AV Furniture – Centre pieces

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Since AV furniture is now supporting the most treasured possessions of homeowners, it is perhaps not surprising that its importance has grown exponentially during the last few years. Now savvy retailers sell AV furniture alongside television sets as routine.
John Ogden, Optimum managing director, comments: “Stylish design is now the key factor in AV furniture.  The sector is driven by a combination of fashion and functional, high quality design for contemporary living.  Our business is about designing products with in-built style and savvy functionality to suit modern consumer lifestyles.”
Market factors
The demand for AV furniture is driven by the UK consumers’ thirst for flat panel televisions and modern audio equipment. To a great extent the latest consumer electronic technology determines the size and the shape of the new AV furniture. This is not only about matching new high gloss flat panels with similar styles of furniture but it is giving the AV furniture new roles, such as hiding the cables, accommodating a number of set top boxes and PVRs and providing sufficient storage space for all accessories and paraphernalia that go with modern audio-visual equipment.
“It’s all about style.  We believe the consumer is looking for more than a glass shelf on which to display their ‘state of the art’ HD Ready TV.  While we understand that the purchase of the TV stand is secondary, our aim is to provide consumers with a competitive and innovative style of furniture that complements their stylish TV purchase,” explains Alphason Designs product director Noel Riley.
However, the current economic slowdown is likely to affect even this buoyant market, warn manufacturers. The companies which have invested in service, infrastructure and innovation will do best in difficult market conditions. The support for retail partners will become even more important.  “Retailers are looking at suppliers who can support them in selling out as well as selling in, and consumers are looking for more than three glass shelves to display their iconic new HD ready TV,” continues Noel Riley.
Also the recessionary conditions are likely to strengthen market polarisation. The gap between the low cost imports and high end designer furniture may get even wider. “Whether we like it or not the influx of basic imports from the Far East has developed another market for a low cost support that is offered at a competitive price or bundled with a screen at a good saving,” argues Paul Dawes, director of marketing, BBG Distribution.
Product developments
The AV furniture sector has definitely moved away form the traditional ‘three glass shelves and four poles’ proposition which dominated it for many years.  Now AV furniture pieces complement the home’s interior and its owner’s aspirations.
“Flat panels have become thinner, lighter and larger; the colours have changed as well (mostly from silver to black). In view of this, furniture manufacturers are forced to follow suit with furniture on which you can mount flat panels (such as OmniMount G3FP and Echo 50FP) or options that offer space saving solutions, such as wall furniture (MWFS and Tria Series),” comments Zach Eyman, OmniMount chief of design.
A move to real wood finishes complementing other furniture is a pronounced trend. “The use of high quality, consistent wood finishes moved the market on a great deal. All of a sudden consumers had ranges of products that would match their interior decor rather than matching the screen – and the use of wood with black glass achieved a synergy between both these elements that would keep the screen looking modern whilst integrating it into a domestic setting, confirm BBG’s Paul Dawes.
Optimum’s managing director John Ogden agrees: “We’ve seen a real growth in demand for closed cabinet designs and a move away from simple open shelving. The current demand is for relatively traditional real wood cabinets, as well as more contemporary furniture designs and finishes.”
At the top end, new AV furniture is feature rich. “Innovative ideas such as soft closing doors, slide and glide castors and new materials all add to Alphason’s unique products at competitive prices.  With this very much in mind we recently launched some exciting new styles – such as Iconn.  A simple feature of Iconn range is the ability to expand from 1000mm to 1450mm,” comments Alphason’s Noel Riley.
A point of difference
For some customers the price continues to be a leading factor, and a number of retailers respond to these expectations by stocking low-spec and low-priced products. However, smart dealers take advantage of the wider market trends and ‘sell’ the design, quality, safety and reliability of the higher end AV furniture.
Since the design of is one of the differentiators of quality AV furniture, the market leader Alphason invests heavily in design innovation. “We needed to raise the game. And that’s how we came to move away from the traditional scenario and design something really different at the same time reflecting consumer demand to ‘hide the cables’, ‘keep the set top box safe’, ‘provide storage space’ and  ‘make it easy to move’,” says Noel Riley.
This resulted in the most significant development in Alphason Designs’ 23 year old history – the partnership with the renowned Conran & Partners design studio – to deliver an innovative furniture range at competitive prices. Sebastian Conran explains his vision for the range: “As our homes are getting smaller, it is quite ironic that our televisions are getting larger and technology is becoming increasingly invasive.  Although I am passionate about technology and the qualities it brings to our lives, my personal preference would be that such equipment is as unobtrusive and discreet as possible in my home.  The challenge is not so much to hide our televisions, but prevent them from dominating interior décor.”
Things to come
The coupling of furniture with motorised brackets is likely to appeal to customers who want AV furniture with a ‘wow’ factor. “This gives the appearance of wall mounting the screen without the hassle of drilling the wall and channelling the cables.  This gives the viewer the flexibility to position the screen as required and still have sufficient space for all the associated AV equipment,” explains BBG’s Paul Dawes.
Both BBG (which is keeping its plans under wraps at the moment) and Optimum International are planning new product ranges for 2008. Optimum’s John Ogden says: “Leading on from the popularity of our contemporary cabinet designs, next month will see the exclusive UK launch of a new range of products from one of the top selling, high end TV furniture designers in the US.  Watch this space!”
On the other hand, Techlink takes a ‘home made’ approach to design, yet promising a world of difference with its 2008 range. “Our 2009 range, set to launch at this year’s IFA exhibition, will completely change the face of the AV furniture market with designs that move away from the traditional AV ‘stand’ aesthetic and into bespoke furniture pieces. Our latest designs offer concepts, shapes, structures, materials, finishes and colours that have never graced AV furniture before. Think dramatic lines and curves, bold colours, mirror chrome, suede, leather and class leading practical storage features,” suggests Ralph Allen, chief designer and managing director of Techlink International. “Techlink’s UK design team, global footprint and economies of scale mean these designer products will cost no more than today’s quality AV furniture. This gives independent retailers a fabulous trade-up product without the cost of the furniture alone skewing the overall price of the TV and support package,” he adds.
Staying focused
Although the AV furniture sector is now preoccupied with innovative design, both manufactures and retailers should remain clearly focused on the needs of their customers. “New designs are vital to keep the industry moving forward, however, we should not forget that we are here to supply the CE independents. If we intend to continue supporting this market sector then we must ensure our concepts are focused and resist the temptation to produce ranges that would be more at home in a high end furniture store,” argues BBG’s Paul Dawes.
Selling AV furniture
Tips by Optimum’s managing director John Ogden and Alphason product director Noel Riley:

  1. Instant sell. Start selling the furniture at the same time as the TV. A simple ‘This TV is 6″, 8″ larger than your current set” statement already sets the scene for a potential accessory sale.
  2. Think quality. Well designed AV furniture always commands a higher retail price and greater margins, so choose a quality manufacturer.
  3. Act fast. Link up with an AV furniture specialist that maintains solid stock levels and offers fast delivery.
  4. Join forces. Forge a strong, long term relationship with your AV furniture supplier to take full advantage of discount deals to maximise profit.
  5. Show off. Display hardware on AV furniture in store to show how it will look at home.
  6. Keep slim. Keep your AV furniture range slim – think quality not quantity.

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