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November 22, 2004

Reproductions or Knock Offs

As long as there have been pleasing creations, there are those who have copied them. Average consumers understand that if they pay $20 for a "Rolex" on Canal Street in New York -- it really wasn't a Rolex. However $2000 for that same ersatz piece would be tantamount to fraud. No industry is immune. Look at software, music, clothing and art.

In home furnishings, there are, what we call, Modern Icons -- seminal pieces that have defined modern furniture, modern architecture and indeed all modern design. People who love modern covet these iconic representations -- although unless they are an architect or art history major, they probably don't understand the nuances of each design.

Pure Contemporary's article Furniture's Modern Icons has spurned a ton of mail. We have heard from manufacturers who hold legitimate copyrights on specific designs who want to know why we didn't come down hard on the firms who knock-off their products. Our purpose in writing this article was twofold: to educate the consumer to those very distinct modern designs as well as guide the consumer to the qualitative differences behind the investment.  The nuances of copyright law, particularly when dealing with designs that may be in the public domain, and when dealing with international jurisdictions are tough enough for the courts to figure out.

Our concern is the consumer. If you are happy with the $20 "Rolex" than so be it. If you want the $2000 real thing -- and you are duped into buying a forgery, well then that's a different story. Our point was: know from whom you are buying the piece -- and if you trust them, the price is right and it meets your standard of quality -- than be happy. Know the difference between an authentic piece and a non-authentic edition. But it is the role of manufacturers to create the value behind their licenses -- not the role of an editor. See Ernest Beck's piece reprinted in the San Francisco Chronicle, where he points out the difficulties manufacturers will have to sue for copyright infringement. And Metropolis magazine points out Cassina's brilliant strategy for fighting knockoffs -- not with lawsuits but tons of information.

These articles should be the beginning of the discussion though, not the end. I invite manufacturers who hold opinions -- on either side -- to voice their thoughts. Debate only helps to educate all of us to the value of your brands. We've teed this up for you guys: we've started the dialogue with the consumer -- and now is your chance to continue it.

For all things contemporary, visit Pure Contemporary. 

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November 18, 2004

Hey Furniture! Be Fashion Forward

Coming soon to Pure Contemporary is an interview with Stanley Jay Friedman––the modern design genius who brought Brueton the Undulatus Bench and Weiman the ever so comfy Snugg sofa (which, by the way, is one of the prizes included in PC's $20,000 Great Room Giveaway).

The man is infectiously energized about design. "I'll never stop," he says. "It's so exciting to experiment." Through all his excitement, though, he maintains sober insights into the marketing aspect of his industry. Take a cue from the fashion world, he says. (Friedman's wife, like Rick Lee's, is a women's fashion designer.) In fashion, they know how to package. His advice to marketing people in the furnishings industry––check out the trappings of a runway show or department store. Create the vibe that sells the piece.

Look for musings on modern with Stanley Jay Friedman this week in Pure Contemporary.

For all things contemporary, visit Pure Contemporary.

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November 12, 2004

Modern Homes: We like Eich

Actually we love Joe Eichler's homes and want to know why today's builder isn't creating the modern version of the Eichler's 1950s interpretation of modern. Vaulted ceilings, open spaces, single story living - are going to be coveted by boomers as they forgo stairs but not style. Check out Elaine Underwood's story on these vintage modern homes.

For all things contemporary, visit Pure Contemporary.

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The Value of a Brand -- Part 2

In HBO's hit "Sex and the City" the ladies loved their Manolo Blahniks. Their fetish for Manolo's mules did more for the brand than any advertising could. And why not? Manolo Blahnik's were no longer about a $500 pair of frivolous shoes but for sexiness, sophistication -- and mandatory attire for anyone in serious search for Prince Charming. That is the power of a brand, when rational thought is all but abandoned and psychological needs are addressed, see Media Knowall's cliff notes on Branding.

Once a brand has reached the status where a want becomes a need, price becomes secondary. When a product is a need, brand affinity is solidified. It doesn't matter how inexpensive the Lexus is if the need is for a BMW.

In high-end luxury items, the role of the manufacturer is to equate how the product betters the life experience of the buyer. According to a report from Unity Marketingmanufacturers "need to maximize the life enhancing qualities of their products and services" for the buyer.

In Unity's report Luxury Category Brand Loyalty Index, Autos and Electronics top the list of brands that maintain consumer loyalty, while appliance fall about mid-range. Home furnishings, floor coverings and window treatments are saved from the bottom by jewelry.

Interestingly, art and antiques conjure up much more brand support. So is the brand for furnishings truly superfluous or is something wrong with the perception of the brands? And then again, as my last post on branding said, you nary can find a brand label on home furnishings products.

To generate value in a brand and loyalty for a brand, here are New Year's Resolutions that manufacturers should make for 2005.
* Stop allowing retailers to eliminate labels from goods. Better still, create a mark that can't be removed -- a design element in a knob, a signature on a trestle, an etch in glass -- something.

* Differentiate your product -- not with features -- but with experiential benefits.
* Start looking for ways to get product placement -- movies, tv shows, articles. It has greater impact than advertising -- and helps to create to that "betterment of life experience."
* Get your name out there. Yeah, advertising and promotion costs money. But think of it as an investment not an expense. If your budget is really tight, target specifically to your niche.
* Create a brand awareness program with your retailers. When you open up a new dealer -- send them a turnkey press release that the retailer can send to the local press saying how they are now carrying your brand. The investment is 37 cents for a stamp, less if they fax it to the press.

The first steps allow you to build value in your brand which the consumer will covet. The latter move allows you to position your brand as an asset to the dealer. The dealer gives you hell about putting your product on a website -- because he sees it as a license for consumers to shop for the best buy. By you promoting in tandem in the local market, you help guide the customer to the retailer. Trust me, if a dealer gets walk in traffic for people looking for your brand, he will thank you not bitch.

Will there still be channel conflict, ie. will some dealers bitch at you because they lose a sale to an out-of-towner who is a little cheaper? Indeed. As long as humans have vocal chords, there will be those that bitch.

You have some choices:
* turn a deaf ear
* hum while they talk
* suggest they sell some models exclusively (could be just an exclusive finish)
* find a less vocal dealer

The point is, the retailer is your connection to the customer. If the retailer severs your connection by relegating your brand anonymous, then there is no chance for brand loyalty to ever be built.

For all things contemporary, visit Pure Contemporay.

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November 10, 2004

Images -- size does matter

Pity you manufacturers who don't understand anything about digital photography. And by the lengthy download times of images on your websites, the numbers of you in the dark are vast.

Just as photos needed to be prepared differently for newspaper vs magazine, so too for web. Pics for the web need to be optimized -- so they eliminate that download problem. Done properly, you shouldn't see any visible degradation in quality. There are tons of tools out there to help you out like Debablizer, which is pricey but comes with a ton of features we use here at Pure Contemporary, or like GIFworks, which is free.

Still think optimizing is beyond you? Well then ask any 15-year-old to help you out. It's a good way to bond with the younger generation -- while making sure your website is fit for the 21st century.

For all things contemporary, visit Pure Contemporary. 

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Furniture's Modern Icons

Pure Contemporary's editor Caroline Barry did a tremendous piece on "Furniture's Modern Icons" a must read for anyone thinking about investing in these architectural wonders. Retailers too are telling us they are going to use it as an essential tool to educate their buyers. Feel free to link to it.

For all things contemporary, visit Pure Contemporary.

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Demand for Vintage Modern

Great article in the New York Times real estate section about the soaring demand (and prices) for "vintage" modern homes in Southern California from name architects like Neutra, Lautner and Schindler. Are other communities seeing this modern revival?

For all things contemporary, visit Pure Contemporary.

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The Value of a Brand -- Part 1

Whether it is products or elections, Brand A beats Brand B because Brand A does a far better job defining itself -- and its value. In this election, as in home furnishings, Brand B found itself being defined by the other side. If you don't control your brand, you lose.

So what exactly is a brand? Brand is more than your name and logo -- it is the inherent value that is perceived behind the name. A good technical description is found at the International Trademark Association's site, and marketers like Philip Kotler have written tomes on the subject.

Furnishing manufacturers do a terrible job branding themselves and as a result sales are down, plants are closing, and offshore assembly lines are beating their pants. Manufacturers have allowed the retailer to define their products for so long -- that save for a handful like Thomasville and Ethan Allen -- there is no known perceived value.

Needing the retailer as their outlets, they caved to pressure and let the retailers subvert their brands. Go into any store and look under the covers, and in about 80% of the time, you will not find a manufacture's label. This isn't good for the maker nor the consumer. How can someone make an informed decision if they don't know anything about a product?

Kitchen appliances are just the opposite -- the manufacturer controls the brand from assembly to sale. The margins are much lower for the retailer -- who finds him/herself in a commodity pricing game. But the retailer has adopted by offering services -- adding designers and custom work, charging for delivery and installation.

Furniture retailers have held the manufacturers hostage for year. One US domestic maker told me he has lost retailers because he put his products on his own website. Another told me he shut his website down because of angry yowls.

What do you makers get for this loyalty? Two large chains closed this year, turning off customers who lost deposits and shutting down outlets for manufacturers who otherwise gave up the consumer. On top of that, your business is down because the retailer is buying a cheap knockoff of your design. (Some of you tell me you won't put your images on the web for fear of the designs being ripped off. This is tantamount to putting an alligator-filled moat around a store so you won't get robbed. You won't get buyers either.)

What to do? Read my next post and I'll illustrate how the balance can tip more fairly to the manufacturers and the consumers, and savvy retailers won't be thrown off.

For all things contemporary, visit Pure Contemporary.

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November 04, 2004

Post Party Blues

European and Canadian manufacturers are looking at this week's election results skeptically. With the US dollar in serious need of Cialis (since it lasts longer) 'peans and Canadians were holding out hope that a decisive victory would provide an elixir. But mounting debt needs to be offset by high exports, so don't expect the dollar to start -- ahem -- performing again soon. And while that should be good for American goods manufacturers, they too are feeling the rise in imported materials costs. Seems a flagging dollar isn't good for anyone.

For all things contemporary, visit Pure Contemporary.

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November 03, 2004

Kitchen Crap

The elections are over and I am cranky so stand by as I rant.

Why would anyone pay top dollar for a "custom" kitchen that is half wood and half faux-wood cabinets, when there can be no back splash because the installer didn't put the cabinet flush to the edge of the wall (where the hell are you supposed to stop the tile -- at the ceiling?) and granite tops an island with unfinished sides.

Oh but wait, there's more. Since the powers that be love to protect us from ourselves, I can't believe they allow gas-burnered cook tops on an island designed for perching at. Do we really want to be splattering grease on our guests or setting their hair afire as they sit?

Builders get with it. Do any of you actually cook in a kitchen?

For all things contemporary, visit Pure Contemporary.

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