Melbourne’s protracted lockdown has only just come to an end, with stores in the Victorian capital reporting mixed results. However retailers across much of Australia who took part in WFA’s regular sales survey have reconfirmed the theory mooted earlier in the year; that the restrictions imposed by Coronavirus have been good, and occasionally stellar, for business. Belinda Smart reports.
Restrictions and lockdowns have generally boosted sales in the window furnishings sector, with consumers maintaining focus and spending on the home front. And it seems where commercial challenges arose, particularly in cases of prolonged lockdown in Melbourne, this was generally because of lack of access. The result was that those who were able to compensate for stymied in-store footfall through technology won out. “We haven’t really stopped; it’s been so busy,” said Lauren of O’Gormans in Coburg North, Melbourne. We were all working from home, but video consultations seemed to work really well for us throughout the lockdown. We also found that customers were happy to take photos and supply measurements so we could do quoting remotely.”
Now that restrictions have eased in Melbourne, business is booming, with a full showroom and customers focused on preparing for summer and Christmas with plantation shutters and awnings. Demand for sheer curtains also keeps on keeping on, said Lauren. “One issue we have had is with supply in terms of cut off dates, which means that unfortunately many customers who wanted their products for Christmas will be disappointed if they were relying on imported items. By contrast, we’ve been doing really well with the Luxaflex PolySatin shutters which are Australian made and have a two week turnaround.”
Impact Blinds in the south eastern Melbourne suburb of Narre Warren reported that trade had been fairly strong before the Victorian capital’s 15-week lockdown kicked in. “I think in other places outside Melbourne and across Australia, business has been good because people were spending money they might have spent on travel on doing up their homes. But from our point of view the fact that we were shut down for so long means we did miss out,” said store manager Jocelyn. “Our busy Christmas trading period usually starts in September and October so we’ve missed out on those two months. I’m not sure we’ll get that business back.”
“Overall, we’re feeling very relieved and optimistic that the restrictions are now lifting. Our strongest sellers at the moment are S-fold sheers and roller blinds. That seems to be a trend that keeps going. There’s been quite a bit of interest in motorisation too.” Financial support packages from the federal government had helped the business through the toughest period, she said.
Lane Kelly’s Curtains Blinds and Interiors in Geelong described the response to the recent lifting Coronavirus restrictions in Victoria as one of “jubilation.”
“We’re just delighted and happy for our stockists and suppliers,” a representative of the business told WFA. While Coronavirus restrictions had been lighter outside of Melbourne, allowing businesses to remain open, she said the sense of relief was tangible. “We managed to trade through the lock down although we have had to alter the way we operate. We now offer an appointment-only service, which is working well for us.”
“The restrictions from the pandemic of course meant no one was spending money on travel and this had the effect of encouraging people to stop and reassess their lives and their priorities. The result was a greater focus on home life and investing in quality items including window furnishings.”
With a broad target customer base, she confirmed Lane Kelly’s Curtains Blinds and Interiors had been doing strong trade across a wide range of products, adding that despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, business was tracking reasonably well compared to last year.
In Devonport, Noelle of Blind Design told WFA that the low rates of infection in Tasmania had been a cause for relief, although the pandemic did bring challenges. “We’d just taken over the store last November, so when the pandemic hit it was still a blow. We did have to shut down for about three weeks around Easter time, but we decided to use the time well by keeping everyone employed and upgrading the showroom.” The store services a large area in the north of the island state, encompassing towns such as Burnie and Deloraine and servicing a wide range of customers. “We get older customers after more traditional treatments like lined curtains. But we’re also seeing demand for on-trend treatments like floor to ceiling sheers paired with a blockout blind. There’s been a bit of interest around black sheers, which is a really interesting, elegant look.”
Sydney retailer Marlow & Finch reported solid trade despite the crisis. “We’ve really been running with a ‘business as usual’ approach,” Talei told WFA. “We’ve been very mindful in the way that we’ve run our showroom, operating with social distancing, and of course face masks, with a safety first approach applied for consultations.”
Coming into summer, she said the strong sellers continued to be external blinds and awnings. Located on Sydney’s lower north shore, the store’s customer base is a mid- to high-end demographic; other sought after products in recent times have included linen and sheer curtains, often complemented by soft furnishings and upholstery. “We’re also doing well with honeycomb blinds and classics such as plantation shutters.”
Beyond Sydney, the coastal centre of Newcastle is home to Somerset Curtains & Blinds. “We’ve definitely been affected by the virus, but in a positive way,” Emma told WFA. “No-one’s travelling; everyone’s stuck at home, so people are really focusing on improving their living space. We’re trading well across the board, from simple blinds to more complex treatments such as curtains and shutters. Curtains are definitely coming back quite strongly, with a strong interest in sheers and linens. We’re also seeing demand for sheer curtains with a lining.” Servicing Newcastle and the Hunter region, the store’s customer base experiences cold winters, so while summer is top of mind for many buyers, lower temperatures mid year are also a factor. “We do get customers looking for insulating treatments. And plantation shutters are also a strong seller for us. We’re noticing that customers are looking for higher quality PVC shutters.”
In Queensland, the arrival of summer means investment in timber venetians and plantation shutters, which work seamlessly with the state’s warm, comparatively humid weather, according to Darryl of Shades of Jindalee in Brisbane. He says trade has been exceptionally strong amid the pandemic, with the exception of an early blip. “During the first eight weeks, sales basically fell off a cliff, but since then there’s been a real surge; there hasn’t been much for people to do except for head to Bunnings or the nursery to start freshening up the home or yard. And the next thing they turn their attention to is their windows. Plantation shutters are great for the Queensland climate because they enable cross ventilation. We’ve also been doing very well with screening products that reduce solar glare, add to privacy and enable a view outside, like Silverscreen from Verosol. People are also investing in straight drop external awnings to add another outdoor room to their homes. And the other trend we’ve noticed is a real growth of interest in curtains. Sheers with a wave fold heading and either a roller blind or a lining for added sun protection and privacy are doing really well for us.”
South Australia was minimally impacted by restrictions related to the virus, says Anne of Adelaide retailer Northside Curtains and Blinds. “We’ve actually been extremely busy ever since March. We’ve remained open for that whole time, maintaining social distancing and offering hand sanitiser and those sorts of measures for customers’ safety and peace of mind. ” With homeowners’ back pockets well stocked and few competing channels in which to spend their funds, she confirmed what many retailers in the sector have said; business has in fact boomed. “I’d say we’ve actually outstripped previous years in terms of our sales performance over recent months. We’re selling a bit of everything but plantations are a strong seller going into summer, and curtains are definitely selling strongly; they’re making a bit of a come back.”
Heading far west, Eiffel Curtains & Blinds in Perth told WFA that construction activity is on the rise, indicating a steady economy. Customers were spending well and the store hadn’t noticed an appreciable decline in trade because of Coronavirus. “Sheers and blockouts are selling well for us, as well as curtains. These days curtains seem to be lighter weight as opposed to the more traditional lined curtains. We also continue to do well with roller blinds and the colours tend to be neutral and natural. We also do quite well with plantation shutters.”
Reconfirming that the virus has been good news for business is some quarters, in Bunbury, around two hours drive south of Perth, Swanwest Blinds is reporting stellar trading. “We’re coming up for our fourteenth anniversary as a business and I’ve never seen the store so busy, not even at Christmas time,” said co-owner Brenda. “Things did slow down in late March and early April and business was dead for a couple of weeks, mainly due to uncertainty about what was going to happen, but since then, it’s really taken off. People aren’t travelling but they still have money to spend. Western Australia has come out of the virus fairly well. There’s been no community spread and the only risk has been from returning travellers coming back into the state.”
“We continue to do a roaring trade in roller blinds but we’re also noticing a lot more curtain sales than previously. We recently completed a beautiful big home with S-fold sheers and a blockout lining. We’re a family run store and the local customer base is country western Australians, who tend to be quite price driven in their spending, but I think the pandemic has made people reassess and make that decision to upgrade. They’re realising that life can throw unexpected things their way; they might as well have what they want.”
Sales trends: the suppliers’ perspective
With consumers spending more time at home, this year’s retail sales trends reflect the expansion of indoor living areas to the outside. For Ricky Richards, this encompasses fabric being sold for external blinds, awnings and outdoor upholstery.
“We have seen a spike in sales for our Sun Control fabrics a lot earlier than previous years,” says National Sales Manager Darren Best. “This must mean our customers are busily making outdoor products for the end consumer and fortunately at Ricky we have a complete range of outdoor fabrics suitable for the harsh Australian conditions.”
“The Outlook mesh brand consists of three types of openness: 1%, 5% and 12% with a fourth option: Mode Zero, a true blockout. All these products are made using Dow Ecolibrium bio-based plasticisers in their formulation, allowing them to be a cleaner option and helping save the planet.”
“Barrington canvas is a set of fabrics made in Australia exclusively for Ricky Richards. They offer a modern flair whilst still incorporating traditional aesthetics. There are three types of Barrington styles for outdoor awnings: Colours, which host the same colour on both the front and reverse side. Artisan, a set of striped designs with a unique grey backing and Jubilee, which are striped designs with the traditional green back.”
The Docril Collection at Ricky Richards is 100% solution dyed acrylic and brings a large range of colour options. Available in multiple widths: 120cm, 150cm, 200cm and 250cm, Docril fabrics are coated with Dupont Teflon which means that they are extremely easy to clean.
“All above mentioned Sun Control fabrics include a selection of colours inspired by Colorbond® including Monument, Woodland Grey and Shale Grey which means you can match any existing outdoor theme. All these fabrics are supported by a full 10-year warranty with many other important features.”
Recently added to the Docril Collection is Bliss. Ideal for outdoor upholstery such as lounges, cushions, day beds and curtains, Bliss is UV resistant, stain repellent and makes decorating outside very easy. With an extensive range of colours, textures and patterns, Bliss is sure to have an option to suit every project. Like all Docril fabrics, Bliss is 100% solution dyed acrylic which ensures long lasting colour and the entire range is supported by a 5-year warranty.
ESR Blinds (Part of the Blinds by Boronia Group), is reporting an increase in demand for high end products. “With many people spending more time at home during the lockdown period, consumers seem to have enjoyed an increase in investing in the comforts of home.”
“Retailers in the home improvement industries are all noticing the lift in sales. Over all our product ranges we have experienced growth, however certain blind types have grown more than others. For us it has been encouraging to see blinds such as motorized cedar venetians and our Veri Shades rapidly growing.”
“The increase in timber venetians seems to be attributed to consumers seeing the benefits of venetians over shutters. Light filled and airy homes that are flooded with natural light are very much on trend. Large heavy shutters that restrict the light are being ruled out, with custom painted cedar venetians offering options that are unique to this blind type.”
“Adding the option of motorised cedar venetians has made what was a traditional blind type into a modern and bespoke option that suits the modern homes and lifestyles of today.”
“With our custom painted option in 46, 60 and 85mm blades, the colour choice is endless. Our spray paint booth and experienced operators ensure a smooth three coat finish. The 85mm ‘shutter venetian’ option has been a standout. It has the unique look of a shutter with all the versatility of a venetian. It really is the best of both worlds.”
“We also offer a 12mm cloth tape option for our 46 and 60mm blades together with the option of an 85mm flat or deluxe valance. Cedar venetians really do offer the modern homeowner a truly bespoke option.”
“BM Blinds (Boronia Manufacturing) has enjoyed an uplift in sales of the Veri Shades product. With the airing of television programs such as The Block showcasing the Veri Shades in multiple homes, this softer option of window covering is growing increasingly popular.”
“Veri Shades are a fusion between a sheer curtains and a room darkening fabric giving customers the ability to diffuse the natural light in any room.”
“Veri Shades look stunning as a window covering however, they can really make a statement if used to cover an entire wall within a room. Depending on the colour, this can result in either a crisp light feeling or a dark moody ambience.”
“At BM Blinds, we manufacture the Veri Shades right here at our manufacturing facility on the outskirts of Sydney NSW. With highly trained staff and a focus on customer service, we are experiencing great growth on numerous product ranges.”
“After the initial jolt to the economy with the lock down in March/April most suppliers and retailers in the industry saw a downturn. What was surprising was how quickly that turned around once things opened up again with sales rebounding since then,” says Steve Payne – Marketing Manager, Norman Australia.
“There is a lot of commentary about people being at home more and therefore noticing their old window furnishings. There is also the contributing factor of more disposable income for people who maintained employment, as money that might have previously been spent on overseas travel and restaurants was now going in to updating homes. The recent budget appears promising with money being pumped into the economy, with the hope being that the money gets spent, rather than saved.”
“The overwhelming trend we are seeing and receiving feedback on, is sustainability and energy efficiency. A key focus at Norman is of reducing our carbon footprint, providing sustainably manufactured products and reducing waste. It wasn’t that long ago plastic bags were the norm at supermarkets and plastic straws were abundant. With sufficient education, will and responsibility those items are being phased out or have already been phased out. The move towards no emission or low emission fabrics and paints is becoming more evident as is suppliers testing products to strict local or overseas standards, which has become almost a given now or at least should be. The education of consumers to the benefit of energy efficient products and the cost and energy saving this brings is an important step in the evolution of our market, as is the elimination of harmful chemical substances and non-renewable resources.”
“Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is at last gaining more prominence with both consumers and suppliers. Issues such as the whole supply chain being responsible to the environment and elimination of any exploitation of the workforce have become key drivers to large overseas chains working with factories. It is common now for these large chains doing in house audits, to satisfy themselves of their potential supplier’s CSR.”