By Nancy Meyer
NEW YORK–Some manufacturers of framed prints are starting to diversify into different looks, products and channels of distribution as the category is suffering during the weak economy.
The mass market framed art business seems to be particularly hard hit, as some vendors said they are in a brutal battle for survival in a crowed marketplace. As one big-box vendor put it, “the pure framed art business has gotten weaker and weaker and dimensional wall decor and home decor have grown. There just is not enough revenue to spread out to 10 competitors.” This executive, echoing the sentiment shared by others, said he expects “tremendous consolidation not only on the vendor side, but on the publishers’ side as well.”
The $1 billion retail market for framed art had already declined by 6 percent in 2007. Then, in the first quarter of this year, retail sales took a nose dive and pulled the art category down further, vendors said.
At issue is the perception that art under glass doesn’t offer the perceived value that other artwork does.
ICA Home Decor sees these changing wall décor market conditions as “more about accessorizing the wall than just supplying the traditional framed under glass business,” said Kristoff G. Honeyman, ICA president.
The company has adapted by stripping costs from its operating structure and developing its global supply chain, to evolve into a global “total home décor” company, Honeyman said. “We continue to invest heavily in our design and R&D centers, which keep us in tune with the market trends, and allow us to provide unique artists to our retailers,” he said.
“Change is necessary to be a leader in our category, especially given the current economic environment,” Honeyman added.
One framer blamed lower sales on complacency of vendors and retailers.
“The challenge today is to bring in a consistent newness,” said Jonathan Bass, president of PTM Images. “The strategy of ‘price only’ is not a great component” for success, he said.
“The vendors who are going to succeed and the retailers who are going to succeed are focused on delivering higher quality goods at a fair price point, not art by the pound at an unreasonable price point,” Bass said.
In January, PTM added two executives to target the specialty home decor chains and big box retailers with private label goods.
In this tough economic climate, vendors said consumers will buy if you offer great value and unique product.
For ICA, that means alternative wall décor and dimensional graphic pieces, said Arthur Rivera, marketing director.
“Special touches like hand painted finishes, dimensional appeal and metallic touches improve the perceived value and are doing well on exclusive artists or lifestyle brands as represented in our Matthew Menger alternative wall decor and our Sapna Juvi lines,” Rivera said. “We are starting to see ‘color blocking’ moving into the mainstream and starting to show up in related complementary colors as opposed to bright contrasts.”
Color is also very important for PTM Images, but so is black and white photography, said Bass. “We’re offering the consumer two things: either very new or extremely traditional product. That’s where it’s at. The middle will be tough.”
Bass sees growth opportunities in “bringing high-end gallery looks in at a price.”
For wall decor companies who cater to the furniture channels, the same rules apply. At last month’s High Point Market, dimensional, alternative pieces continued to do well, from layered plaques and mirrors to shadow boxed accessories and other styles.
For Uttermost, mixed-media looks continue to sell, officials said. Examples include new releases in framed ceramic tiles, and copper framed mirrors in unusual sizes, shapes and dimensions.
High-gloss finishes, too, add perceived value these days.
At Howard Elliott, high-sheen lacquer frames with texture, such as sand or bubbles, offer a fresh look. The company has found a niche in gallery-wrapped canvas framed mirrors, a unique combination of artwork and mirrors.
Among other materials used on frames were leathers, which coordinate well with sofas and chairs. Leather-wrapped frames were seen from Howard Elliott and Global Views, among others at the recent High Point Market.
Organic continues to be a trend throughout home decor, including wall decor. Raschella Collection, known for oversize statement pieces in both mirrors and artwork, unveiled a gigantic Moroccan mirror with openwork frame that resembles worm-eaten wood and had an “organic feel,” said Pauline Raschella, principal. “We’re doing more in solid wood to get away from the resin look,” to give consumers higher perceived value, she added.
Ariel Art, too, added many organic looks in art, such as its framed mirrors and coordinating accessories made from metal, stone, shell and crushed metallic glass. Ariel Art also showed dimensional canvas with brush strokes and textures, and received a strong response to its ethnic art, such as Joanne Claybourne’s African ladies, said John Manceau, president.