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by Lauretta Converse

Way Cool Futon: Targeting Teens and the Growing Youth Market

For teenagers of previous generations, decorating our bedrooms meant choosing a new paint color and tacking up a new David Cassidy poster. But Emily, 15, is more typical of today’s teen. When she talks of snazzing up her bedroom, she means a pricey make-over including a futon where she can hang with her friends, a storage unit for electronics and beaded curtains to divide her room into sleeping and sitting areas. After poring over the pages of Seventeen, CosmoGIRL! and the PBteen catalog, Emily’s tastes are sophisticated and refined. She tunes in to Trading Spaces, Crib and Knock First to find out what's hip, hot and fashionable.

Emily is part of a growing market that futon retailers are watching closely. At 31 million strong, Emily and her buds make up “one of our nation’s fastest-growing consumer segments,” noted Pat Bowling, director of communications for the American Furniture Manufacturers Association. These Generation Y consumers are changing the futon market.

“Youth furniture has assumed a higher profile within the past ten years, but in the past five has really taken off,” says Jane Kitchen, editor of Kids Today. While futon sales overall has grown 11 percent, youth furniture has outpaced the futon industry average, growing 32 percent between 1998 and 2002.

Kay Anderson, Director of Market Research at Furniture Today, expects even more explosive growth in the future. She expects the youth bedroom market to swell some 20 percent in the next five years, hitting $5.3 billion in retail sales by 2009. What ever happened to disco lights and lava lamps? For years, teenagers have been satisfied with simply having a room to call their own with a door to close when they choose. Today’s kids, however, are more likely to have their bedroom to themselves and many want to express themselves in their own spaces.

Youth Bedrooms and McMansions

Besides being driven by the magazines and TV shows that teens like Emily devour, the youth futon market’s growth is also due to societal and demographic shifts. A trend toward later-in-life parenthood, which creates more disposable income, is also fueling the youth market. The increase in two-earner families and their acquisition of bigger homes has resulted in more physical room in which to add furniture. The result? The lucrative world of futon youth.

Finally, the demand for futon youth is being driven by an unlikely source: Grandma. The grandparent market today is estimated at more than $30 billion annually, with 70 million grandparents spending nearly $500 per year on each grandchild. “Not only are they buying futons, apparel and toys, they are investing for their grandchildren’s education and taking them on vacation,” according to ADM Marketing and Research principal, Ann D. Middleman. “It gives new meaning to the old saw: ‘If Mom says no, ask Grandma.’”

Let’s Go Shopping!

The blossoming of the youth furniture market has many manufacturers charging in with their own specialty offerings: Rooms to Go Kids, PotteryBarn Kids, Eddie Bauer Kids, Bombay Kids, Ethan Allen Kids, just to name a few. Choices for budding teenage decorators and their budget-conscious parents abound. One of the most creative youth-oriented lines offered is Michel-Pilliod’s extreme sports-themed Zero Gravity collection featuring a half-pipe footboard and skate wheel casters on underbed storage units. A matching TV stand has a side storage compartment for gaming controls or magazines.

Also a standout in the youth furniture market, San Francisco-based Zocalo has recently introduced five collections for teens called Z Generation. Fuze Box, a particularly innovative and edgy collection, features media cabinets and chests with hidden CD and game storage, as well as a stylish vanity that doubles as a workstation.

Young America, a division of Stanley, which has about 70 percent of the high-end children’s market, currently has 22 collections of youth furniture with options ranging from twin to queen, bunk to trundle. Eleven of the collections offer a futon-type “folding sofa option” to go under the bunk bed.

Furniture Pieces Teens Want Most

This smart futon seating/bedding option offers precisely what teenagers want most for their bedrooms. In fact, when the American Furniture Manufacturers Association surveyed young consumers on the furniture piece they would most like to add to their rooms, the results were surprising. Rather than a new, larger bed, a computer workstation or a dresser, the most frequent answer among all ages was a place to sit, such as a chair or futon. This is because for today’s youth, a bedroom is much more than a place to sleep. According to Vasso Unks, Marketing Director for manufacturer P.J. Kids, “children entertain there and have their video games and television sets and computers there, and study in their rooms with full desks, and many have multiple sleeping options for guests and more storage to put all their stuff.”

But this teen wish list can be a problem because their bedrooms are typically the smallest in the home. Futon furniture answers their need for furniture and storage solutions by maximizing space and storage. It offers both sleeping and sitting options within a minimum footprint, satisfying both parents and teenagers. Futons are also great components in popular all-in-one loft units.

Here’s how futon manufacturers are getting the attention of today’s young consumers. Elite Products/American Furniture Alliance is blazing a futon trail into the youth furnishings market with its Modern Loft collection. Their sleek, silver-finished Gen-X Flex futon frame features a unique six-position hinge for teens to sleep, recline or sit and coordinates well with the popular locker-style youth furniture.

Innovation USA introduced its Express Yourself collection last year. Always sleek and sophisticated, these futon frames innovation have matte black and chrome finishes and offer exchangeable side arms. Best yet, they are available with a range of retro-cool futon covers.

Night & Day Furniture’s futon bunk bed is a twin-over-twin combination that is a good option for youth. “The thing’s a tank!” claims Mike Gallawa, company president. Night & Day’s Scooter futon frame, a metal/wood combination designed by Pete Dodge, is “trim, youthful and totally different” and represents a crossover piece that would add to the cool factor of any teen’s bedroom.

Lifestyle Solutions introduced its “LS Kids” line of juvenile bedroom furniture almost three years ago. A beechwood futon bunk is this line’s newest addition.

Furlicious or Flower Fusion?

So, what will Emily choose for her way-cool crib? Perhaps Bombay Company's flower fusion bulletin/dry erase board. She's also checking out PBteen's furlicious retro rocker. Wait: Emily has decided on a prefab microkitchen, complete with microwave and refrigerator so she and her friends don’t have to take a break from instant messaging to go for a snack. But at $1,200, she’d better ask Grandma.


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