Universal Furniture’s U/Choose offering delves into custom upholstery

Company expects broad offering to become an important part of its domestic program moving forward

CONOVER, N.C. — Universal Furniture is looking to take its domestic upholstery program to the next level with a new custom offering that takes advantage of the capacity and capabilities of its production facilities here.

U/Choose is a build-your-own upholstery program that will offer multiple arm and leg options as well as cushion and welted and nonwelted options on sofas, sleepers, sectionals, loveseats, and accent and swivel chairs. This is in addition to the 500 cover options, including 50 leathers, that the company has already been offering.

The program has been in development for about two years as part of an effort to expand its custom approach and build upon the success of its existing domestic program, which developed out of its purchase of Southern Furniture three years ago.

The belief is that the program, as with other similar custom offerings at the upper middle and upper end of the spectrum, could be a significant part of the business moving forward — perhaps as much as half if not more.

At Premarket, it showed a selection of core frames and options in a neutral fabric. At the Oct. 22-26 market, it will showcase this in two additional settings including one that highlights a more Southeastern coastal design and another that is targeted toward middle America.

“We are going to show you this in all of its glory and the way that this can hopefully be duplicated at the retail level,” said Sean O’Connor, senior vice president of sales at Universal.

He added that the program aims to make Universal more important to customers that are already carrying its upholstery line, both domestic and imported, and give another reason for the “big folks to look at us. We were very strategic in finding the right arms, the right scale and the right sit and pitch. Everything was developed very intentionally.”

O’Connor and Dale Smith, operations manager, told Home News Now that the program has been in both the concept and development stages for some time. However, because of long lead times of up to 28 weeks at the Conover plant, it would have been difficult to implement before now.

The company was even considering putting this off for another market or two, but with lead times lowered to eight to 10 weeks of late, the company believes it can move the product through the plant both quickly and efficiently.

“This is the right time,” Smith said, adding that it moved quickly to bring the initial designs to Premarket. The company is glad it did, as the options being offered are already being noticed among retailers.

“We are giving the consumer a lot of look, a lot of function and a lot of capability, but in the process, we have developed it where it will run through this factory very, very well,” he said. “That is why we are so excited about it. We know that we can reproduce this product and that it will flow — there is not one area that is going to bog down this plant. We designed it this way to be able to do some things differently and to make it happen.”

O’Connor also was pleased to see it come together for the fall market cycle.

“It came together pretty quickly,” he said. “The product development team knocked it out in record time.”

There are two sofa sizes available in 80-inch and 88-inch footprints, each with a bench cushion option and a three-cushion option. Sofas with starting tier fabrics are targeted to retail at around $2,100, compared to about $1,999 in the regular domestic line.

The line is expected to go into production immediately after Market with lead times anticipated around eight to 10 weeks.

“As soon as we get the orders in here and into our system, we are ready to go,” Smith said.

At Market, the line can be seen at the Universal Furniture showroom at 101 S. Hamilton St. in downtown High Point.

Thomas Russell

Home News Now Editor-in-Chief Thomas Russell has covered the furniture industry for 25 years at various daily and weekly consumer and trade publications. He can be reached at tom@homenewsnow.com and at 336-508-4616.

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