La-z-boy recliner not sitting still

La-z-boy recliner not sitting still
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First Published: Wed, Jul 29 2009. 11 27 PM IST

Updated: Wed, Jul 29 2009. 11 27 PM IST
From massage controls to built-in coolers, the basic recliner has been reincarnated dozens of times since the original—wood-slatted and intended for outdoor use—was built by cousins and La-Z-Boy co-founders Edwin Shoemaker and Edward Knabusch in 1928. The following year, they upholstered the chair, bringing it indoors and allowing people to relax in living rooms all year round.
La-Z-Boy Inc. has reinvented itself continually since then to keep up with evolving consumer preferences and to remain the No. 1 recognizable brand name among recliner manufacturers. But steady growth (320 stores nationwide and $1.2 billion in sales for the fiscal year ended 25 April) speaks of the home-grown brand’s longevity and the recliner’s enduring appeal.
Recliners are getting sleeker, quieter, softer and more durable. This year’s ComfortTouch model has 100 remote-controlled adjustment combinations for the seat and back with air-chamber technology. For the environmentally conscious, the EcoComfort models use soy-based foam cushions and are available in EcoSuede fabrics made of recycled water bottles. And in the fall, La-Z-Boy will offer a model called Chill, with an electric cooler in the arm, similar to the best-selling Oasis model the company discontinued in 2002. ”People value comfort and that’s what a La-Z-Boy recliner will give you,” says Paula Hoyas, vice-president, upholstery merchandising. ”It’s a place that’s yours.”
Also See Some Recliner Options (Click here)
That familiarity has helped the publicly traded company weather the recession, posting a $5.3 million profit for the quarter ended 25 April—its first net gain since January 2008. La-Z-Boy attributed the gain to cost-cutting measures, including the closing of 21 stores and galleries (it opened six) during the last fiscal.
La-Z-Boy’s strong name-brand recognition is unique and the company’s mid-market image means it appeals to the affluent as well as the budget-conscious, says Jerry Epperson, a managing director with investment firm Mann, Armistead and Epperson in Richmond, Virginia.
The publicly traded company is also poised to take advantage of baby boomers —77 million in number—who are becoming increasingly immobile and seeking relaxation, Epperson says. “We’re getting older and fatter every day, and those recliners are wonderful things,” he adds.
Never stop innovating
Based at La-Z-Boy’s headquarters in Monroe, Michigan, Hoyas leads a team of five designers and three project managers. Together, they constantly generate ideas for new recliner models, adding to a list of hundreds.
“You never stop innovating,” Hoyas says. “You never stop adding to the list.”
Some may be far-fetched: a chair with a master remote that allows users to control electronics nearby, for one. But the team is charged with monitoring trends and designing new models before competitors such as Lane and Flexsteel do.
And some recliners don’t even look like recliners.
“Quite frankly, you could walk past it and not ever know it reclines,” Hoyas says of a handful of La-Z-Boy models that feature high legs instead of the usual chair skirt. The standard recliners with a basic handle built into the side can adjust to 16 different positions while a more discreet piece can tolerate three.
A name nearly generic
La-Z-Boy has such strong brand recognition that the term has become generic for recliners, much like Kleenex for tissues and Scotch for tape, says Joe Carroll, publisher of industry weekly Furniture Today in High Point, North Carolina.
“Retailers want to carry it because it’s a name people recognize,” Carroll says. “The appeal, of course, is that they’re incredibly comfortable.”
But two other elements have been key to the chair’s longevity, industry observers say. Prices have remained stable, ranging from $299 for a basic chair to $1,999 for a leather-upholstered ComfortTouch model, and they pose little design risk because they match most other types of furniture.
The gender gap
Another challenge for La-Z-Boy is winning over the female demographic, which is not as partial to big, bulky “motion furniture”.
“Most guys want a recliner to sit in,” Carroll says. “Most women don’t want a recliner in their living room.”
As a compromise, Carroll and his wife purchased a high-leg recliner and an ottoman to disguise its mobile features. To appeal to female consumers, La-Z-Boy has given feminine names, such as Charlotte, Riley and Kimberly, to models with hidden reclining mechanisms. The company also offers hundreds of options for customizing leather and other fabrics to match home decor.
“Dad gets the comfort; mom gets the look,” says Ken Smith, managing partner with Smith Leonard PLLC in High Point.
Will demand for the recliner ever wane?
“Not as long as people come home from work with their butts whipped and want to settle into a comfy chair,” says Ray Allegrezza, editor of Furniture Today.
THE EVOLUTION
1928: First recliner is built in Monroe as a wood-slat folding porch chair
1929: Recliner is upholstered for indoor use and sells for $45.35. A contest is held to name the chair. La-Z-Boy is the winner
1952: First La-Z-Boy recliner with a built-in footrest is introduced
1956: La-Z-Boy Hi-Lo Matic recliner debuts with an adjustable back to accommodate different heights
1961: Reclina-Rocker boosts sales from $1.1 million to $52.7 million between 1961 and 1971
1975: Wall Recliner conserves space in living rooms across America, allowing chairs to open closer to walls
1988: High-leg lounger is introduced, lifting the chair off the floor and eliminating the recliner’s chair skirt
1999: The Oasis is the first recliner with a built-in beverage cooler, 10-motor massage system and built-in phone with caller ID
2002: La-Z-Boy goes high-fashion when Tommy Hilfiger, Nicole Miller, Todd Oldham and Cynthia Rowley help design new models
©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES
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A comfort seating
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©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES
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First Published: Wed, Jul 29 2009. 11 27 PM IST