Commentary

Smaller Homes, Second Homes: More Homes Mean More Furniture

Tens of millions of Americans 45+ are going to buy new houses in the next few years. Are you ready to sell them the new furniture they need?

Downsizing Does Not Mean Winding Down

While we know that the empty-nesters often want to downsize, we shouldn’t confuse that move at midlife with the next move they may make 20 years later to some kind of retirement or independent-living center. Downsizing with the excitement of being an empty-nester is very different from the winding-down that takes place when you are finally feeling old.

That may be the reason the furniture industry is only starting to pay attention to the growth opportunities from the downsizing Gen Xer and Boomer. 

We conducted a recent survey for a furniture magazine on the housing and furniture-buying plans of women 45+. In that survey, 27% of respondents told us that they are planning to downsize in the next few years – and for most of them it’s not because they need to save money. The primary reasons they are downsizing is because their children have left home and they want a simpler life. 

They will need to furnish that smaller home and that means buying a lot of new furniture: Wanting a simpler life does not mean spending less money, and they will need smaller-scaled furniture to fit. 

A recent panel discussion at the magazine’s annual leadership conference focused on this issue, and panelists as different as online leader Wayfair and designer Michael Amini (who has specialized in oversized pieces) acknowledged the importance of selling more smaller-scale furniture. Amini specifically noted that buying smaller scale furniture does not mean buying cheaper furniture. 

The furniture industry doesn’t just need to make pieces that serve the downsized life; they also need to display it (in stores and online) in settings that reflect this new scale. If they get this right, midlife parents will probably end up buying some furniture for their millennial children, too; it might be the only way to get them out of the house!

Second Homes Need Furniture, Too

Did you ever wonder why there are so many furniture stores in Florida? Or why the outdoor-furniture sales are growing faster than any other segment in the furniture market? It’s because the second-home market is booming. 

Twenty-nine percent of our survey respondents told us they either own a second home already (7%) or intend to purchase one (22%). Seven percent of them intend to buy a second home in the next 24 months.

As with downsizing, new consumers age into this market – and there’s a demand for new furniture – every day. Consumers themselves are ready to be targeted: Respondents who self-identified as likely second-home buyers also said they were twice as likely to make major furniture expenditures in the next year.

At the leadership conference, I learned that furniture retailers are closely in touch with their consumers and understand these trends – maybe because 84% of our respondents told us they still buy furniture in brick-and-mortar stores. 

But furniture marketing hasn’t fully caught up with what the industry knows. Retail spaces and ads don’t show enough furniture in smaller-scale settings, and they rarely show the furniture in use by consumers over 45. 

Like our cars, furniture is not all about features and pricing. It’s about how people want to live their lives. Getting rid of your big house or your minivan doesn’t mean you’re old or isolated. It just means you want to live in a different way. Like the auto industry, the furniture industry needs to use imagery, social media and content marketing to show that it understands this woman wants to live her large-scale life in more houses, not less.

2 comments about "Smaller Homes, Second Homes: More Homes Mean More Furniture".
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  1. Stephen Reily from IMC/Vibrant Nation, December 15, 2015 at 4:43 p.m.

    I want to thank Bill McLoughlin and his colleagues at Furniture Today for leeting us conduct this research and present it at the Furniture Today Leadership Conference - a great group of manufacturers and retailers who appreciate the value of their middle-aged customers!

  2. Stephen Reily from IMC/Vibrant Nation, December 15, 2015 at 5:22 p.m.

    For anyone who's interested in creative ways to market furniture to big spenders (who aren't young), check out my friend Bridget Brennan's post about Restoration Hardware's use of experiential retail marketing on a large scale in Chicago: http://onforb.es/1O79ult 

    This is just what the midlife consumer is looking for!

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