13372 Thu, 12/20/2007 - 4:59pm
By Nathan Weber
NEW YORK-Housing and credit woes, and even the war in Iraq, have left representatives of home decor, decorative accessories and other furnishings with a generally pessimistic view of their market today. But more are expecting conditions to improve during the next half year.
In a periodic survey conducted by HFN of members of OneCoast, the nation's largest association of decor representatives, more than two out of five said they perceived the market for decor to be worse today than it had been six months ago, although most say it is only moderately worse. At the same time, nearly half are expecting conditions to improve six months hence, although again, a significant majority of them expect only a moderate improvement.
Likewise, more than two out of five expect their retail and design-firm clients, which are primarily small or independent companies, to do better than today.
"I believe there is insecurity on the part of the end consumer due to the instability in Iraq, the mortgage lending debacle, and lack of confidence in [the] U.S. government," commented one survey respondent. "The end consumer doesn't feel things are going well today, and therefore has become more cautious about spending, with the exception of the very wealthy."
A similar view was expressed by several. "Slow housing sales [are] affecting sales for retail in home decor," said another, who nevertheless predicted that spending on holiday entertaining would improve the retail climate.
"Too many national problems," commented a third. "Credit and housing in crisis, gas prices still too high with no relief in sight, and then there is the war." The representative added that for many consumers, home decor "is not necessary."
A fourth said that "with the housing market, and particularly housing starts, slowing to a snail's pace, the negative impact on retail sales of home accents and decorative accessories is inevitable, and fairly predictable."
Looking to the near future, however, representatives were more upbeat. "The economy isn't so bad that people will stop spending," said one. "By making new decor purchases they can change the looks of their home without spending thousands on remodeling."
"Customers always want the new, even if the old product is selling," said another, whose clients most likely are design firms rather than retailers.
A third said "there will always be those customers who will continue to spend and for whom the economic slowdown has little or no effect."
Some retailers have met the situation head on, according to one respondent. "With the challenging market we see smart and savvy retailers be much more aggressive and proactive with their marketing. As salespeople, our job is to help educate and promote our vendors to the retailers with as much collateral and event-related marketing expertise as possible."
Another noted that in spite of the gasoline price increases, "a lot of retailers were pleasantly surprised [in the spring] with better than expected sales. This has built confidence, although they are still being somewhat cautious."