HIGH POINT — Upholstery remains a mainstay on retail floors, and sectional configurations have emerged as one of the hottest components in this staple category for furniture stores.
In addition to flexibility in terms of both merchandising and meeting consumer needs, their modularity makes sectionals a touch more e-commerce-friendly for pure-play B2C websites and brick-and-mortar stores with a foot in the online game.
Those are some of the reasons upholstery vendors say that while sectionals have been around for years, they’ve been a growing part of their offerings of late as they cater to consumers’ comfort-centered lifestyles and their invitation for creativity in arranging living spaces in the open floor plans popular in new homes.
A growth category
Sectionals have gained steam in recent years for a number of upholstery vendors. At Vanguard Furniture, for example, sectional SKU sales have increased at a compound annual growth rate of 4.9% in the past five years.
“In 2019 we had sales of 1,085 unique sectional SKUs, which was an 11% increase over the previous year,” said President Andy Bray, who gave several reasons for that growth.
“It tends to be a higher ticket price, which retailers like,” he said. “Men tend to like sectionals and drive or influence more purchases. They are space efficient for the number of seats. They can be configured to fit unique spaces: square, rectangular or oval.”
See slideshow: Section by sectionals
Other factors Bray cited include a decline in formal living room and increase in family/great rooms, which lend themselves to TV watching; sectionals encourage conversation; and designers like their versatility.
Norwalk Furniture has doubled its sectional offerings over the past five or six years to 20 groups, according to CEO Caroline Hipple.
“That might sound like a small number, but when you look at the SKUs that make that up, it comes to infinite combinations,” she said. “Norwalk has always been a ‘comfort company,’ and sectionals are the ultimate in comfort.”
Hipple at Norwalk believes sectionals play right into what she called America’s “lounging culture” and its reflection in home design and lifestyles.
“We’re watching the game, watching the fire, playing on Xboxes,” she said. “Almost every new home has an open-floor family room, and that just really calls for sectionals when it comes to how you use that space. It’s the desire for comfort; sectionals are like a big hug. Sectionals can be a way for the family to gather round.”
Sectionals are definitely a large and growing part of business across Sherrill Furniture Cos.’s brands, especially for custom sectional programs, according to Dax Allen, vice president of marketing. Sherrill’s brands include approximately 61 sectionals, plus 12 build-your-own custom sectional programs.
“The ability to fully customize the size, style and design of our sectionals really sets them apart,” Allen said. “Also, a sectional really helps to create an inviting place to sit together as a family, which is more relevant today than ever before. This is different from sofas and chairs that are typically separated by some amount of space in a room and may not provide the same degree of closeness to each other.”
Huntington House has 20 different sectional offerings, but that does not represent the full range of styles that are available.
Ten Huntington House sectionals offer multiple arm, base and depth options for which customers can marry their style preferences, including traditional, modern, rustic, casual or transitional design. Each offers a large collection of sectional components as well as multiple sofa sizes and chairs/ottomans as well.
“Within these 10 base frames you are able to create more than 75 distinctly different sectionals,” said Michael Kirby, vice president of merchandising. “This is a great advantage to the retailer because they can sell multiple styles from a single setting in their showroom.”
Ten additional Huntington House style-specific sectionals also offer a large selection of sectional components as well as multiple sofa sizes and chairs/ottomans.
“All that being said, we currently offer approximately 85 different sectional possibilities within our collection,” Kirby said. “The sectional category continues to grow each market at Huntington House and represents a vital part of our business. Our collection has more than doubled in the past five years,” adding the growth is driven by consumer demand.
“We have noticed in the past 10 years a continued trend that is more focused on the family room in the home and not so much the living room,” Kirby said. “People have become less formal and they just want to relax and be comfortable in their spaces with the people they love.”
Sectionals continue to grow in popularity at Sam Moore Furniture as well.
“Our sectionals are part of two customizable upholstery programs called Simply Me and Loft Living, which offer a total of eight arm styles,” said Vice President of Sales and Merchandising Sandi Teague. “Simply Me, which has been a top performer for the company for more than four years, includes four sectional styles with a variety of arm, back, cushion and leg choices. Multiple sectional configurations make this group versatile for a variety of spaces.”
Loft Living, which debuted at October market, expanded Sam Moore’s sectional offerings with four transitional arm styles as well as new options for moderately-scaled more modern sectional configurations.
Teague said sectionals help dealers sell hundreds of products from a small retail footprint.
“Paired with our point-of-sale display and easy-to-understand tear pad to assist on the sales floor, retail associates have plenty of sales tools to present the program to the end consumer,” she said. “The ability to build furniture to suit your customer’s needs … plus a wide variety of performance fabric options offer a strong program at retail.”
Diamond Sofa currently has 16 sectional offerings.
“It’s always been considered an essential segment for us,” said President Tawny Lam. “In fact, we’ve increased our offerings in this specific category by 20% year over year.
“We actually find greatest potential in upholstery innovation within our sectionals,” Lam continued. “It’s reflected in our most popular models where you see engaging feature sets such as adjustable seat depths, reversibility, and full modularity which better suit the needs of today’s varied and often challenging spaces.”
Stickley’s Fine Upholstery Collection offers 15 sectional options.
“Over the past couple of years, we have added the Baldwin and Woodland to offer motion and modular to our assortment,” noted Matt Targett, director of marketing.
Along with sectionals’ ability to offer a huge range of options, he added they play into a cocooning trend that’s been reinforced by COVID-19.
“As families continue to shelter in, we expect increased popularity in sectional sales, especially those with motion both in fabric and leather,” Targett said. “Our product development team continues to innovate when it comes to designing sectionals that meets the needs of today’s consumer.”
Sectionals fulfill the void left by traditional stationary seating with their versatility and depth, said Diamond Sofa’s Lam.
“We find more customers desire more choices and a customized fit, and we’ve responded that demand: Eight of Diamond Sofa’s current sectionals are fully modular,” she said. “Furthermore, one aspect that we’ve really focused on in the past year is that of streamlining, offering full modularity with less SKUs.”
Custom sectional programs are a way to meet very specific consumer needs, according to Allen at Sherrill Cos.
“The sectionals can be customized for almost any room dimension or configuration that typical stationary pieces may not work with, for example curved walls, L-shapes, U-shapes,” he said. “In some of our lines, consumers can even customize one component of the sectional to be sleeper. Another advantage is the breadth of our fabric lines — literally thousands of fabrics plus COM — which allows our sectionals to meet or coordinate with any style a customer may have in mind for a room.”
Sectionals help retailers maximize sales per square foot, Norwalk’s Hipple noted.
“If you put two pieces on the floor, you can demonstrate the sit and the comfort, and expand that into other SKUs,” she said. “It’s important to merchandise pieces that morph into selling multiple pieces.”
At Norwalk, sectionals are the first products going into its new “360 View” configuration app, with three groups available on the tool to date.
“Selling sectionals, figuring out how to write those orders, is not the easiest thing to do,” Hipple said, noting that Norwalk wanted to launch the tool with its most complex pieces. “You have multiple pieces, and we wanted a tool to make that visualization crystal clear for both the customer and the retail sales associate or designer. They can choose their arm, chair leg, fabric and piece combinations and show it in 360 degrees, and it writes the order.”
Big sales off small retail footprints are a sectional advantage, according to Teague at Sam Moore Furniture. They also blend well with other goods.
“Sam Moore has unique exposed wood accent chairs and swivel chairs that can meld seamlessly into these sectional settings, which is an added bonus,” Teague said. “We’ve also recently added a recliner to our Loft Living program with a variety of functionality options including dual motion, footrest motion or a manual operation.”