Home Is Where The Couch Is

A Nationwide "Nesting" Trend And A Local Housing Boom Have Heated Up Hawaii's Furniture Market

November, 2003

Peter Skaaning was stretching out in a “lifestyle café” at a recent expo at the Neal S. Blaisdell Exhibition Hall. The owner of the furniture store Inspiration was sitting on one of his $5,000 jelly-bean-shaped sofas, watching a video on a Sony plasma television that sat on one of Inspiration’s sleek entertainment centers. A $30,000 Saab 9-3 sports sedan was parked close by. Just beyond the luxury car was a coffee bar, where a trio of young women whipped up frozen drinks from Seattle’s Best Coffee. Welcome to the new world of furniture retail.

“Today, furniture is like fashion. It’s about style and color and lifestyle,” says Skaaning. “It’s not something that you hold on to and hand down to your kids. Now, we are seeing people come in every two years or so, and they want to change their whole décor. It’s about personality.”

This sudden outpouring of personal expression over the past several years has translated into record sales for Skaaning and other furniture retailers in the state and across the country. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, furniture and home furnishing store sales have been rising steadily, from $54.9 billion in 1992 to $91.4 billion in 2001. As of July, consumers had spent $67.8 billion in furniture and bedding in 2003, a 3.9 percent increase over the previous year.

Skaaning opened his store in 1997, selling entry-level furniture largely to young, first-time homebuyers. In 2000, he sold $6 million worth of furniture. Last year, Inspiration, which now sells entry-level and upscale furniture, racked up more than $10 million in sales.

A nationwide “nesting” trend, which began before Sept. 11, but accelerated after the terrorist attacks and a local housing boom, have heated up Hawaii’s furniture market. It is a world that has suddenly become large and diverse.

“There are so many shows on television about improving your home environment. It’s hard to avoid,” says Robert Wo Jr., president of C.S. Wo & Sons Ltd., the state’s largest furniture manufacturer and retailer. “Furniture is definitely top of mind now. The renewed interest can be found across all incomes and all ages. People are buying more and they are buying more often.”

Gross sales at C.S. Wo increased from $48.7 million in 2000 to $61 million in 2002. Wo says that the increase has been felt throughout all of his company’s divisions. This year, he expanded the offerings in many of his stores to meet increasing demand, opening a new Z Home store last summer, and introducing a Martha Stewart gallery in the flagship C.S. Wo store. In addition, the company now sells used furniture at its C.S. Wo, Furnitureland and Homeworld stores.

“Historically, the furniture business in Hawaii has been low key. The electronics and automotive industries have gobbled up much of the discretionary income in the past,” says Mike Cutler, spokesperson for the owners of Ashley Furniture Store, which opened a home store at the Waikele Shopping Center last fall. “I think there is a pent-up demand for furniture in Hawaii.”

Cutler, who worked for Sears in Hawaii for 25 years, says that sales at Ashley’s store have significantly exceeded original company projections. “And we didn’t have small expectations,” he says.

“People are spending left and right. The money is looser in their hands,” says Skaaning. “I think after Sept. 11, people didn’t want their money tied up in things like stocks. You don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. You might as well buy what you’ve always wanted.”

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