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Cabinet Companies Step Out of the Kitchen

Cabinet manufacturers are showcasing a variety of styles and looks -- for rooms outside of the kitchen and bath.

BY LARRY ADAMS

Ten Years ago, sales of cabinets for use in rooms outside of the kitchen and bathroom represented little more than a blip on the industry's radar screen.

Throughout the '90s, sales have steadily increased for other-room cabinetry as marketing has improved to contractors, specifiers and interior designers. Many cabinet manufacturers are using their web sites to showcase available styles and color options.

"Certainly it is a growing trend," says Dick Titus, executive director of the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Assn. "As remodeling has increased, the interest and the opportunities for that market have expanded."

Ten of the 25 largest companies in Wood & Wood Products' 12th Annual Survey of the Cabinet Industry, reported other-room cabinetry sales and several others, including two of the three largest companies, market these products, but did not respond to this question. In all, 18 of 36 cabinet companies say they sell other-room cabinets. Sales of other-room products, which include entertai

Sales of other-room cabinets, such as this home-office piece from Aristokraft, are expected to reach 5.8 million units this year; about 7 percent of the total U.S. cabinet market, according to F.W. Dodge.

nment centers, bookcases, home-office furniture and utility room cabinets, averaged 3 percent of overall cabinet sales, according to the W&WP survey. This figure is almost certainly underreported by the participating companies. Wellborn Cabinets Inc. of Ashland, AL, for example, estimates that as much as 15% of its $69 million in cabinet sales are used in rooms outside the kitchen, but it has no accurate way to judge these sales and so it did not break out these figures for W&WP's survey.

The numbers are also low compared to industry-wide statistics. F.W. Dodge, the New York-based company that tracks cabinet sales, reports that other-room cabinetry makes up about 6% of the U.S. cabinet manufacturing industry. In 1997, 4.9 million other-room cabinet units were sold, according to Dodge, and sales are projected to grow 18 percent to 5.8 million units in 1999.

Who's Who

Other-room cabinetry may be a market haven for custom or semi-custom cabinet companies. Many smaller companies surveyed sell to this market. Product requirements vary depending on what the furniture is used for -- will it hold a big-screen TV, computer or bric-a-brac -- and custom companies such as Rutt, Heritage and Plain N' Fancy can custom design freestanding, built-in furniture-style cabinetry with these concepts in mind.

"We have a certain selection because we do large production," says Angela Wellborn O'Neill, director of marketing for Wellborn Cabinet Inc. "When it comes down to certain specific needs, customers will then have to go to a custom shop to take care of that."

Mid-sized and larger companies have not conceded this market, however. Companies such as Wellborn, Elkay, Omega, Wood-Mode, Les Care and Aristokraft offer products for other rooms in the house. Aristokraft and its semi-custom division, Decora, says it offers "Fine Cabinetry for Every Room in Your Home." Mill's Pride, which did not participate in this year's survey, is another player in the other-room cabinetry market. The Waverly, OH-based RTA company has targeted home-office furniture, for example.

Distributors USA, newly renamed the Mantle White Cabinetry Group, is a good example of a mid-sized shop selling other-room cabinetry. The Arizona-based company produces bookcases, shelving and furniture for libraries and bedrooms through its Cabinetry by Karman and the Brandom Collection lines. Karman has a special production line that produces 150 to 170 special-order cabinets a day. Brandom has a special custom cabinet production line called Pinnacle that offers other room furniture, says Steven White, president of the Mantle White Cabinet Group. "Other-room cabinetry is growing quite a bit for us," White says.

Some companies have always sold to this market, even if it wasn't tracked. Wood & Wood Products first asked cabinet companies if they sell other-room cabinetry in its second survey of the cabinet manufacturing industry in 1989. At that time, 18 of the top 25 companies said they sold cabinets for other rooms. (Many of those companies have since merged or gone out of business.) Bookcases and shelving were most mentioned, followed by desks, hutches, storage units and wet bars.

How Cabinet Companies Compete

Outside of the kitchen, residential furniture makers reign. Cabinet companies compete by offering a lower-cost product that can come in a number of different looks.

Tess Guiliani, CKD, a designer who won an award for other-room cabinetry at the Kitchen/Bath Industry Show in Chicago in 1998, says: "There is so much fine cabinetry, that you can take what they are offering and adapt it to something beautiful and freestanding. There is a great call for furniture-like cabinetry in family rooms, libraries, bedrooms and certainly in home offices." However, consumers want unique looks, not the "extra cabinetry that came with the kitchen," Guiliani adds.

Cabinetmakers are specialists in storage and storage designs, Titus adds. With that expertise it is just a "natural step for them to apply it to family rooms, libraries and the bedroom," he says.

Cost may be a deciding factor among buyers. Producing residential furniture often requires more work by the manufacturer than does a cabinet box, White says. "Whenever a contractor puts in a library or entertainment center and they price it out, they find we are substantially less expensive than furniture," White says.

Relationships with Contractors

Many cabinet companies benefit from their close ties with contractors and specifiers -- two groups that often are involved in purchasing cabinets for new construction or remodeling jobs. "Contractors, architects and interior designers account for much of this business for cabinet companies," Titus says.

For homeowners who are remodeling, purchasing other-room cabinetry may allow them to bundle the cost into home-equity loans. "One of the main advantages that we are seeing with these products is builders are encouraging owners to buy cabinets to improve their home equity loan," Wellborn says.

Cabinet companies are placing more of an emphasis on marketing other-room cabinetry as well. While other-room cabinetry played a limited role at K/BIS in Chicago in 1998, it is expected it will play a bigger role at K/BIS in Orlando this April. "Manufacturers will be displaying entertainment centers at the kitchen and bath show," Titus says. "They are using them as an eye-catcher to get people into their booth."

 

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