Futon Covers: The Threads Of An Idea
By Joe Tatulli
The futon furniture concept has always been a good one. But there is one element of the concept that stands out as unique in the home furnishings industry-the futon cover. You cannot purchase a traditional sofa or sofa-bed with a removable or changeable cover. When you buy a futon sofa-bed these features (removability and changeability) are inherent in the design. The futon cover therefore is not only an easy add-on sale but, if cultivated properly, is a great way to bring the customer back into your store.
As a design element futon covers serve the retailer well. "We set up our sales floor in such a way that our customers can easily visualize what this product will look like when they get it home," says Melinda Welton of Futons Unfolding in Nashville, TN. Welton has always been a fan of heavier upholstery grade fabrics for futon covers adding that, "people are not afraid to spend $200 to $250 for futon cover when they realize what they are getting for the money."
Quality sells at retail and using the gallery or vignette technique seems to work well. Buzz Farlow of Poco Loco Futons in Tucson, AZ concurred with our belief that futon cover in upholstery fabric is a great hook when people are shopping for a living room sofa or guest room sofa bed.
"When we moved to higher end futon covers, heavy weight upholstery grade fabrics the consumer began to understand the value of the total package," said Farlow.
Registering one of only two substantive complaints we heard Farlow asked futon cover manufacturers to communicate better. "When I order a futon cover for a customer I expect the manufacturer to deliver. Three weeks later, when the cover isn't in yet, I don't expect to hear that they (the futon cover manufacturer) is out of that particular fabric. They need to respond immediately so we can get that customer into another futon cover right away," he said.
Heidi Huebscher of Futons Etc., in Tampa, FL shared the other concern which focused on futon cover sizes and standards. (See related story on page ) "This isn't a complaint," said Huebscher, "but it is a problem we deal with all the time. If the futon cover isn't cut to fit a specific futon it can sometimes be too big and baggy or too small and therefore too tight." This may be one reason many retailers prefer stocking futon fabric swatches and not futon covers.
Cathy Stoler, of Futon Gallery in Minneapolis, MN agreed and commented on the look of quality that can be achieved with the right futon covers. "In our stores we always lead with our strength by putting our best futon covers up front. When the customer comes in they immediately understand that they are in a furniture store," Stoler said.
Bernie Birch, of Arise Futon in Mt. Kisco, NY and Norwalk, CT said his customers understand the quality difference too. "My Norwalk futon store is in a mid to higher income suburban area. Most of my customers are buying furniture for their home not for their studio apartment. We simply sell quality and our customers understand the difference in futon covers," said Birch.
Birch also commented that his futon stores sell eighty percent of their total futon cover sales from fabric swatches and only twenty percent from in-stock futon cover goods inventory. "I don't have the walk-in traffic or the volume of a store in the big city," said Birch. He concluded that when a customer comes into his futon store they come in to decorate a room not make a quick purchase of something they want to take home "right now."
Other futon retailers, who seem to have a similar situation, use an entirely different approach.