Licensing Builds Strength Into Furniture

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Niche lifestyle themes attract shoppers

In 2000, great amounts of hype and a fair amount of growth swelled sales for some licensed furniture brands, but few expect similar growth in '01 or '02.

Bob Timberlake's collection with Lexington Home Brands ($235 million) and Polo Ralph Lauren with Henredon ($105 million), two of the oldest licenses ongoing, were steady revenue makers. Meanwhile, The Ernest Hemingway Collection, debuted in 1999 by Thomasville to much trade and consumer adoration, generated an estimated $100 million in retail sales in 2000.

To be that successful in such a short period of time shows the strength of the collection, the value of the name and the buying power of consumers. It also made the playing field a lot more competitive, and some licensors a lot less patient.

Aside from great brands like Ralph, Ernest and Tommy Bahama (made under license by Lexington), licensing has a marred reputation in furniture marketing. Manufacturers have been much maligned for being poor marketers; but to be fair, often licensors ill-suited to the category are lured by the romance of case goods and upholstery.

There have been some strike outs, mostly done in the zest to achieve "lifestyle" brand status. Fashion brand Ron Chereskin had to call off his search for a furniture partner. PJ Kids' Harry Potter collection garnered riches of hype but not quite as many retailer orders. Classic Leather tried but couldn't get sales sizzling with entertainment studio MGM, despite an Africa-inspired theme similar to the one that later spun magic for the Hemingway collection. The MGM collection also included a high glamour, Hollywood-in-the-1940s-and-earlier theme, something that sounds similar to what Thomasville is creating for the newly announced Humphrey Bogart collection.

Shooting for a mostly upscale collection is a track taken by Hemingway, Tommy Bahama, and U.K. retailer Harrods (via licensee Highland House). The Kathy Ireland Collection by Vanguard aims for middle market pricing. Licensing ignores the ready-to-assemble market, despite home do-it-yourself queen Martha Stewart's brand dominance in a growing number of other home categories at Kmart.

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