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(High Point Enterprise) -- The dawning of a new age of consumers -- the echo-Boomers -- is beginning to be recognized by the home furnishings industry.

Children of Baby Boomers (born after 1978) are coming of age 78 million strong -- 28 percent of the U.S. population. They also are known as Generation Y, the Digital Generation or Millennials.

They are arriving with more disposable income than their Generation X counterparts, and having more of a multi-cultural, multifunctional taste in furnishings.

They tend to live in metropolitan lofts, cozy apartments and starter homes where they're seeking scaled-down, quality furniture.

Palliser Furniture and European contemporary manufacturers, as well as retailers such as Swedish retailing giant Ikea, Pier 1, Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel, are the companies seeking out the echoBoomers and their estimated $155 billion in consumer spending.

Domestic manufacturers, however, shouldn't delay too long in recognizing the group's economic impact. According to industry analyst Jerry Epperson, the echo-Boomers will become significant home furnishings purchasers by 2003. Other officials project echo-Boomers to be the top purchasers of promotional and middle-end furniture by 2015.

"This generation is buying homes sooner because of their parents' wealth," Epperson said. "They're using their parents' money to do it, but they're being independent with their buying tastes." Epperson said domestic manufacturers won't have to begin weaning themselves off Baby Boomers consumers anytime soon, though.

"But this is the fastest-growing market segment and eventually will surpass both Baby Boomers and Generation X in its impact on this industry," Epperson said.

However, there is a word of warning for manufacturers looking to attract these MTV, Gap and popculture influenced consumers.

"You can't fake the look or come into the game late trying to scale down traditional furniture and have it click with these consumers," said Peter Tielmann, Palliser's vice president of sales and marketing.

"Home furnishings to these consumers is an extension of their culture. They have their own taste in music, in fashion, in cars, and now they want it in furniture.

"They want to buy a living room, dining room, bedroom look inexpensively, and yet have it make a statement about who they are." Palliser unveiled a cutting-edge collection geared toward the echoBoomers at the International Home Furnishings Market called EQ3. It stands for emotional quotient, or equalization to the third power, and is expected to ship in September.

The collection features trendy but simplistic living room, dining room, home office, home entertainment and bedroom mixes of wood, metal and glass furniture.

A low-to-the-floor bed frame features headboards that can be fitted anywhere along the bed. The same design that fits a curio cabinet in the kitchen works for a bookcase in the home office. There are metal dressers, entertainment centers and computer tables.

All collections are priced -- with beds not going higher than $399 -- to try to establish brand loyalty with consumers right out of college. The goal is have them return as they get married or have children.

W. Schillig, a German upholstery manufacturer expanding its U.S. presence, is targeting consumers age 28 and older to buy sofas and sectionals with German design and engineering, but appeal to American comfort tastes.

"The timing is good for our expansion because our products are scaled for consumers who need smaller products to fit into their homes," said Erik Stammberger, W. Schillig's president.

"They also fit the flexibility needs of young people whose living room turns into their bedroom." Kinwai USA also is taking a trendy, clean approach toward its young adult lines. Kinwai features dining room, living room, bedroom and wall unit collections in the $1,000 range.

Hideaway functionality is a key to Kinwai's line, which features scaled down entertainment armoires and dressers which have a reversible board that serves as a mirror and panel for a laptop computer.

"American tastes tend to be two years behind those in Europe," said Raymond Zhao of Kinwai. "Which is good for us because by the time Europeans grow weary of a trend, it begins to heat up in the largest furniture marketplace in the world." Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group, said Palliser should be applauded for being so forward-thinking when it comes to the consumer between 21 and 35 years of age.

"If Palliser is as successful with the line as it appears it may be, you may seen similar attempts to reach and age with this consumer base at the next market or two," he said.

(c) 2001 High Point Enterprise via Knight Ridder/Tribune

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