Big Plans in Place for Poufs
Cecile Corral -- Home Textiles Today, 5/27/2013 2:00:00 AM
NEW YORK - If decorative pillows are the lipstick of a living room, then poufs must be the blush, reinvigorating a living space with a splash of color much like a steady stream of sunshine does to the cheeks of a winter-worn face.
Essentially non-existent a few years ago, poufs today represent not just a novel category but a permanent and viable product offering for suppliers and a popular merchandise component for retailers, especially online flash sale sites.
HauteLook, which first added poufs to its home mix about a year ago, quickly noticed a correlation in pouf sales with those of decorative pillows.
"When we offer poufs and accompanying pillows in mix-and-match color stories, we sell them almost one to one. Our customers are definitely decorating with them in tandem because they allow them to easily decorate a space affordably and fashionably," Kecia Hielscher, vp of home for HauteLook, told HTT.
"Poufs can seamlessly go from room to room to outdoors. They have become a nice staple in the home textiles category along with [decorative] pillows because of their flexibility and affordability."
Building on that notion, Gilt Groupe's vp, divisional merchandise manager, Alex Ogof, described the retailer's pouf business as "meant to be a multiple purchase because they are fantastic pieces that coordinate with any interior."
Recognizing that poufs have rapidly become one of its top-selling product categories in home, Gilt Groupe is on the brink of unveiling a new in-house collection of poufs under its Gilt Home Collection.
"We are going after poufs in private label," Ogof told HTT.
Gilt Groupe's creative director of home, Tom Delavan, is working with "one of the top domestic suppliers in the marketplace" to design and produce "a unique, hip, fresh pouf assortment" that will launch before the end of June, said Ogof. The poufs are the latest addition to the Gilt Home Collection, the online membership retailer's exclusive house-branded line that launched in fall 2012 with furniture, rugs and decorative pillows.
"Tom and his team have been designing all year to create new products, using new fabrics and designs, so that this summer we can roll out the poufs, and then in the fall we can come out with our second collection for Gilt Home," Ogof said.
Details are still in the works, but Ogof estimated that the private label pouf program will span two to three sizes and shapes of poufs, and styles that will be available across five to six colorways each.
"All of the products [in Gilt Home Collection] work together but not as direct matches. They are meant to mix and match so that the customer can create her own look with our pieces," he added.
Working on a similar effort is design-driven Fab, which includes in its existing pouf line a foam Andy Warhol Brillo Box pouf, created by Quinze & Milan via Fab's collaboration with The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
Josephine Minutillo, Fab's director of merchandising, said the flash retailer is now "developing our own Fabbranded line of poufs" for launch later at a later date.
Poufs are a popular product category for Fab, which has successfully sold poufs "in all kinds of fabrics, including leather," Minutillo said. "But we have some great chunky knit ones coming up."
Since Fab opened its online doors in June 2011, poufs have been part of the merchandise offering, not only because they are affordable and offer "a great way to add a pop of color to a space, and color is what Fab is all about," but also because poufs are easy to ship.
"[Ottomans/poufs] are fun and flexible and can be used in a variety of ways and can move around without effort," she added. "This is not a purchase that requires a lot of deliberation, but one that instantly updates a space."
As Fab puts it in its product verbiage, poufs are "packed with potential" in terms of their use inside and outdoors.
Interior designer and luxury home furnishings retailer Barclay Butera has long seen the benefits of pieces like poufs in his decorating and product design, which is why he includes a variety of looks in the category in his own shops as well as in his branded program with rug house Nourison.
"Traditional seating layouts can always benefit from a versatile ottoman or a fun storage cube," he told HTT. "I love having a set floor plan, then adding pieces that can completely reconfigure the space to accommodate guests. Our ottomans are the perfect extra seating for last minutes guests and kids hovering around the television or playing video games."
Butera said his hide skin multi-colored cubes made by Nourison, which also produces his line of area rugs, "serve as fabulous, great looking pieces to store throws, board games, electronic ‘clickers' [remote controls] whatever you want, handy but out of sight."
HauteLook is also revving up for an upcoming launch of new pouf products in June. The Nordstrom-owned flash sale retailer is set to unveil a new and exclusive line of poufs as part of the company's private label strategy in its home department.
Working with a specific group of vendor partners for the program, HauteLook's soon-to-come offerings will be merchandised as open stock but will work with also-new decorative pillow styles as mix-and-match coordinates, Hielscher said.
The collection will include "some exclusive shapes and patterns of poufs," she continued. "It's a pouf focus for us, and it will include a cross range of different fabrics and trends, solids, fabulous constructions."
Hielscher noted that some of the program's details are "still being fleshed out" before the launch this summer. But she said HauteLook is in the process of performing quality and product performance tests to finalize the final offering.
"We are testing them now to be sure we have the very best in quality. We want to be sure our customers can sit on them, that they won't fall off, that the poufs we select are comfortable, that they have the right fill, and that they can endure the test of time," she explained. "Once we lock that down, we have a full range of fabrics to offer a mix-and-match collection that is right for our customer."
Looks will include botanicals, abstracts, solids, as well as several indoor/outdoor varieties and even a back-to campus grouping for the fashion-conscious college set.
Some of the best pouf sources for these and other like retailers are rug vendors, many of whom lately have expanded their assortment to include more decorative accessories.
Among the favorites are Surya, Momeni and Majestic Home Goods as well as Jaipur and Rizzy Home, along with several others.
"Surya has done a great job of really having a lifestyle look," noted Janee Ries, svp/dmm, merchandising, New York-based flash sale retailer ideeli. "It's not just the rug. They have artwork, furniture, pillows and poufs in a range of looks. Momeni also does a good job with its more one of- a-kind pouf styles, they are a little more traditional than contemporary, which is good for us."
Just as ideeli looks to appeal to younger tastes among first-time apartment dwellers, the retailer also courts more traditional consumers so that its mix serves a broad gamut of shoppers. That effort extends throughout its home offering, including poufs, Ries noted.
"What is really working for us is incorporating poufs in our multi events or curated events to help us tell specific stories meant to inspire our members to decorate," explained Stephanie Crepea, textiles, furniture, lighting, and beauty buyer for ideeli. "We're calling out key trends in the home market, calling out different ways to accessorize the home, and including poufs in that story has really worked for us."
Ries added that home has consistently been a strong business for ideeli, and as the market demands and responds to new and innovative products, including poufs, the flash sale retailer will react with new and expanded offerings.
On average, poufs retail between $45 and $200 at flash sale retailers. But some hit more promotional as well as far higher ticket levels.
To meet these and other retailers' needs for the income spectrum of shoppers, suppliers are expanding their assortments almost constantly.
Surya recently debuted its first upholstered accent furniture collection during the April High Point Market. A natural extension of the brand's popular pouf collection, the 50-plus piece series' components - spanning ottomans, benches and foot stools - are handmade in India and are positioned to retail on the loftier side, from $199 to $1,499.
For Jaipur, poufs "are playing a big role," said Asha Chaudhary, president and ceo. "It's a new investment category for us, and going forward poufs will continue to play a huge role in our growing assortment as an extremely versatile room accessory that blends and accents our other categories."
Rizzy Home is expanding its pouf-and-pillow combos that marry to rugs "for a whole lifestyle scene for furniture store customers," said vp Mark Ferullo.
"And from there, we're getting into different shapes and constructions, and we'll play off the old days when bean bags were so popular," he added. "Poufs are the next generation of the dec pillow, and we're seeing it grow into a nice business for us."
Outside the rug suppliers, other home textiles suppliers are quickly discovering the benefits of poufs.
Domestic curtain, dec pillow and fabric house Soft line got into the pouf business almost accidentally.
As Jason Carr, co-founder and president, explained to HTT: "We sell fabrics by yard, and sometimes we have some extra inventory. We needed to find ways to clear that inventory, so decided to make some fabrics into pillows and from there, into poufs."
The company started out by showing samples during market.
"They were well received," Carr said, "so we went to work looking for a domestic foam supplier so that we would be able to make them here."
The new business segment began to grow rapidly, and Soft line has responded by expanding its offerings continually into new constructions and new styles. Outdoor varieties, made with Sunbrella-branded, UV-resistant fabrics have been especially popular for the company, as have the different sizes - 16-by-16 squares, 16-by-16 cylinders, and 24-by-12 round lounge beads.
Carr said all of Softline's poufs coordinate with the company's curtains and other accessories, and the sweet retail spot has been in the $100 range.
When Softline previewed its first poufs, one retailer placed them in many of its stores, Carr said. "From there, we were pushed to take poufs more seriously. Then we had a couple more retailers who wanted them. And now, we've had an overwhelming response to our poufs. It's a real growth category for us going forward."
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