What does customization mean anyway?

Anyone who has been in the home furnishings industry for more than a day knows that one of the prevalent conversations around consumer behavior is the desire to “have it their way” (perhaps better described as “making their home uniquely their own”), often through a distinctly eclectic smorgasbord of styles, cultural influences and color palettes.

While the non-conformity can be challenging to manufacturers and retailers trying to figure out how to efficiently sell furniture on a large scale, there are several that have created their own light at the end of the “my style/my way” tunnel.

For some manufacturers, building programs around products that offer numerous, interchangeable options is a solution. And for one Top 100 retailer, a proprietary in-house collection that allows consumers to mix-and-match upholstery and case pieces for a cohesive, exclusive and eclectic aesthetic was recently launched and met with a strong and enthusiastic response.

During the most recent High Point Market, the one-size-does-not-fit-all philosophy was front and center as buyers and sellers came together during what has been a challenging year for many in the industry. Recognizing that the times they are a-changing, some of these innovative minds on both sides of the furniture equation shared information about how they are adapting to the demand.

Nebraska Furniture Mart launched 37B in September, and Nora Gomez, chief merchandising officer for the company, said that the idea behind the exclusive home furnishings collection is to support consumer individuality.

“37B is NFM’s unique offering to our customers that provides an incredible opportunity to fully customize the aesthetic of their home,” Gomez told me. “While 37B is grounded in five lifestyles — Japandi, Dark Academia, Quiet Modern, Grand Millennial and New Century Modern — customers have the freedom to choose from a wide range of products allowing them to create a space that perfectly reflects their personal style and preferences. From furniture to decor, lighting to textiles, you can mix and match, ensuring that your space reflects your unique aesthetic. 37B encourages creativity and buying what you love. 37B is your style discovered.”

At market, Gomez and the NFM team were sourcing product as usual, but they also had a specific goal of looking for furnishings that fit the custom curation strategy of 37B.

“Our goal was to find products that not only meets the needs and expectations of the 37B customer, but also aligns with brand’s overall vision and market positioning: quality of materials and construction, the diversity and flexibility of the design, the range of customization options available, and the overall value for the price,” Gomez said. “The team also considered factors such as the product’s compatibility with the 37B lifestyles, its appeal to the Gen-less generation and its popularity curve. There were many vendors with products, programs and services that met these needs, but few that offered something more than the usual. The vendors that truly stood out from their peers are the ones we will partner with on this 37B brand journey.”

On the manufacturing side of the equation, American Leather debuted Shop in Shop, its curated product vignette program that allows retails to showcase customization options in a flexible retail footprint. Described by the company as a “design-forward” solution, Shop in Shop incorporates a variety of American Leather products with a design center offering an extensive selection of premium leathers and fabrics, along with customization options for arms, legs and materials.

And in the Palliser showroom, the company’s Studio Program was prominently featured, underscoring what the Palliser team believes will be two “huge opportunities” in the near future.

“The Baby Boomers are buying life stage products, and many Millennials are still moving toward the purchase of their first home,” William Doherty III, senior vice president of product design and visual merchandising, told me. “We have added more product and elevated the brand to address those needs, and we expect to have installed our studio program in 100 retail locations by year’s end.”

To be certain, there are many other furniture manufacturers who have recognized the need to evolve their business strategy to meet this custom-at-all-price-points expectation, and we’ll continue to tell their stories this year and beyond.

Perhaps the most important concept to consider moving forward is that a new group of consumers has emerged with new expectations, and whether it’s a desire for individuality, nostalgia-inspired designs or even a compelling story that accompanies each product, one thing seems certain: They are more likely to not only purchase from, but also remain loyal to, those companies that rise to the challenge.

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