Performance fabrics: how do they really work?
HIGHLIGHT — When it comes to selling performance fabrics, brands say deep category knowledge is a must.
According to industry players, before COVID, there was a demand for performance fabrics, and the market was starting to move in that direction.
With that in mind, Furniture Today spoke to several performance fabric manufacturers to find out what RSAs need to know about selling this category.
Jack Eger, Senior Vice President,
It is good to provide a truly memorable moment in the presentation. For us, it can be as simple as a demonstration of repulsion with beads of liquid on the fabric. Or it’s good to do a pictorial and actual comparison with a non-performing fabric and show side by side the difference in strength and ease of cleaning.
Another key element is to define the definition of performance. You want to explain cleanability, repellency, and durability. A clear definition of performance will automatically eliminate this secondary category of brands that sell as performance but really aren’t.
It is important to distinguish your brand. You can give them reasons why your product belongs in the performance category and provide facts about what sets your brand apart from others.
It is also important to specialize your training modules according to the different roles that exist in retail. First you have managers and owners, who must be enrolled in the performance value proposition, marketing and sales support your brand offerings, and upsell potential via COM and other custom programs .
In the sale, there are two groups, one selling furniture on the showroom floor and another group designing rooms or residences. So these are two different types of sellers. You need to train them separately because their skills and knowledge bases are different, and often their customer base is at a different level of design interest.
Susan Sheil, Sales and Design Consultant
COVID has exaggerated this whole movement. We have seen a lot of growth in this segment within our business. Some consumers are renovating and some are buying furniture for the first time. They all want performance fabrics available at an affordable price. Whereas before performance fabric was something you worked with a designer to get, or there was an extra $600 or $700 to get performance fabric.
Many other companies have a history of performance. For LiveSmart by Culp, we start with a quality fabric that goes through a lot of rigorous testing before we introduce it to the customer. We then explain how the fabric starts with high performance polyester yarns and the process encapsulates the entire yarn, not just the top surface.
Plus, Culp’s LiveSmart performance fabrics are all converted to be fluoride-free. Culp continually researches and improves to provide our customers with the best quality product.
Iwan Nassimi, Executive Vice President
When we review performance fabrics, we try to think beyond a singular characteristic such as stain resistance. For us, performance means that the material will last and look great even after years of use.
For this reason, performance must be looked at more holistically to incorporate all areas of stress that most often cause a fabric to lack durability. These include pilling resistance, seam resistance, abrasion and stain resistance. A true performance fabric should address all of these issues, as do our Resilience TX performance fabrics.
Beyond that, consider additional benefits that may be particularly useful in households with pets or young children, such as liquid barrier or bleach resistance. Liquid barrier fabrics, such as Supreen, protect furniture from the inside out, preventing liquids from penetrating and reaching the interior, keeping furniture hygienic, smelling fresh and looking clean.
Anderson Gibbons, Vice President of Marketing
Revolutionary performance fabrics
With performance fabrics, it’s important to keep things simple: they’re stain-resistant, family-friendly, and bleach-cleanable. The easiest performance fabrics to sell to RSAs are those with a defined warranty, because when you buy a performance brand, you are buying the promise that they will be easily cleanable performance fabrics.
When it comes to durability, it is important to know the results of the double rub test and whether the product offers dynamic seam sliding. At Revolution, we run 20 different tests on our everyday fabrics that are in the factory before they even hit the market. If the fabric fails any of these tests, it is not released.
I think durability is becoming more and more of an issue with weavers not making durable yarns. It can often be more difficult to understand the durability of these beautiful fabrics, as they aren’t really performance fabrics if they can’t perform on someone’s couch.
Sarah Dooley, Director of Upholstery
First, it’s important to understand your customer and their lifestyle. In the case of performance fabrics, it’s helpful to ask questions not just about their home and overall aesthetic, but also about how they’ll be spending their time. Today, performance fabrics can be beautiful, easy to clean and soft. This makes it a perfect option for families with kids and pets or someone who loves to entertain.
Depending on the design goals of the client, it is helpful to market performance fabrics by explaining their role in designing a complete and comfortable home. Choosing a performance fabric for larger furniture will provide a soft yet durable base that can be built up with cushions in fresh color combinations, patterns and other designs to give a consumer’s space a unique feeling.
It can also help highlight the benefits of performance fabrics for certain environments. For example, while Sunbrella performance fabrics are suitable for both outdoor and indoor environments, our key selling attributes for indoor spaces include being a worry-free choice offering durability, comfort and stain resistance without sacrificing the style.
Sunbrella upholstery fabrics are also Greenguard Gold certified for low chemical emissions, contributing to healthy indoor air quality.
Additionally, it’s important to help customers understand that some performance fabrics are made with surface-dyed yarns and are only protected by an outer coating that wears out over time. In contrast, Sunbrella fabrics are woven with proprietary yarns made with durable fibers that are fully saturated with color, providing superior fade resistance.
A final tip is to research and communicate a brand’s commitment to quality and craftsmanship as well as fabric longevity.
Jeff Smith, Residential Sales Manager
Our customers, and ultimately the end user, not only expect materials to withstand any situation inside or outside the home, but also expect fabrics remain attractive, easy to clean and safe for their families.
Typical woven performance fabrics are made from polyester, cotton, viscose, olefins, etc. Over time, these fibers will begin to wear down and any protective coating will diminish. While manufacturers have improved the performance aspect of their fabrics with different finishes, some of these finishes are considered environmentally hazardous, while other plant-based options only protect against stains based on oils. water. This is where it is important to understand the performance needs of the technical and practical aspects in order to recommend the right product.
Ultrafabrics’ dual rub/abrasion results range from 200k to 400k over the industry standard of 15k, while our hydrolysis testing ranges from 10 to 14 weeks over the industry standard of five weeks. On a practical level, our enhanced attributes are inherent in the product and will not wear off like a topical treatment. Ultimately, our fabrics are designed for all aspects of performance without sacrificing comfort, appearance or durability.
Patrick Shelton, Senior Vice President of Sales
The last thing a retailer wants to do is sell their customer a performance fabric that doesn’t meet their customers’ space and lifestyle needs, potentially leaving the customer disappointed and unlikely to return.
It is important to be educated about the different performance marks using the resources offered by the performance mark company. We recommend that you visit brand websites and browse product features and FAQ pages.
We also recommend taking advantage of virtual or in-person training with a brand representative. For example, InsideOut Performance Fabrics has an outreach program where a training manager will come to the retail store or host a virtual training session with all sales staff to ensure they feel comfortable talk about InsideOut Performance Fabrics.
It is also important to remember that not all performance fabrics have the same characteristics. Many performance brands tick the box of being durable, easy to clean, and liquid resistant, but what if the customer needs fade resistance for the exterior or an interior room with a lot of light. What if they want something that can be cleaned with bleach for a room that sees a lot of damage? What if they need a PFAS-free fabric?
Also, showing a customer the actual performance of a performance fabric can be very helpful. A quick demonstration of spilling a liquid, such as red wine or soy sauce, onto a fabric swatch and showing how easily it cleans up can dramatically increase a consumer’s buying confidence.