In the 1970s sitcom “All in the Family,” protagonist Archie Bunker blew raspberries at newscaster Walter Cronkite from an old, beat-up easy chair that served as the focal point of this TV family’s living room. If Archie (played by Carroll O’Connor) was in the house, no one could get near that chair; it was his throne.
Since the ’70s, we’ve come a long way, baby, and battered living room furniture is becoming about as acceptable as the Bunker character’s bigoted views. For homeowners that are investing considerable funds into the construction of a home theater, it makes sense to install furniture that is of the same quality as what one may find in a performance car. Not all homeowners, however, are aware of what is currently available in this oft-ignored segment of the custom installation market.
“A great many of the home owners building home theaters do not know what they are looking for,” noted Michael Murphy, president of CinemaTech Seating, Inc. (www.cinematechseating.com) in Addison, Texas. “Most have very little experience with home theaters, and especially home theater seating.”
Bill Johnson, vice president of sales and marketing at Acoustic Innovations (www.acousticinnovations.com) in Boca Raton, Florida, notes that homeowners are unable to differentiate between traditional furniture and specialty theater furniture because they haven’t been exposed to it. He argues that dealers who proactively sell these products are, therefore, at an advantage over their competition. “The seating that goes into a home theater is certainly more than just a style consideration-it’s a performance issue,” he said. “By presenting dedicated theater seating, it allows for dealers to differentiate themselves and add value to the discussions they are having with their clients.”
The appropriate display-or lack thereof-of theater furniture is one of the biggest challenges that dealers face in profiting from furniture sales. These pieces take up valuable floor space, and if they are crammed together in an unimaginative layout, it’s unlikely that the products will generate much interest.
“Dealers must understand the value of having theater seats on display and being able to show some variety in what they are displaying-they don’t want to lose the client because they don’t have enough of a selection,” Johnson said. “You have got to have just enough to get the client interested and feeling like they are in the right place.”
One of the main issues is the dealer’s ability to display the product on the sales floor in such a way that they present value, agreed Spencer Kalker, president and founder of ImageCrafters Inc. (www.imagecrafters.com) in Lakeville, Massachusetts. “Over the years, we have seen many stores that have not done a good job on lighting the furniture or showing it in such a way that someone who cares about style will see the value in the product based on how it is displayed,” he said.
Too often, Kalker notes, the industry’s focus on high tech impedes the sale; homeowners may want the best systems, but they want them to look good in their house. “Many people don’t just want to have a TV on the wall with some other equipment; they may want to display collectibles, books, and other items that are important to them,” he said. “The industry tends to be more skewed towards the electronics, whereas the consumer is looking at how they can integrate all of this stuff into their space.”
At the same time, the furniture must enhance the overall performance of the space, notes Jeffrey Smith, president and CEO of First Impressions Theme Theatres (www.cineloungers.com) in North Miami, Florida. “The biggest challenge is the happy marriage between performance and aesthetics,” he said. “These are performance arenas, and they need to perform sonically, and they need to be controlled from a sound and vibration standpoint. The biggest challenge that we have is making it look good, and perform well equally.”
Michael Laurino, CEO and founder of Premiere Home Theater Surroundings (www.premierehts.com) acknowledges that not all home theaters are built into dedicated spaces – a trend that is increasing as owners of mid-level homes begin to explore their options. “There might be a wet bar in the corner, there might be a pool table in the room,” he said. “It isn’t the room that they just watch movies in. We are addressing that with a couple of things that we are working on right now.”
Modular Theater Systems (MTS, www.mts-us.com) in Portland, Oregon, is new to the theater furniture arena. Founded by Rob Kistner and Larry Pexton, the company is operated by the same management as Triad Speakers, although it remains a separate entity. Pexton, who is founder and president of Triad, believes that paying attention to style is key in making the sale.
“With furniture, you get much more into interior dcor, and that brings in more parties than the custom installer and the gearhead in the house,” Pexton said. “An interior decorator is often part of the picture, and there are comfort concerns and style concerns. How it fits into the dcor of the house is a big issue; appearance is a big factor.”
And, creating an image of how the furniture will appear once placed in the customer’s home is necessary if dealers wish to profit from theater furniture. “The main thing is presentation and merchandising,” said Jim Wohlford, president of Sanus Systems (www.sanus.com) in St. Paul, Minnesota. “If you just line up a wall of TVs, you are not doing a good job at showing the customer what it will look like in their own home. It hurts not just the furniture sales, but it hurts the TV sales. The closer you come to making the customer able to picture the product sitting in their home, the closer you are to selling the product.”
Carolyn Heinze ([email protected]) works from her office in Vancouver, Canada.