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The Profit Potential of Pillows

Pillows are seasonal, affordable and comfortable. Learn how three furniture companies have embraced the softer side to expand their customer base. 

Diane Falvey
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soft goods Classic Home
Classic Home’s soft goods Villa Collection has offered new growth opportunities for the furniture manufacturer, which has seen the category grow rapidly since its introduction.

Do you have a full assortment of decorative pillows and textiles in your retail establishment? Whether a lifestyle, furniture, lighting or design studio, pillows are an easy entry point for the consumer looking to refresh her home. Where will sales be heading in the decorative pillow market in coming years? If current trends are any indication, the answer is up. 

Affordability, easy access and a plethora of fabric and design options make this a category that consumers are drawn to. Seasonal in nature, pillows and textiles offer an opportunity to bring fashion to the retail showroom floor, refresh merchandising and garner add-on sales when larger purchases might be prohibitive for budget-conscious consumers. 

The category has become so desirable that home furnishings suppliers that have added pillow and textile assortments to their core lineups in recent years are experiencing significant success. Textiles can be a natural extension of a company’s style, and the category creates ample opportunity to bring in new customers and/or add layers in existing
buyers’ purchases. 

Several years ago, for example, Classic Home added the Villa collection, a lineup of indoor and now outdoor pillows that the company continues to expand. “Villa has actually become a bigger part of our business and has changed our branding in the last few years,” says Linda Minjares, VP Merchandising/Sales for Soft Goods. “We are a company that thrives on growth. As we work with different customers, we are assessing how we can expand our business. Textiles were a natural extension.” From the initial launch of Villa pillows, Classic Home has seen the collection grow each year, expanding into other textiles categories (throws) and most recently to outdoor pillows, and it doesn’t see that growth slowing in the near future. “What’s nice is Villa stemmed from the ability to go into a store and completely redo the look on your sofa with pillows and throws each season,” says Chaz Silva, who heads Marketing & Events for Classic Home. “On a retail floor, textiles should be changed out seasonally,” Gabrielle Mickle, Design Director for the Villa Home Collection, continues. “Decorative pillows can give a room a whole new life.”

ethnicraft soft goods
Ethnicraft launched a successful textiles collection focused on natural materials such as linen, cottons and Alpaca wools. Designs on pillows and throws are layered to evoke a natural vibe, says designer Dawn Sweitzer. 

Dawn Sweitzer, artist and product designer behind Ethnicraft’s accessories and soft goods collections, which include pillows and throws, agrees that this soft category was a natural extension for the furniture maker. It has given the Belgian company an even broader customer base and has added another layer for Ethnicraft at retail. “A sofa or a dining table, that’s an investment. People right now are having to spend a lot of time in their homes. Soft goods are a way to bring a little bit of luxury at an affordable price,” Sweitzer says, adding that it was always her intention to develop a textile line, which launched just a year ago, for the company. “It’s been amazing as a new category for us. We started with wood, then accessories, then upholstery. It was time to introduce collections with pillows and throws. It made sense and it’s been so well-received.” 

While natural fabrics and designs are trending in these decorative categories (more about that later), as consumers are spending more time at home, they are also looking for fabrics that will stand up to spills, kids and pets — on upholstery, outdoors and on pillows. Fortunately, performance fabrics have evolved to provide that needed durability and stain resistance, while offering up vibrant colors, patterns and textures that cross the style spectrum. It was also this performance story that led to Summer Classics/Gabby Home’s foray into the pillow category, with its Wendy Jane collection — named after designer Wynne White’s mother. Launched just a few years ago, the collection continues to grow with the recent introduction of performance rugs in the last year. “We realized how important the performance story is to our customers,” says White, the designer behind the brand and daughter of Bew White, founder of Summer Classics. “Wendy Jane has been able to link the performance story to not only outdoors but indoors as well. You can have a look that you love that resists the mess of everyday life,” she continues.

In Season

soft goods wendy jane
Summer Classics/Gabby Home leveraged performance fabric advances in its Wendy Jane soft goods collection.

As these suppliers have mentioned, one of the advantages of a soft goods line such as pillows is the seasonality of the category. It’s an opportunity to show something fresh to customers — at the buyer and consumer level — at least a couple of times a year. For Classic Home, for example, the company introduces 25 to 75 pillow SKUs a year in its Villa Collection each season, a fraction of the up to 400 SKUs the company delivers across the home spectrum, but its a growing one. Last season, Villa moved onto the deck and patio as well, adding an outdoor collection of pillows to its existing assortment. “Our design patterns, artwork and color stories translated so well into outdoor for us,” Minjares notes. “We knew we could fill that void as we’re always about growth and what makes sense for our capabilities.” 

To determine those opportunities, as well as the fashion trends driving pillow sales in a given season, Classic Home does extensive research in the market and develops all its designs in-house. “We don’t want to have the same thing everyone else has been rolling out for a few years,” says Mickle. To capture the fashion trends, however, Classic Home has to act fast in terms of product availability and turnaround. “The lifespan of furniture can be timeless,” she adds. “Our goal in terms of [Villa] product is to have something fresh and new each season.”

To be “on-trend” also requires research. Classic Home pays attention to what its customers are looking for and follows fashion forecasts and what’s trending at both fashion and home markets. “All the time, we’re a year ahead,” Mickle adds. “We’re actually wrapping up the collection we’ll be introducing in January 2021 right now.”

So what trend is Classic Home pulling from for the upcoming fall season? “We’re definitely seeing a shift back to basics,” says Mickle. “We’re seeing people wanting to invest a little bit more for timeless products. They want to invest in quality.” As a result, for this fall and winter, Classic Home is focusing on natural fabrics — linens and cotton — as well as utilizing texture and simple design. The pieces are “interesting,” says Mickle, but not overly colorful and bright. 

Linen looks, natural bleaches and neutrals drawn from nature provide a grounded feeling, and we are at a time right now where grounded is important to the consumer. 

Ethnicraft, which has a clean, classic line signature for its furniture, has stayed true to that aesthetic with its textile collections, although often with a twist, says Sweitzer. Quality natural fabrics — linens, cottons and Alpaca wools, for example — are the basis for the company’s textile collection. “It’s a way to bring in a little bit of luxury at an affordable price,” she maintains. With the natural materials as a base, she then layers in pattern and colors. “We started out classic and neutral enough when testing it out,” says Sweitzer, “but we’ve become more bold with our patterns in a layered way. Because of the quality of the materials, it creates a really beautiful balance. Textiles have really softened the brand.”

Sweitzer gets her design inspiration from myriad sources, she says — travel, gardening, cooking, nature, books. She starts with a mood board, pays attention to who the Ethnicraft customer is and develops a commonality through her designs and color palette that deliver the Ethnicraft aesthetic.

Right now, Sweitzer notes, “People want comfort; they literally want soft and cozy but with quality. There are so many opportunities, especially with what’s happening today.” Ethnicraft will be looking into other home accessory categories in the coming year as well, based on its success with textiles. 

Outside In

While Wendy Jane started as a performance line of pillows primarily focused on outdoor use, the company also focuses on current trends. “I am seeing a lot of browns, tans and mushroom colors making a big comeback this year and I love it,” White says. “It gives a rich natural look that is timeless and inviting.” Beyond the neutrals, Wendy Jane is also focused on traditional colors such as mustard, navy, hunter green and a new terra-cotta collection. White is also seeing bold geometric patterns, “which never get old,” and lots of leather accents on pillows. As outdoor fabrics continue to evolve, Wendy Jane has stayed on top of the advances, now offering such options as outdoor velvets, outdoor leathers and differentiated outdoor trims. White credits the special skills of the sewers at Summer Classics with giving the Wendy Jane collection details that help them stand apart — double flange, tassels or several fabrics in one design. “We design fabrics with our in-house design team and work with several incredible mills to design exclusive fabrics that you won’t see anywhere else,” she adds. 

Pillows and extensions into other soft goods categories appear to have taken on a new life in unexpected places where they are thriving through unique design, quality materials and attention to fashion and the mood of the collective consumer. With more accessible price points, and the style and comfort this category delivers, it’s one that offers growth opportunities at the supplier level as well as in the retail showroom.

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