Fireman: The World View on Futons
We asked Bob to comment on the current state of the industry he pioneered. As usual he had an opinion on everything.
"As far as futons go, cotton futon is going to disappear," he said. "It will be hard for most manufacturers to admit it but cotton is not reliable as a shape or form in an apartment. It looks great in a photo, but it just doesn't hold its shape."
Fireman believes that innerspring futons will end up dominating the market. "With the proper mattress in place the futon and futon frame will replace the old-style conventional sofa-bed," Fireman said.
"The specialty futon stores will try to carry as wide a spectrum of products as possible," said Fireman, as he responded to a question on futon retailing. Fireman's retail experience with futons is legendary. His store, the Furniture Gallery, was the first major, full service, futon store in Manhattan. Retail sales peaked at $3 million per year, a number still unmatched by any single unit futon specialty store.
"Conventional stores will integrate their futon programs within the same space they show their traditional sofa-beds," said Fireman. Who added, "We have to make units that look like products these retailers are familiar with."
"Futon Industry is the only industry I know of where you have to go to three different vendors to buy a sofa. Futon frames, futon mattresses and futon covers are sold by different vendors. The suppliers that want to survive are dovetailing their operations with other vendors so they can present themselves as full service companies." "These days," he said, "to get into a conventional furniture store a vendor has to supply everything."
"We are seeing another interesting phenomenon take place at retail. Several of the conventional furniture stores have opened specialty stores that just sell futons," he said.
This fact makes me believe that the specialty futon store is here to stay. With the huge number of futon products on the market the specialty futon store is able to generously cover all the price points and offer his or her customer an extensive collection without exhausting the prospects for future buying decisions.
"The specialty futon stores can cover every price point from the cheap pine futon frame to the $700 solid oak or cherry bi-fold futon set," Fireman said. He added, "These stores don't want to loose a futon sale so they are carrying everything they can."
As far as the mass merchants go Fireman believes the ones who are sticking with the futon category are upgrading their programs. "The problem," says Fireman, "is they can't get enough product to meet their demand." We asked Bob what he thought about the current state of affairs regarding the Futon Association International. He said he was impressed and that things seemed to be going better than he had expected.
Finally we asked him about his own line of metal on wood futon frames including "The Fiantaca," a futon frame he designed and named after his friend and competitor Charlie Fiantaca. (Fiantaca died tragically last year in an airplane crash.)
"I know this is going to sound out-of-character but we've hired a designer and we are upgrading our futon design that integrates wood and metal. In the past several manufacturers have had problems with the stress factor. The metal mechanism is so tough that when you put pressure on the futon frame the wood can crack or even break. Our new futon frame design will eliminate all these problems," Fireman said. The mechanism will be ready some time this summer and should debut at the fall High Point Show.
I remember going to Manhattan, by train, to see Bob's retail futon operation in the late eighties. He was a cordial host and was obviously happy about what he was doing. Since then he has sold the futon store, and started a new company he probably never thought he would have to start. In his words he has "simplified" his business life and I hope he can keep it that way. Somehow, though, I think he's got a few more ideas he wants to bring to market. And on that note all I can say is, "Break a leg, Bob."