How strong are casual dining? And how do you sell it?

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Copeland will be showcasing its Lisse dining room collection at the market. Items are crafted from solid American Black Walnut.

HIGHLIGHT – Furniture across all categories has seen a sales boom during the pandemic, with casual dining certainly being represented.

And it makes sense. People were spending more time at home and more time together.

But where is the category now? And perhaps more importantly, how do you sell it?

The category remains one of the strongest for Vermont-based manufacturer Copeland Furniture, which also sells bedrooms, living rooms and home offices.

“We continue to see strong interest in the restoration,” said Ben Copeland, the company’s director of sales and marketing. “We just had a restaurant-centric Labor Day sale. We have since reached peak pandemic levels.

“Usually we would have a sale at the restaurant in time for the holidays. But with our still high delivery times, we have chosen to do it now.

When selling meals, Copeland said retailers should explain to customers how an item is constructed.

“We want customers to hear our solid wood story,” he said. “We want them to know how it was produced. It is made in the USA. It’s built with easy access in mind: with a large option, glides, and ball-bearing leaves. Sellers need to be able to demonstrate everything quickly. Tell the design story.

“Catch a customer’s eyes to a good design. It’s not always as obvious as we like to think.

Variety of styles

Demand has been down for Portland-based home goods and upholstery importer Porter Designs, but it’s slowly coming back. The restoration, in particular, continued to sell.

“We’re almost out of meals,” said co-owner and president David Weiss. “We will have new intros for High Point in India. We are also adding to the collections already in place.

The Cambria Dining Set from Porter Designs is crafted from solid sheesham wood.

What do customers want in the category?

“Especially flexibility in what you have in inventory. They try to fill their floors. They want a variety of styles,” he said.

“We are seeing a trend towards lighter natural woods,” said Julie Grant, Creative Director and Co-Owner. “More acacia, more whites. We see people getting rid of the sea of ​​espresso on their floors. »

As Copeland, Grant and Weiss say when selling meals, you have to tell a story. For them, this story is sustainability.

“When you ask people to pay more, they need a reason,” Weiss said. “Whether solid wood or durability. We plant trees and we tell customers. People are spending more on furniture, and they want and need reasons to keep doing it. Especially at the high end. »

“We also want them to know our build characteristics,” Grant said. “You cannot lift our marble tables with one hand. You need to captivate (your customers).

Focus on comfort and scale

While also uncertain about the overall business outlook, full-line importer Bernards Furniture is seeing a comeback in its dining room furniture segment.

“We are seeing a nice recovery,” said Micah Swick, president and chief operating officer. “We were selling large formal sets. Then it was just dinettes. Now it’s gone the other way. People don’t want such a big scale as before, but we still sell pretty big items.

The Bellamy Lane dining set features wood veneers and solids in a chocolate brown finish.

“COVID has brought a return to the family,” he said. “A habit is formed in 30 days. When you have two years of incubation, these values ​​have been re-instilled. »

Swick says the company emphasizes comfort and scale when selling.

“We are intentionally coming to market with larger, softer seats,” he said. “We want a product that offers a higher perceived value in both look and feel. America is growing. We do a lot at the table, not just eat. We focus on large scale supply and convenience. That’s what people want.

Swick says flexibility and scalability are also top of mind.

“We offer more extensibility,” he said. “We add power to things like servers for crock pot power, TVs, etc. We try to think about practicality.”

Expand the range

The category is strong for longtime resource Parker House, which is coming to market with numerous expansions.

“We’ve had a great response to our dining room introductions,” said Marietta Willey, vice president of product development and merchandising. “Our backorders are ready to ship as we speak. We have a large inventory and more orders are arriving in time for the holiday season.

“At the market, we will expand the category and show a wide selection of fashionable dining tables and chairs added to our Crossings collection from India.”

Willey says customers want furniture that complements today’s lifestyles. Salespeople must individually assess the needs of each customer.

“I encourage retailers to ask consumers about their lifestyle, their dining room and their living space,” she said.

Willey says customers want multifunctionality and expandability options. This is what must be underlined.

“Our bestsellers in the category are large extendable tables and multifunctional pieces with bar service equipment,” she said. “When it comes to trends, I see a desire for more fashion and color. People want intricate table bases, decorative chairs in fashion textiles and more colors.

Has life remained formal?

Parker House, Bernards and Porter all agreed that formal dining continues to decline.

“We don’t really do formalism in its most authentic form,” said Julie Grant of Porter Design. “The trend is towards transition. People don’t really have formal dining rooms. No startup house has one. It’s gone out of fashion.

“We do casual dining,” Swick told Bernards. “The only formal set we sell is a legacy product.”

Parker House went so far as to change its branding.

“We’ve redefined formal/special dining,” Willey said. “Our term is ‘Grand Casual Dining.’ Each group of tables is designed for today’s open kitchen and living space. We focus on how consumers live. Our items are casual enough for a everyday use, yet fashionable and large enough to accommodate family and friends.

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