle Cherek, owner of Innovative Spaces in Brookfield, WI. “In fact, these fabrics are so great we even successfully advertise under upholstery fabric in the yellow pages.”
The wide selection of patterns, colors, and fabrics also make the futon a more versatile piece (of furniture). I think that selling futon covers brings out the decorator in the retailer,” commented Anne Mali of Itsa Futon. “You can really work with the customer to help them find the right look for so many different decors.”

Long gone are the days of choosing among solid shades from a handful of different manufacturers. Today’s retailers can choose from over twenty-seven different manufacturers. And when you consider that a typical futon cover manufacturer offers between 100-150 options (a few with even twice that number), the consumer can potentially choose from among more than 4000 different designs!
Our survey found that the average futon specialty store carries seven lines and approximately 600 different design choices between swatches and futon covers on hand. Over 20 percent said they offer over 1000. “We find that the consumer wants as large a choice as possible,” said Peggy Danson of Casual Room in Jacksonville, Florida. “In fact, we now carry about 800 different designs. Our goal is offer 1000 before the end of the year in order to offer the largest selection of futon covers in Northeast Florida.”
And offering a large variety does appear to provide a competitive advantage. Our research showed that the greater the number of designs offered, the larger the retailers’ overall cover sales. One Southern retailer summed it up: “Customers are very particular. They want to look through as large a selection as possible to find exactly what they want.” A number of futon retailers mentioned that they explicitly advertise the breadth of their futon cover selection in order to draw customers.

Continues on next page

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