• Alexa Boschini

Wall décor category kicks off 2017 with growth

Wall decor 2017_salesSource: Home Accents Today 2016 Universe Study
Though wall décor’s sales growth dipped slightly from 2015 to 2016 compared to the previous year, the category is still outperforming the industry overall for the first time in years – proving mirrors and wall art still have a place in the home even in the age of the open floor plan.

According to Home Accents Today’s 2016 Universe Study, the wall décor category has about a 12% market share in the home accents universe, or nearly $7.4 billion in retail sales in 2016. Wall art has evolved well beyond the “framed under glass” business of the past, with an increasingly diverse product assortment invigorating the category.

Art and mirrors represent about 18% of John-Richard’s total business, with the wall art category in particular going strong. President Alan Galbraith said the company’s art sales were up about 11% in 2016, driven in part by a new collaboration with Dallas-based abstract artist Carol Benson-Cobb.

“The wall art category has certainly evolved over the years, and in the last eight to 10 years, for example, we have seen a dramatic increase in contemporary abstract art and a corresponding decline in more traditional art like still life, portraits and landscapes,” Galbraith said. “Even framing has become less important and the art is more the focus.”

RFA Décor President Howard Rosenbaum said sales were strong in art and mirrors in 2016, and he’s optimistic about the business climate in the year ahead.

“I think the economy is going to thrive and boom, and I think we’re going to have a very good year in the furniture and accessory industries,” Rosenbaum said. “We’re very excited about the state of the industry right now. We’re expanding and growing our art department and frame manufacturing. We’re going to be launching a new, exciting mirror line in 2017 with innovative framing and oversized mirrors.”

Alabama-based art manufacturer Shadow Catchers is kicking off the new year by expanding its trade show presence beyond High Point and Atlanta. “We’ve been very pleased; business has been good,” said Mary Davis, owner of Shadow Catchers.

“We’re excited about our new designs. We’re adding Dallas Market (in the Interior Home + Design Center) this year, so we’re just excited about new things.”

Grander Images President Alan Groch said the company had its best market in its 24-year history in Las Vegas last winter, fueled largely by its breadth of repeat customers. This winter, the company expanded into one-of-a-kind art with the launch of the Grander One Gallery during the Las Vegas Market.

“During my travels through Asia, I’ve been procuring one-of-a kind, original works of art, directly from the artists,” Groch said. “Natural materials, man-made materials, paintings, sculptures, some huge, some small – each truly unique. We’ll have an entirely new collection at every show.”

Wall decor 2017_RFARFA Decor
Distribution channels

According to the 2016 Universe Study, the top three largest distribution channels for wall décor are discount department stores, direct-to-consumer and home accent/gift stores while the channels that grew the most last year include direct-to-consumer, lifestyle stores, traditional furniture stores and interior designers.

Galbraith said John-Richard’s art business has increased among its e-commerce clientele recently, and the category also remains strong with its brick-and-mortar retail and designer partners.

“Overall, we have a lot of interest in art from our customers,” Galbraith said. “Art tends to be very personal and so we are asked for a huge variety of different styles, colors and textures by our customers, which coupled with our growth in the category overall, implies a healthy interest in art at the consumer level.”

Rosenbaum said RFA Décor sells to a variety of retailers, and has some private-label partnerships.

“We actually design lines for other accessory lines and retailers, as well as strategic partners,” Rosenbaum said. “We are the exclusive wall décor provider for (Florida-based retailer and design showroom) Clive Daniel Home. We have a trained manager in each store just to manage the art side.”

Groch said Grander Images’ distribution partners range from small mom-and-pop stores and regional chains to big-box retailers and hospitality. The company also is bolstering its e-commerce and interior design business by enhancing its drop-ship program. Whatever the channel, Groch said powerful merchandising and customer education are the keys to maximizing sales at the consumer level.

“Help foster a sense of connection to the piece with some simple factoids,” he said. “Also, move the piece around on your sales floor. Many customers need help visualizing where a piece of art would work in their home. If you have a client that visits the store frequently, move the art from over a sofa to over a bed. It gives the piece a new life and opens up the viewer to more possibilities in their home. It may even uncover a need that they didn’t know they had.”

Wall decor 2017_Shadow CatchersShadow Catchers
What’s selling

Several vendors reflected on the growing significance of scale, with select oversized pieces making more of a visual impact in modern homes than an assortment of smaller styles.

“Category-wise, contemporary and abstract has had a stronger resurgence, and larger pieces,” Shadow Catchers’ Davis said. “Bigger homes need larger wall art to cover the walls. Trending right now is the larger abstracts with museum moldings and floater frames.”

Galbraith hypothesized that a shift in overall design preferences has contributed to the over-scaled wall décor trend, as consumers gravitate toward clean-lined furniture and fewer but larger accessories. He also sees a push for more three-dimensional wall art, such as a collection by artist Mary Hong for John-Richard that overlays abstract art with glass fragments.

“We have seen an increase in scale in regular wall art with large blocks of color being important, and we have also seen a return of shadowboxes as a wall décor category,” Galbraith said. “This is also perhaps related to the cleanliness of the design aesthetic as people unclutter tables but show sculpture on the walls. I believe that since mid-century and modern furniture are definitely moving into the mainstream there will be a resurgence of ’60s and ’70s art during 2017.”

In terms of color, Rosenbaum said RFA Décor’s customers are requesting palettes across the spectrum from neutrals to bolds.

“We’re starting to see a lot of neutral colors coming back into play, but we also see a strong market for primaries,” Rosenbaum said. “There seems to be two buyers out there. Some are contemporary but some are looking for more simplicity, and they’re going for the grays and neutral tones. But there are others buying bright colors. If the interior is totally neutral, sometimes they’ll want a pop of color.”

Wall decor 2017_MirrorImageHomeMirror Image Home
Challenges and opportunities

The vendors said many of the challenges they see facing the wall décor category also present a wealth of opportunities. Davis cited the rise of e-commerce as a prime example.

“I think social media and e-commerce have changed the industry in positive and negative ways,” she said. “There’s more competition with the internet, but it gives us more avenues also. You could sell more there, but you can also lose sales there.”

Rosenbaum said helping some retailers understand the value of wall décor beyond “window dressing” is a challenge, but the category presents furniture stores with an opportunity for significant add-on sales – and the chance to offer shoppers a unique or innovative accessory.

“I think education is key, putting the time into training the sales force that high-quality art can be sold in a furniture environment and not underestimating the potential,” Rosenbaum said. “Also working closely with the interior designers who work out of these stores (is important). They can become an extension of your sales team and place a lot of artwork and boost their sales.”

In a category with such a wide variety of styles, Groch said thinking outside the box is critical as consumers demand more originality. Art is a reflection of personal taste, so Groch said consumers want designs that feel uniquely their own.

“Often it feels like ‘a race to the bottom,” he said. “The speed it takes for a new product to go from boutique to basement sale gets faster every year. Exclusivity is becoming more and more important to our customers, as a way to avoid this. To support that, we continue to deepen our personal relationships with artists and suppliers we work with. We travel further and further ‘off the beaten path’ to find and create those pieces that truly are unique, rather than trendy. Trends, by definition go out of style. Uniqueness does not.”

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