Clouds walkers tout comfort

“With all the talk about walking as a fitness activity, it reconfirms our feeling that we are on the landing edge of a very important trend,” said Roy Darby, marketing manager of Clouds of Norway, here, about his line of walking shoes.

Darby said the Clouds of Norway factory at Dale-on-Sunnfjord, Norway, has been in production for five generations, manufacturing everything from military footwear to pumps and boots.

The Clouds concept of comfort plantar fasciitis shoes for men was created four years ago when a new and patented bottom concept was developed by a Danish medical doctor. “After a slow first year, the acceptance of Clouds exploded in Scandinavia and northern Europe,” noted Darby.

In June 1985, Clouds of Norway U.S.A., owned by Per Jan Borgen, was formed. “The company originally chose to market the shoes for the duty market,” said Darby. “And that was successful in Sweden and Norway, where doctors wear white. In the U.S., however there is a stronger market and a larger retail distribution in walking//comfort shoes.

“I took the shoes, which feature an effective free-air shock-absorbing chamber bottom for comfort, and worked on the colors and the cosmetics. However, to have a true fashion shoe, you always have to sacrifice comfort, and health and comfort are our number-one priority.”

Clouds tested well, according to data compiled by the recently opened Gait Laboratory in the University of Copenhagen’s department of anatomy. The institute noted most people take over 10,000 steps a day, and that on a hard surface the strain on the heels is equivalent to two to four times a person’s body weight when walking, or four to six times the body weight when running. This shock can be reduced by as much as 50-75 percent by using shock-absorbing soles to protect the joints in the feet, legs and hips.

Clouds shoes were shown to have the same shock-absorbing capacity as the “latest jogging trainers.”

“As walking as a sport continues, people will discover that they need a specific shoe to protect their bodies,” Darby said. “I’ve seen tests where people are asked to draw around their feet and then asked to take their pretty shoes for bunions and place them on the drawing and then draw around the shoes. It becomes a good illustration of how often shoes are not the correct shape for our feet. A large toe box is important.” Darby pointed out that it is harder to walk when the toes are scrunched inside pointed, or too small, shoes.

“Another important element in walking shoes is lateral stability. When the foot is pointed straight ahead it allows the foot to flex up and down.”

The patented bottom concept features a free-air, shock-absorbing chamber that is molded into a polyurethane bottom that also acts as an air pump. Air expelled during shock absorption is routed back into the shoe for a self-ventilating effect.

The uppers on the Clouds line are Norwegian tanned, moisture-resting leather, that are unlined for free breathing. “Although the amin emphasis is on the walking market, we also feel there is a certain crossover market, which we feel represents good investment for the retail consumer who can wear Clouds to career, as well as for fitness, activities,” Darby said. “This advantage does not exist in the tennis shoe market.”

The U.S. division warehouses approximately 11,000 pairs of the men’s and women’s shoes in its headquarters here. “We were happy with our first-year distribution,” said Darby. “Our priority is to develop Western distribution and then expand.”

The shoes, which come in a variety of colors and include newly added brown and ash shades, wholesale for $39 in the men’s styles and $34 in the women’s.

“In Europe, women are raised to buy high-quality shoes,” said Darby. “We were warned that while our men’s prices would be acceptable, the women’s prices might be too high. We would like to lower the price on the women’s line, but the cost of the leathers, as well as the 1.5 percent additional duty on the women’s, makes that prohibitive.”

Darby anticipated that the introduction of new styling, including a penny loafer, should increase sales in the women’s lines. “Even so, a certain non-fashion look is necessary for the comfort,” he said.

At the Gait Laboratory, electronic test equipment, including a computerized walkway, allowed for the comparison of the impact of walking barefoot and in different types of athletic shoes for high arches .

“Cushioning is important,” said Darby. “The bulbous toe box takes a little getting used to, but I can remember when that type of a look was fashion-forward. The consumer is already coming around to this shoe.”

Clouds of Norway will be showing at the upcoming WSA regional shoe show in Las Vegas. “Right now, we are planning on establishing a basic operation with slight seasonal coloring changes,” Dary noted. “The key word for Clouds is ‘functional,’ and we think we already have the shoe that will do it for the walking consumer.”

Still Selling After All These Years

A vast array of products continue to make life easy for team dealers.

It’s almost like that old card trick: Go ahead, ask a dealer, any dealer, about what’s doing well in the baseball market and you’re likely to receive the same response: “Almost anything.”

Look around: You have the hockey-style catcher’s mask, colored leg guards and body guards, players matching the colors of the uniforms and equipment. “Almost anything is hot,” says Steven Hauff, president of Dakota Sports (Sioux Falls, S.D.).

“There’s a lot of upgrading of uniforms and, with more competition from the Little Leagues right up through the all-star season, everyone is attempting to improve themselves,” he adds. “There’s even a lot of pitching nets and specialty items around that are selling now.”

And sure, bat controversies have spawned new bats, NOCSAE regulations have helped introduce new masks, and good old competition and self-improvement are creating a wealth of specialty and training items that are moving rapidly off the shelves.

“We do really well with training items,” says Danny McCuin, store manager at Spaulding Athletic Goods (Little Rock, Ark.). “One of our best-selling items is the Hitting Stick, from Donik Sports. It’s a laminated rod, about 6-feet long, and we’ve already had to re-order more of them.

“It was a really hot item in the spring; we couldn’t keep them on the shelves,” he adds.

In fact, many team dealers are reporting baseball as their top sales sport, even more so than football.

“Ninety-percent of our team business is baseball, when you take into account the embroidery, uniforms, etc.,” says Tim England, president of Annandale Sports (Annandale, Va).

“We entertain all of our league customers at our Chantilly location, and in November, we bring them in to place all of the orders,” he adds. “We have all-stars in the summer, which now carries into the fall, slows a little bit in October, and then, as I said, we begin ordering again.

“We do a lot of corporate softball embroidery; we’re year round with baseball pants for Rawlings and Wilson, and we also do youth league pants,” England says.

This year at Annandale Sports, the hockey-style catcher’s mask continues to post good numbers. Its leading manufacturers include All-Star, Cooper, Rawlings and Wilson.

“And everything we’ve been selling has been the upper-end stuff,” England says. “Nothing inexpensive seems to be strong right now. We’re heavy into gloves and bats with Easton, Louisville Slugger, DeMarini … only the upper end stuff again, the $100-$300 bats.”

As for gloves, Nocona, Rawlings’ Gold and Signature series, and the Wilson 2000 Series again pace sales of upper-end products.

“We even are selling well with the Hanes and Russell shirts and T-shirts,” England says. “We try to stay quality over quantity everywhere.”

A major reason baseball and softball items are driving team sales is the relatively new setup of year-round baseball leagues. Sales are being boosted by Little league, all-stars, travel teams, club teams, Pony leagues, high school summer leagues and the high school season itself.

“Baseball is No. 1, and we don’t sell a lot of high schools,” says Jerry Smith, president of Smith Sporting Goods (Bay Minette, Ala.). “Most sales are to the youth teams … the spring brings baseball leagues and, around all-star time, everyone starts to jazz up the uniforms.

“During the regular season, 75 to 80 percent of my league sales (Smith estimated about 20 leagues) are for basic T-shirts with printing on them, or maybe with the replica T’s, the bottom-end kind,” he adds. “All-Star season brings out the full-button mesh jersey.”

There has been one surprise at Smith Sporting Goods: The hockey-style mask hasn’t hit it big. “[But] it’s being tested now,” Smith says. “One girls’ league actually uses it [universally] throughout the league. They’ve actually picked up on it before the boys’ and men’s leagues did.”

Pro Sports (Sterling, Colo.), Grogan-Marciano (Mansfield, Mass.), Blanchette Sporting Goods (Shelton, Conn.) and Hopkins Sporting Goods (Des Moines, Iowa) are just a few of the team dealers that are posting strong sales with hockey-style catcher’s mask.

Gloves, Bats, Training Items, Also Selling

Glove sales continue to contribute to dealer sales. “The glove battle is between Nocona and Rawlings at our store right now,” says Steve McClintock of Hopkins.

“We do really well with the new Rawlings model, and Nocona is always strong in the market,” he adds. “Overall, baseball is easily our busiest sports season.”

For many team dealers, products such as uniforms, training items, catcher’s equipment, etc., are garnering interest. At Pacesetter Sports (Terre Haute, Ind.), the Worth slow-pitch softball bats are selling well, as well as fast-pitch bats in general.

“The 12-1/2 to 13-inch softball gloves for girls, regardless of the brand, are selling well too,” says Brent Compton, general manager. “I’d say Nocona and Rawlings are the best right now.”

At Archies Sporting Goods, (Gainesville, Ga.), pre-broken-in gloves are really in demand.

“The Mizuno and Rawlings models are our best-selling gloves,” says Anthony Barrett, president and owner.

Chris Considine, vice president and general manager of the team sports division at Wilson Team Sports (Chicago), says the company’s new Easy Catch design is a concept dedicated to the kids market. “When an adult closes a mitt, it is the pinky closing to the thumb,” he says. “For children, this is much more difficult, so it’s the four fingers to the thumb.

The Easy Catch is designed that way. We thought we’d sell 50,000 to 75,000 pieces last year. “In the end, it was more than 250,000 gloves,” Considine says. “The A-2000 ballglove has also been an extremely strong seller for us and I think that will continue.”

Category Setbacks No Problem

While controversies, legalities and litigation have clouded the baseball market over the past few years, manufacturers of baseball and softball products remained unfazed by what appeared to be a never-ending stream of setbacks.

In fact, baseball’s future seems to be the strongest among the major sports. “I still think the greatest growth potential is in baseball,” says Ron Menconi, GMM, G.I. Joe’s (Wilsonville, Ore.).

“One reason for that is Nike is getting into regular baseball fielding gloves, and you still have growth with bats,” he says. “While the price-points are going up, people are buying big-ticket items.”

Dent Athletic Sales (Redwood City, Calif.) has seen only positives in big-ticket items for about a year in baseball sales.

“The most encouraging sign is that our whole line has seen an increase in movement,” says Richard Baker, general manager. “The gloves, spikes, catcher’s masks and even the asa slowpitch softball bats have been selling great. We were really worried about our bat sales two years ago, but that whole mess didn’t hurt our effort. It just made us stock more, I guess, and those items have moved.”

Softball Sales Continue Upward Swing

Not to be outdone, softball — from slow-pitch recreational and corporate leagues, through the most competitive women’s high schools — continues its meteoric sales rise.

Just ask Gene Lowe, owner of Lowe’s Sporting Goods (London, Ky.). “We have one of the strongest areas in the country for girls’ softball,” he says. “Overall, the girls’ sports are very big here. One thing I’ve noticed is that we’re still selling a lot more of the pants than shorts in terms of their uniforms, obviously due to sliding.”

Lowe’s Sporting Goods is also reporting that all of the new bats and gloves it carries are selling through, especially the already broken-in gloves and the double-wall bats. “One problem with the double-walls is that they have to be sent back to the manufacturer for replacement, so we really can’t help the customers quickly with that,” Lowe says.

At Glenn’s Sporting Goods (Huntington, W.Va.), the girls’ softball market is also experiencing increased success. “We’ve been really happy with our school softball sales,” says Jim Brumfield, president. “A nice surprise has been sliding shorts, As girls’ softball continues to become stronger, accessories and ancillary sales follow suit.

“Gloves across the board are Wilson and Rawlings,” he adds. “All of Nocona, Wilson and Rawlings have darkened their leather to give the glove a much softer feel.”

Shaping up for gains

Shapewear will firm up its status as a hot category for 1995 with new lingerie styles and a focus on spot control. The trend toward more structured silhouettes, more cleavage, and a focus on comfort are being combined with new cotton and lycra spandex blends. There is even a men’s market, being filled by the Belly Band by Bodyslimmers Inc. The medium-control category is growing the fastest, especially in sculpted, seamless waist trainers and bodysuits.

Shapewear appears to be headed for a boom next year, according to vendors who have been putting a lot of work into new items and looks.

Innovations in spot control and styling, they say, are increasingly giving the category its own identity, apart from the bras and panties that are the bread and butter of the foundations business. This has already helped push figures for some firms into strong double-digit percentage gains this year.

And as the makers look to the next couple of seasons they say shapewear has a lot going for it:

* The growing emphasis on shape and structured silhouettes in ready-to-wear.

* The lust for cleavage, with shapewear supplementing the work of the new cleavage-enhancing bras.

* Pretty lingerie treatments providing shapewear for those who want a softer or more embellished look.

* The growing use of cotton and Lycra spandex blends as an alternative to the prevailing nylon and Lycra blends.

* A new focus on comfort, being rendered in items that offer moderate control.

Vendors predict fashion looks in textured treatments and a broader assortment of fashion colors, including a new range of nude tones, will also build a bigger consumer base with women who have traditionally worn non-control panties for everyday use. Vendors also believe the influx of fashion will continue to drive shapewear business.

Along with the softer-looking lace-embellished items that are adding more fashion to the scene, the sculpted, seamless looks that provide a smooth line continue to be important.

Each trend is being presented in innerwear-outerwear ideas, a direction that has been evolving over the past five years.

Among the items expected to fuel the category are a variety of waist trainers; briefs that tuck in the tummy and lift the derriere, and a lot more all-in-one bodysuits with padded, push-up underwire bras.

Also hot are allover lace and sleek-looking bustiers and corsets — which are traditionally part of foundations but now are gaining a new edge as fashion and control items.

The idea of control is even crossing over into the men’s area. Bodyslimmers Inc. began shipping its Belly Band to catalogs and for selling on two-minute infomercials aimed at male consumers last week.

The fastest growing segment of the shapewear business is in medium control, primarily because it combines comfort with a moderate amount of support, say makers.

Over the past year, vendors also note the shapewear concept has evolved from all over control — which can be uncomfortable and constricting — to spot control in problem areas such as the rummy and thighs.

Key fabrics include shiny satin and matte-luster finishes in nylon and Lycra spandex, along with more assortments of cotton and Lycra blends.

Gwen Widell, senior vice president of merchandising and design worldwide for The Warnaco Group, said shapewear business continues to build because of the growing interest in controlling problem areas, whether it be the waist, tummy or derriere.

Widell noted that two items by Warner’s are a hit: a high-waisted control brief of nylon and Lycra with reinforced tummy control panel that has a wide lace band that doesn’t roll down, and a control brief called The End, which was introduced 20 years ago.

“All of the emphasis on the waist and the derriere in fashion has made The End popular again,” said Widell.

Andrea Jeannet, senior marketing manager for shapewear and Wonderbra at Sara Lee Intimates, said, “Shapewear business has been growing tremendously, and would have even grown more if we hadn’t had production problems.”

Jeannet noted that Sara Lee introduced a group trolled Illusions Body by Bali Shapewear, inspired by the success of spot control in Playtex Secrets, made by Playtex Apparel, another unit of Sara Lee Corp. The Secrets line of control bras and briefs was introduced to department and specialty stores in the U.S. in March 1993, and is expected to generate wholesale sales adding up to $100 million by 1995′ – The Illusions line of shapewear features two bras that give spot control at each side, and two control briefs. Wholesale prices are $11.04 and $12 for the bras, and $8.88 and $9.36 for the briefs. Colors for April deliveries are white, a mauve tone called tea rose and a skin tone called rosewood. Black will be shipped in July.

“Making comfortable control garments that look good under apparel, as well as fashion looks, will bring new users into the market,” said Jeannet. “In our research last year, 33 percent of the women we surveyed said they would wear control panties all of the time or some of the time. This year, we believe the number is a lot higher.”

Bob Niddrie, vice president of merchandising at Playtex Apparel, noted, “Playtex Secrets continues to be a big factor in the shapewear marketplace.”

He said one group in particular by Secrets has received “great reaction” for spring: a moderate control group of bras and briefs of textured cotton and Lycra, trimmed with scallop-pattern nylon and Lycra satin. They provide spot contouring of the tummy and on each side of the bosom.

“There’s a lot of shine and nylon and Lycra out there, and only a limited amount of control items in cotton and Lycra,” said Niddrie. “The American consumer’s appetite is whetted when you present these items in a cotton blend.”

Niddrie noted that while the general trend in shapewear still is dominated by shine and tailored looks, “the next phase will move to more embellishment.”

“We were already seeing these more embellished looks at the trade shows in Europe this fall,” he said.

Cathy Anesi, product manager for foundations and marketing at NCC Industries, maker of Lilyette foundations, noted that an all-in-one control bodysuit with a built-in minimizer bra will be introduced for fall selling. The bodysuit will feature four-way convertible straps and will come in C, D and DD cup sizes. The wholesale price has not been set.

Zerbe said two bodysuits that have a ready-to-wear look and give spot tummy control were “ordered like crazy” for spring. One style features a padded, push-up bra and the other style has an allover stretch lace bra. The bodysuits of nylon and Lycra each wholesales for $16.10.

“Bottoms are really key right now,” said Nancy Ganz, president of Bodyslimmers. “We know there’s a lot going on with the bust, but rears need to be rising, too,”

Ganz noted that a lot of the HotPants looks worn under slit skirts and sheer skirts on the ready-to-wear runways, could fuel the demand for control bottoms.

“We need to focus on separate body parts and spot control,” she said, citing thighs, the belly and the waist as major problems for many women, along with derrieres.

Bodyslimmers began shipping its group of three control shapers of nylon and Lycra called Beautiful Bottoms last week to department and specialty stores. The group will be done in cotton and Lycra for fall. Three styles include a Butt Booster, which lifts the derriere and wholesales for $14.50; a Belly Band, which tucks the tummy and sells for $7.50, and a waist corset, for $10.50. Colors are black, white and nude.

With the growing emphasis on this kind of control, Ganz noted that sales at her firm are nearly double those of a year ago.

In one unusual marketing development, Carol Green, president of Laracris Corp., Chicago, maker of Aubergine shapewear, is introducing her first direct mailer of control items to 10,000 consumers this month. The foldout mailer is called Carol Green’s Inner Circle.

“Consumers have been calling me and asking where they could find a control garment that gives spot control in specific problem areas, such as the tummy or waist,” said Green.

“This is a vehicle to show consumers that we have 31 styles, not just four items, which department stores generally tend to feature.”

Green said she will be adding plus sizes to a number of control styles in the near future. Sizes will be 1X to 3X.

She further noted that a group of lace-trimmed, lingerie — looking shapewear of nylon and Lycra that gives moderate control, called Cami Solutions, has been introduced for spring.

“It’s for the woman who wants just a little smoothness under her clothes,” said Green.

“Bustiers are just exploding for us, and we are making a major commitment to bustiers,” said Richard Gimbel, president and chief executive of Va Bien, a foundations firm.

“Retailers are looking at this classification as shapewear, and executives at the management level are telling their buyers to seek out this merchandise,” said Gimbel, who noted that sales at his company this year are up 45 percent against a year ago.

The top-booking bustier by Va Bien is an allover lace number with galloon-trimmed bra cups, wholesaling for $24.48. It has detachable straps and garters, and has a coordinating bikini panty for $8, and a thong panty for $7. Colors are pink, peach, mink, ivory, navy and black.

Winch maintenance made easy

Tips for the maintenance of sailboat winches are presented. The things needed in doing the task are environment-friendly solvents such as Simple Green, freshwater rinse, clean and lint-free rags, winch grease and light machine oil.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about routine maintenance on your boat? Chances are that “cleaning the winches” doesn’t top the list. As essential as winches are to making your sailing experiences successful, they’re some of the most typically neglected items on the boat. Regular servicing of your winches can dramatically increase their efficiency and minimize failure. While the level of winch maintenance will vary with winch use, most manufacturers suggest that winches be broken down and serviced prior to and once during each sailing season.

What’s Involved?

As routine maintenance, each winch should get a quick flush with a hose after sailing, particularly if you sail on salt water. This washes out salt and light dirt and helps prevent corrosion.

A quick check of a typical two-speed winch should only take about five minutes. Pull off the drum, remove the main bearings, wipe away grease on exposed surfaces, and examine parts for wear and damage (particularly pawls, springs, and gear teeth). If all appear fine, lightly grease and reassemble. If, however, the exposed grease is gummed up, loaded with dirt or sand, or the winch parts are dry, it’s time for a servicing overhaul.

A complete servicing overhaul requires breaking down the winch into its component parts, cleaning the parts with a solvent or degreaser, carefully examining parts for wear and damage, and reassembling after properly lubricating the moving parts. (With practice, a complete overhaul of a primary winch on a 35-foot boat should take about 30 minutes.)

How Do You Do It?

First, if you have them, read the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions. Next, lay out a towel or low-sided cardboard box on which you will place the individual winch parts. Let’s get to it.

You must remove the winch drum. It’s usually secured by a screw located in the handle socket, a threaded ring, or some type of snap ring. Have the necessary tools handy to remove the drum. Be careful to lift the drum up straight and slowly, as the bearings and individual parts may come up with it. Disassemble the winch parts and lay them in the box or on the towel in the order you removed them. This will make the reassembly process much easier. If you need to, make a sketch; this is the time to do it. Take a moment to study how the pawl and springs fit together and how to place the pawls in relation to the gears. If you’re servicing a set of winches, don’t take both apart at once. If you forget how the pieces fit together, you’ll still have a complete model to compare it to.

Now, let’s clean the parts. If the winch-component parts aren’t completely gunked up with grease, wipe them down with a doth and solvent. If they are heavily gunked up, soak the caked parts in solvent. (Don’t soak plastic parts in strong solvents.) When parts are degunked, rinse with freshwater and dry. When all of the components are dean and dry, it’s time to lubricate and reassemble them. Using a winch grease recommended by your manufacturer, lightly coat the bearings and gears, but don’t pack the winch with grease. Remember, don’t grease the pawls and ratchet teeth; these parts should be lubricated with machine oil. Once this is complete, reassemble all the parts in the reverse order of their removal, following the manufacturer’s instructions or your diagram. If the parts don’t slip into place fairly easily, something may be incorrectly placed. Be sure to reattach the stripper arm of a self-tailing winch in the correct position.

Once you’ve completely reassembled the winch, spin the drum and listen. The drum should turn freely and be fairly quiet and smooth. Listen closely for the click of the pawls; they should click solidly, in all the gears. If they do, you have successfully completed your winch-servicing session. You should be set for the season, but if you plan extensive racing or cruising, you may have to schedule more frequent servicing sessions. Don’t ignore those all-important winches; tackle them early and avoid the last-minute worry.

WHAT DO YOU NEED?

  • Manufacturer’s maintenance instructions (if available)
  • Two buckets: one for solvent, one for freshwater rinse
  • Solvent: environmentally friendly solvent like Simple Green are advisable, but solvents like Simple Green are advisable, but solvent such as kerosene or mineral spirits will also work
  • Clean, lint-free rags
  • Winch grease and light machine oil
  • Tools: screwdriver, Allen wrenches, pocketknife
  • Low-sided cardboard box or towel to place parts on during servicing

Advice for a faster bottom finish

Tips for the maintenance of sailboat bottom finishes are presented. Sailboat bottom system come in four kinds. Gel coats are used for dinghies, epoxy for sportboats and small keelboats, ablative or hard antifouling paint are used for cruiser/racers or racing keelboats.

Everyone who hauls their boat for winter storage knows that sooner or later the question of what to do with the bottom will arise. I’ll demystify the various bottom-finish systems by simply stating that a well-prepared bottom will last longer and work better. Now, how much time and money are you willing to spend? You can do the work yourself if you have more time than money, or you can go to a “speed shop” and have a professional team do the dirty work. Either way, the payoff is more speed.

Although boats come in all sizes, the scope of bottom systems is relatively limited. There’s the shiny gelcoat bottom, found on most planing dinghies and some sportboats. Other sportboats and small keelboats are finished in epoxy. Then, for those who keep their boats in the water, there’s ablative or hard antifouling paint.

Anti-fouling paint comes in two types: ablative, which will slough off over the course of the season, and hard, non-ablative. Wet sanding is not recommended for ablative paints because much of the finish is removed during the wet-sanding process, making the surface less effective against growth. Ablative paints, however, usually require less cleaning because the paint sloughs off while the boat is underway, taking the slime and growth with it.

Many racers prefer a hard, non-ablative paint, which can be wet sanded and polished to a shiny finish. An epoxy bottom provides an excellent water barrier and in most systems is recommended underneath the anti-fouling bottom paint.

You can finish the bottom with epoxy alone, but it will not have anti-fouling properties. The advantages, however, are durability and color. An epoxy-coated bottom will last many seasons because it does not wear off, and it comes in white. In addition to aesthetic reasons, white is a good choice because growth is more visible on a white bottom.

Doing It Yourself

If you choose to do the bottom work yourself, you have several choices. The easiest thing is to simply roll or spray another coat of paint over the existing bottom. This works, but is usually not conducive to speed or durability. Power washing, which many yards do routinely upon haul-out, will remove growth and loose paint. If you make the arrangements beforehand, the yard can usually take the extra time needed to remove loose paint with the power wash.

Ideally, however, bottom preparation starts with a bare hull, either gelcoat or coated with an epoxy barrier from the mold. If the bottom of your boat already has paint on it, you’re going to have to remove it. Sanding the existing paint can be difficult, especially if it’s ablative paint that will rapidly clog sandpaper. Chemically stripping the bottom is probably your best bet. This may require several applications of stripper, and will require sanding afterward. Electric or dual-action sanders, with a 5- or 6-inch round pad, work best. Manufacturers typically recommend mechanically scuffing the surface before any bottom application. I recommend 60- to 80-grit sandpaper to achieve a solid bond between the raw bottom and epoxy barrier.

After scuffing the bottom, apply the epoxy barrier to the manufacturer’s specifications. They will specify a mill thickness that generally equates to three to five thickly applied coats. Keep in mind that after sanding you will have fewer coats than when you started, so the rule is to go with more rather than less.

For a final application of anti-fouling bottom paint, sanding the epoxy with 120 grit, followed by 220 grit, is fine. When reapplying an epoxy barrier, sanding the underlying layer with 80 to 100 grit is recommended. The epoxy barrier coat is very hard, and depending on the application process (rolled or sprayed) a coarser grit sandpaper may be required to remove all of the “orange peel” from the epoxy. The serious racer would block or board sand at this point to fair the bottom.

When sanding, one of the tricks of the trade is to wipe blue dye on the bottom before sanding. This makes the high spots and pinholes more visible. Another option is to spray a light coat of spray paint on the surface. (Any residue left after sanding can be wiped off with acetone.) Any holes you find should be filled with epoxy filler, resanded, and primed. High spots should be sanded down. You now have a nice epoxy barrier. It can be sanded smooth as a final finish, or the barrier can serve as a primer for a finish surface of white epoxy or anti-fouling paint.

The best way to apply a finish coat is to spray it. Rolling the bottom paint or epoxy is also fine, but will require more work when wet-sanding. Apply the finish coats to the manufacturer’s specifications; again, three to five coats. After it’s dry, you’ll need to sand again. If the finish was sprayed, start with 320 grit and finish with 400. If rolled, start with 220 and work your way to 400. For a shiny finish, we always wet-sand with a rubber sanding block, using a fore and aft motion, keeping the block parallel to the centerline and waterline.

Bottom Maintenance

Maintaining your bottom from this point will require only routine cleaning, whether bottom paint, epoxy, or gelcoat finish. Keep in mind that if you clean with anything more abrasive than what the bottom has been prepared to, you will negate all of the hard work that has been done. A good wet-sanded finish, whether epoxy or anti-fouling, is usually 400 to 600 grit. Gel-coated surfaces are usually 1,000 to 1,200 grit, so cleaning with anything more than a sponge with dish soap will scratch – I recommend white Scotchbrite pads for in-the-water cleaning. Remember to clean in a fore and aft direction. Wetsanding also will clean well, but each time you wet sand, you remove more paint.

Whatever your choice of bottom treatment, remember that a well-maintained finish will get you there faster.

The right amount of preseason preparation

Tips are given on how sailors can prepare for the coming sailboat racing season. Some of the mistakes that sailors commit at the start of the racing season are due to improper preparation.

Some of the problems we experience at the start of the season stem from the extremes of preparation. There are sailors, like Joe B. Casual, who have done absolutely nothing since they parked the boat last November. They simply launch the boat and head out for the first race, ripe for breakdown, injury, and frustration.

At the other extreme is Peter Prepared, who’s been to every seminar, surfed the web all winter, meticulously prepared his boat, and worked out at the gym. As a coach, I would prefer to work with Peter rather than Joe, but Peter might suffer from having made too many changes, and having expectations that are too high. Both Joe and Peter could alter their preseason preparation to be more effective.

Recipe for the Overprepared

First, consider Peter. He has done a seemingly thorough job of preparation, but he still might get disappointing results at his first test of the season. I can hear him now, “I can’t believe Joe beat me, he’s outta shape, his boat is a wreck, and he doesn’t even have an MRI-enhanced code X hyper-Mylar jib! How can this be?”

Dance with the girl that brung ya. Peter needs to surf his boat, not the web. After a winter of analyzing the latest go-fasts, he may have fallen victim to the hype surrounding new equipment and techniques. It’s important to be current, but the latest fads must be avoided. Instead, Peter should learn how to use standard equipment better than the next guy. Only after a major change in gear, tuning, or technique is widely adopted should Peter join the crowd. And when he does make those changes, he must allow practice time to adjust his boathandling routines.

Analyze to learn, internalize to know. If you gave Peter a written test on the complete works of Stuart Walker, he would get an “A.” But on the water, he can’t recognize the highly fluid situations quick enough to apply the correct answer. Studying tactics is great, but there’s no substitute for time in the boat. Peter needs to get in as many short-course races as possible so he can “internalize” the lessons and respond without thinking. (See “Top 10 Early Season Tactical Errors.”) Winter frostbite racing is ideal for this.

Sail yourself into shape. After an off-season of serious exercise, Peter should be in better shape than Joe. But the fittest person doesn’t always win, whether in sailing or other sports. More commonly, the most highly skilled athlete wins. Fitness is important, but beyond a certain level, there are diminishing returns, and the “principle of specificity” states that only highly specialized conditioning will significantly improve performance. Hiking in a Snipe may not improve your fitness for hiking in a Laser. The training has to be very specific.

Heavy-air sailing in your own boat is the best training, once you’ve reached a certain level of fitness. This is the Catch-22. You have to sail in heavy air to get in shape to sail in heavy air, Skill and conditioning aren’t the same thing, but achieving both is interrelated. Because Peter hasn’t sailed in heavy air for months, he shouldn’t put unrealistic expectations on his heavy-air speed. He’s ready for some heavy-air practice, and by the end of the sailing season he should finally have the speed he deserves.

Recipe for the Underprepared

Joe B. Casual will tell you that he sails for fun, has a real life, and just doesn’t have the time to match Peter’s perfectionism. “And hey,” says Joe, “we beat Peter half the time last year anyway.” But with no preparation for his first regatta, at best Joe is likely to have a mediocre finish. At worst, breakdown or injury could mean no finish at all. While I’m not going to condone Joe’s lack of preparation, there are some last-minute things he could do to improve the situation.

Stretch to avoid injury. Stretching is the single most important preparation you can do. It should be done both before and after sailing. Studies suggest that you shouldn’t stretch cold muscles, so first perform some light calisthenics, then stretch the major muscle groups. If he wants to get in shape quickly, the best single exercise for small-boat sailing is to ride a bike, either stationary or on the road. Joe should try to do this for 30 minutes three times a week.

Relax while commuting. Sailing is a low-intensity sport, so reducing stress and anxiety is important. Now Joe is a casual kind of guy, so maybe he has this all figured out, but it never hurts to practice relaxation skills. While commuting to work, he should focus on isolating and relaxing his muscles, paying particular attention to his facial, neck, shoulder, and buttock muscles. When someone cuts him off in traffic, he can inhale, then exhale and let the road rage go.

Remember: Rust never sleeps. There is no need to stress all winter about your equipment. But Joe should dig out his gear a week before the first regatta and spend a couple of evenings in the garage. Replace the questionable, make a few upgrades, and finish the hit list left over from last summer. This doesn’t have to take long, if he has the right tools and a good space to work.

Plan a weekend without expectations. Dedicate an afternoon to practicing with your crew. Pick two marks and go windward/leeward, round and round. Spend half your time on boathandling and half on boatspeed. Go straight line, all by yourself, and concentrate on steering, sail trim, heel, and feel. Pay attention to the puffs, lulls, waves, and windshifts while you’re grooving along. Go rudderless if possible, or centerline the tiller with bungy, and steer with weight and sail trim.

The next day, arrange a practice session with a few friends in their boats. Do the same simple drills, but in a race-like atmosphere. Chase your buddies around the windward/leeward. Use a rabbit start to line up for speed testing. Finally, and this holds true for both Peter and Joe, pick a relatively minor regatta for the first test of your off-season preparation.

TOP 10 EARLY SEASON TACTICAL ERRORS

  1. Crash and burn while starting at the pin, or barging at the boat
  2. Failure to “cross ’em when you can”
  3. Leebowing when you should’ve ducked
  4. Tacking too close when you should’ve ducked
  5. Tacking short of the layline (see above)
  6. Overstanding the layline
  7. Last boat of a group going high on a reach
  8. Caught up in clumps of boats on the run
  9. Outside at marks
  10. Covering when it’s inappropriate

 

Steer to become a better crew

A female sailor describes the steering lessons she learned while she co-skippered a dinghy during a weekend regatta. She expressed surprise that the experience taught her to be a better crew member.

I’ve been a card-carrying member of the Snipe “crew union” for nine years. I’ve perfected the last-second pole douse and hike hard even when the skipper is sitting in (to adjust something of course). I thought I knew everything about crewing – until I tried my hand at steering.

Competing in the Snipe Women’s Worlds was the ultimate goal. But I also thought that, by picking up the tiller, I’d pick up a few skipper tricks as well – like the elbow jab to keep the crew hiking hard, or the strategic excuse for tacking just as your legs start to burn. To my surprise, it taught me to be a better crew.

The biggest lessons came from a weekend regatta I co-skippered with Andrew Pimental in preparation for the Worlds. Andrew and I have sailed Snipes together for a long time, and I figured sharing the helm with him would let me ease into steering in a familiar setting. But even with the same teammate, the view is very different from the back of the boat.

Lesson No. 1: Little adjustments do pay. The first surprise was how much taking hold of the tiller and mainsheet improved my feel of the boat. That half inch of jib-sheet ease, slight tug on the cunningham, or sliding an inch farther out on the rail dramatically altered the load on the tiller. So maybe all those times I’d been asked for a minuscule adjustment, my skipper really had been able to feel the difference – which meant that what we crews call “skipper over-sensitivity” is not a form of crew harassment.

Lesson No. 2: You can’t make every call from the front of the boat. As my feel increased, Andrew’s decreased. “How ’bout layline?” I asked as we approached the weather mark the first time around. “You call it. I can’t tell from up here,” was his reply. To my surprise, I was able to call the layline right. We had only moved one body width, but our specialties had swapped. So now I can blame what I’d thought was a personal failing (my inability to call laylines) on my position in the boat.

Lesson No. 3: Make yourself small when blocking the skipper’s view. Steering also changed my blind spots. As a crew, sitting up front, you don’t care about seeing directly behind you. But set a body smack dab in your line of sight when looking forward and it sure can be distracting. When it was too light for Andrew to be fully hiked, he sat up straight (just as he would have back aft) to look around. Seeing the waves around him was like playing chicken with a city bus. I vowed to always hunch my head and shoulders when I reclaimed my crewing territory.

Lesson No. 4: Be precise in describing the course. Because I was new to the helm, if I didn’t concentrate on steering, we’d hit waves and stop. I had to rely on Andrew to describe what was happening on the race-course, but any hesitation in his wording (“It almost looks like the pressure might be better on the right”) sent my head swiveling to check. Most of the time I agreed with him, but what was the point in him speaking at all if I had to look?

The same thing applies when calling the breeze downwind. “Here comes a puff” seems pretty specific when you’re facing aft, watching it fill. When you turn off the visual and become the skipper, facing forward (eyeing the waves, mainsail trim and traffic, and only listening with a small part of your brain anyway), “Here comes a puff” is somewhere just short of useless. Estimated time of arrival, relative location and effect on wind direction, even if not perfectly accurate, are a must if this information is going to do anything more than distract the driver. I resolved to work harder on effective communication as a crew.

Lesson No. 5: The stress of steering makes you obsess on silly things. And now for a confession that may force my resignation from the crew union. On a light-air reach, the top third of the Snipe jib (unseen by the crew sitting to leeward) is always undertrimmed, because of the location of the outboard jib leads. I know (as a rational crew) that keeping the bottom two-thirds of the jib working is more important than properly trimming the top third, but I still (as an irrational skipper) became instantly obsessed with the lifting upper yarn. “Trim!” I barked. Andrew just laughed. “See how annoying it is?”

I now understand that this skipper obsession with detail is stress-related, not a symptom of a serious personality disorder. Now that I have experienced the continuous tension in the back of the boat, I will take stress-related comments more positively – and less personally.

Fortunately, Andrew didn’t treat switching off as just a special favor to me. He used the experience to make some rigging changes so the crew’s job would be easier, and he learned quite a few mechanical tricks about the front of the boat that he can pass along to future crews. Most importantly, he will no longer assume his forward teammate has as much feel for the boat as he does, and won’t hesitate to ask for those small changes in weight and trim that make so much difference.

And even if I accept the crew union presidency (my fourth overall at the Women’s Worlds shouldn’t disqualify me), I’ll never forget how a positive response to “Hike harder!” can alter the touch of the tiller. With my new perspective, I can now tell my skipper with confidence, “I never would’ve done that if I’d been steering.”

Sailing’s best kept secret

The 1998 George R. Hinman Trophy saw the participation of 12 sailing teams from the East Coast to Hawaii with such odd names as Molokaian Maniacs and Fat Old Has-Beens. The event has been described as a cross between basketball and roller derby.

Roll tacks in 30 knots of breeze. Traps. Picks. Oops – knockdown! In the land of theme parks, this could be the latest thrill ride. All aboard if you dare. Check out team racing, sailing’s best-kept secret. Some of the hottest dinghy sailors in the country came to Alamitos Bay YC in early December to compete for the 1998 George R. Hinman Trophy that goes to US SAILING’s team racing national champions.

Hinman was a former president of US SAILING when it was called NAYRU and a tough competitor on Long Island Sound in the International One-Design class. But, by George, it’s a good bet he never saw anything like this. When the 12 teams from the East Coast to Hawaii signed in as the Molokaian Maniacs, Erratic Fanatics, Fat Old Has-Beens and other bizarre sobriquets, local old-timers thought it must be a revival of the wild days of Roller Derby – and after they watched for a while, they were convinced.

“It’s a cross between basketball and Roller Derby,” said Chris Ericksen, the principal race officer for the host Alamitos Bay YC. But anyone old enough to remember Roller Derby probably shouldn’t try Team Racing, at least not at the level generated at the Nationals. The winning team was the Boston Cosmos, captain Josh Adams’ bunch of former Tufts University warriors who had already won the ’98 Team Racing Worlds at Miami. Their hot hand is Nick Trot- man, who doubled by winning the 505 Worlds as well.

Team racing is in dinghies for the Nationals, with Vanguard 15s provided by Vanguard Sail- boats. Each team has three boats with crews of two and sails against the other teams in a round-robin series leading to sail-offs among the final four.

Each boat is scored by its finish – 1 through 6, low total team points wins. Here’s the key: a team can clinch a match by finishing first and third – do the arithmetic – leaving its third boat to sacrifice itself by blocking boats from the other team.

That’s where the Roller Derby tactics come in. Those under 40 must understand that their parents revere that sport with a kind of cult nostalgia for mayhem. They followed it in drab converted boxing arenas or on flickering 10-inch black-and-white TVs as teams of skaters, male and female, swirled around banked board tracks. Several skaters, forming a “jam,” held up the other guys so one of their own could lap the field and score points for every opponent he passed.

Add to that such basketball ploys as the “pick” – wiping off a defender on a stationary ally – or laying a “trap” at a mark and riding a foe off into the sunset as your teammates sail by – and you have team racing.

“It’s fun, once you figure it out,” said Brad Dellenbaugh, a U.S. Naval Academy sailing coach and chairman of the ’98 US SAILING Team Race Committee. “You’re part of a team, so you can help out a teammate. Normally, in no other racing would you deliberately slow down and sit on an opponent.”

Team racing isn’t new. It’s big in high school and college sailing on both coasts. The Hinman has been contested since 1981. Members of past winning teams include Terry McLaughlin, Peter Isler, Ed Adams, Dave Ullman, Steve Benjamin, Chris Raab, Kevin Hall, David and Brad Dellenbaugh, John Kolius, and Nick Adamson. The ’98 field included not only Trotman and Josh Adams but two-time winner Zack Leonard.

But the ignorant among us, until exposed to it, tend to dismiss team racing as a contrived this-isn’t-really-sailboat-racing gimmick. Some advice: don’t knock it until you try it – and even world-class dinghy aces who haven’t team-raced should think twice before they do.

“If they tried to do it at this level, they’d have some difficulty,” Brad Dellenbaugh said.

Such is the prestige of the game, which probably should be an Olympic discipline – the skill level is that keen.

Those skills were pushed to the limit over three cold and blustery days on Alamitos Bay. “We thought it would be a great venue,” Dellenbaugh said. Adams said, “We expected light air.”

The bay is a sheltered tidal pond about a half-mile in diameter, surrounded by million-dollar homes and palm trees, which were bent like twigs by a rare northeasterly that often pegged the ABYC anemometer at 40 knots, switched the water into super-wash cycle, and blew the Bay’s 5 mph speed limit to oblivion.

Even Trotman and crew Victoria Wadsworth suffered a dunking – that’s how wild it was. But nobody wanted to quit. Wadsworth said, “I’m fine. The water wasn’t as cold as the air.”

Ericksen’s committee ran 83 races over three days without a hitch, and as the weekend moved along it became clear that the conditions were separating the contenders from the pretenders.

“It was really tricky sailing, puffy and shifty – huge shifts,” Trotman said. “Our biggest strategy was to get out and slow the competition down.”

The Cosmos have been sailing together for several years. They know each other’s moves the way Steve Young and Jerry Rice do. “We pretty much know what we’re gonna do out there,” Trotman said. “We always try to have good starts [so] we can cover all the lanes on the beat. We start in the same positions every time.” That would be Trotman/Wadsworth to weather, Mark Mendelblatt/Suzannah Kerr in the middle and Adams/Brett Davis to leeward. If one or two boats squirt out ahead on the beat, the other one or two take on the opposition. “But we all pretty much go for the one,” Trotman said.

Trotman said team racing is a nice change of pace from fleet racing. “I love them both,” he said, “but fleet racing is a totally different strategy. The 505 races are 2 1/2 hours. These are 15 minutes.”

The Cosmos were back in the pack at 3-2 during the round-robins, trailing the 4-1 Kaiser Sosa team from Bristol, R.I. (Brian Doyle, Zack Leonard, Jon Pinckney, Richard Feeny, Chelsie Wheeler and Katie McDowell).

Then the Cosmos swept their best-of-three quarter- and semifinal matches against the Erratic Fanatics from Stanford and Team NYYC-Con Leche from Ivy League country, and won their last two matches against Cape Cod’s Wishbone, which had eliminated Kaiser Sosa, 3-2.

The victory qualified the Cosmos to represent the U.S. in the 1999 Worlds in Ireland next July.

Taming the floater spinnaker douse

The floater spinnaker douse is a technique used when a helmsperson is unsure on how to navigate in a crowded situation while approaching the leeward mark of a race. The strategy can be done if there is complete cooperation between the helmsperson and the trimmers.

Approaching the leeward mark in a crowd of boats can be a stressful experience … boats threatening a last-second inside overlap … boats threatening to force you onto the other jibe … your foredeck crew screaming to know on which side to set up the jib. What if you can’t make the call because you’re ensure how to navigate the traffic?

When this happens, your call should be “Floater!” This is the special type of spinnaker douse in which the pole is tripped away, dropped, and stored several boatlengths outside the mark. The spinnaker stays up until the last second, flying without the pole, often pulling you clear ahead of the traffic. But if need be, you can still pull off a last-minute jibe to avoid that traffic or play a late windshift.

Better yet, the floater allows you to take the sail down on either side of the boat without fear of getting the pole and jib sheets entangled. It also allows the spinnaker to be stored on the correct side of the boat for the next set, saving a lot of crew movement and cleanup time. And you can tack immediately after rounding the mark if you need to clear your air. In short, the floater takedown provides a faster rounding and more tactical options. The maneuver does, however, require good driving and crew coordinator to be successful.

Approaching the Mark

The helmsperson must approach the mark at the correct wind angle if the spinnaker is to fly easily without the pole. This is not necessarily the best polar angle for the windspeed. Instead, the angle is often deeper. If you are sailing at too high an angle when the pole is tripped away, the spinnaker will rotate to leeward and collapse in the lee of the main.

The timing of the trip call is also critical. It must be done far enough from the mark to give the crew plenty of time to get the pole down and stored before the douse call is made. The trip must also be made when the boat is at the correct angle to the wind. When the pole is tripped away, the sail should remain flying in the same position, not roll to leeward. You can usually sense if the sail will stay there or not. It helps to make the trip call when the boat is on a wave, as the loads are less. It’s also best to time it on a roll to weather, as the momentum of the roll will help hold the spinnaker out, away from the mainsail. The helmsperson can create this roll by a slight turn to leeward at the time of the trip call. Positioning a crewmember at the shroud to hold the guy out and act as a human pole is another way of keeping the sail out and flying. This becomes less and less effective, however, as the boat and sail get bigger.

Floater Jibes

It’s always best to plan your final approach so you don’t have to do a late jibe. Assuming that you don’t have to jibe, hoist the jib before you trip away the pole. But if it looks like you might be forced into a late jibe, then trip the pole before the jib hoist because it’s much easier to keep the spinnaker full through a jibe with the jib down. This is particularly important in light wind.

Sometimes there just isn’t enough time to delay the jib hoist until after the jibe. If you have to jibe with the both the spinnaker and headsail up, the bowperson should gather the leech of the jib and hold it forward. This allows more wind to get through to fill the spinnaker.

Making a slow turn as you jibe is one of the keys to keeping the spinnaker flying. If the turn is too fast, centrifugal force will overrotate the spinnaker, and it will collapse behind the mainsail. A slow turn allows the trimmers to float the sail well away from the boat and to match their trim to the turn of the boat.

Floater Takedowns

Cooperation between the trimmers and helmsperson is essential. During the douse, the wind angle steered and the timing of the sheet release will either make the foredeck’s job easy or impossible. If you’re doing a weather takedown, the helmsperson must sail deep until the foredeck crew has control of the sail. The first move after the douse call is to release the sheet, not the halyard. The foredeck must be in position and pulling when the sheet is released. Once the sail has flagged out in front of the boat and is no longer full, the halyard should be eased as fast as the foredeck crew can keep up with it (keep one wrap on the winch). If the halyard is eased too early, you risk running over the sail (otherwise known as “shrimping”). The entire sail needs to be to weather of the forestay before you turn up to round the mark.

If you’re doing a leeward douse, first ease the guy forward until the clew is at the headstay, then hold it there. The foredeck crew should be ready to pull the sheet side in. The helmsperson must head up enough so the sail rotates behind the jib. The sheet trimmer then releases the sheet as the crew begins to gather the sail. Finally, the halyard is eased, but only after the sail is safely in the lee of the jib.

If you have to jibe as part of the mark rounding, it’s very effective to douse the spinnaker on the inside of the jib immediately after the jibe. This allows you to delay the douse until the last second, lessening the risk of the sail blowing away and getting out of control. As you begin to turn into the jibe, overtrim the old sheet to rotate the spinnaker to the old leeward side behind the jib. Then, as you jibe, hold that sheet tight and release the guy. After the jib flops across, release the halyard quickly and the chute will fall down the inside of the jib right onto the foredeck. (Don’t release the halyard until the spinnaker has blown across the boat and against the new weather side of the jib.)

So if you’re looking for a way to open your tactical options and save time at the leeward mark, schedule a crew practice on floater takedowns. First learn how to fly the spinnaker without the pole; then perfect the poleless jibe. The leeward takedown is next and the easiest to learn, followed by the weather takedown. When you’ve mastered all these, try the jibe takedown. Then you’ll have some serious weapons in your bag of tricks.

Focus on fit & function

Consumers are getting more sensible and savvy about their real furniture needs, according to this year’s Better Homes & Gardens/ HFD survey of consumers and leading retailers.

They’re looking for space-saving furniture for smaller living areas. And they’d like to find more compact wall storage systems, down-sized upholstered chairs for living and family rooms, and much smaller scale dining room furniture.

Everything has to be more functional as well. Multipurpose home entertainment centers in many styles, higher-quality sleeper sofas, and motion furniture–particularly recliners–are in demand. There’s more interest in “premium’ sleep products, and excitement about flotation sleep too.

The BH&G survey for 1985, based on responses from 416 consumer readers, shows that more people look at decorating as a major investment today. In fact, survey respondents ranked furniture as the second most important discretionary purchase after cars, taking precedence over vacations and boats. Burdine’s Linda Martin, director of design, confirmed that “consumers now buy furniture the same way they purchase a home.’

Shoppers are doing a lot more homework when they buy furniture. They’re shopping around more, reading shelter magazines, scanning catalogs, and writing away for manufacturers’ literature.

Also, the male influence in furniture purchase decisions is stronger than ever. According to the BH&G survey, it’s a joint decision for eight out of 10 couples. “The wife used to make the decision. But we’re seeing more younger couples selecting furniture together. It’s a big purchase for these couples,’ said Manny Stratos, divisional merchandising manager of furniture for Hess’s in Allentown, Pa.

Stores like Glick’s in Columbus, Ohio, are adjusting their hours to meet the needs of these joint decision makers. “We now have early morning sales and later ones too,’ said Ronald Blank, executive vice president.

These assure young buyers shop around for furniture just the way they do when they buy their cars. Three fourths of the consumers interviewed in the BH&G poll visited several stores before making their last furniture purchase.

Retailers observed this trend too. “Our customers absolutely shop the competition. They make at least two or three shopping comparisons. Construction, quality, and value are important to them,’ explained Blank.

Larry Kirchner, director of trend merchandising for the Dayton Hudson Department Store Co., in Minneapolis, said, “Consumers have preconceived ideas about furniture. The shelter magazines and our stores have influenced and educated them,’ he suggested. “We’ve promoted leather as a quality investment, and it’s doing well.’

Educated consumers

Almost half of the BH&G consumers interviewed read how-to-buy articles, and a third of those polled write away for manufacturers’ literature. About two thirds said they get help by looking at pictures and advertisements of room settings.

These disciplined consumers may take up to six months to look for a planned purchase. Most often they buy one item and will decorate only one room at a time. But retailers have found consumers are willing to pay more for quality furniture. “We are seeing more single quantity purchases,’ said Jerry Christophersen, upholstery merchandise manager for Gabbert’s in Minneapolis. Glick’s Blank agreed that the average ticket price is increasing.

The 1985 style preferences are country casual and traditional, according to BH&G/HFD consumers and retailers surveyed. Although traditional is a stronger volume business, retailers said contemporary design is still a growth category. Eclectic buying is also on the rise.

The living room still leads in decorating expenditure, according to the survey. “Consumers want eclectic pieces for the living room,’ Kirchner advised. But he pointed out that consumers still choose matched dining room and bedroom pieces. Burdine’s Linda Martin said she has conducted seminars to help consumers update matched suite living rooms with eclectic design and individual pieces.

Bill Peterson, store manager for Freed’s in Dallas, agreed that consumers seek single pieces for the living room that they “correlate’ to one another. He also confirmed the BH&G survey’s findings when he said consumers mainly buy traditional matched pieces for master bedrooms and dining areas. He noted that although customers may buy matched tables and chairs for a dining area, they will add a lacquer china to the set.

Scale and function are primary considerations in furniture purchases. “Consumers are still combining rooms. They’re putting living and dining areas together or planning second bedrooms with computer desk arrangements. So they want smaller scale pieces. We also see them using more sleeper sofas in these rooms,’ Peterson summarized.

Over 17 percent more of those interviewed favor smaller scale furniture this year, compared to a year ago, according to the poll. There’s even a trend toward less formal, smaller-scale dining areas, according to retailers. Tom Kozlowski, merchandising manager for Trenton, N.J.’s Park Lane Furniture, said consumers are buying smaller dining room tables and fewer chairs.

Kirchner noted that he’s seeing more interest in flip-top tables. Multipurpose extension dining tables and tables that can be used as desks are popular, according to Linda Martin. Manny Stratos has also observed more interest in smaller dinettes.

Diverse wall systems

The trend to combine living spaces is changing the furniture mix for Carafiol’s in St. Louis, according to Harvey Carafiol, merchandising vice president. “The hottest categories for us aren’t just smaller scale pieces. The multifunctional home entertainment centers and motion furniture categories are strong,’ he said.

Home entertainment centers continue to be the important new furniture purchase according to other retailers. Kozlowski said, “These centers are 1985’s purchase to hold 1984’s VCR and other electronic components.’

Consumers want extra storage space in home entertainment centers, according to Kirchner, who asserted that his “customers want these centers in a broad variety of styles and designs to use in living rooms and family rooms.’

Ronald Blank revealed Glick’s strategy of targeting furniture in this category to all income levels. “We’ve expanded our line of wall storage systems and home entertainment centers to include budget chic to middle range and quality pieces.’ He also said consumers want multifunctional upholstered furniture to go along with these new storage systems.

“Multifunctional furniture becomes a focal point in the living room now,’ Kozlowski said, adding, “Consumers are willing to spend more for something that looks good, and is durable and functional.’

Value in bedding sought

Sleeper sofas are being promoted as multifunctional furniture, and consumers are buying them for almost every room. Jerry Christophersen said that quality and size are the biggest concerns in best sleeper sofa selection.

Besides having an interest in scale and function, consumers are more concerned about the quality of their sleep this year. They’re willing to pay more for premium sleep products, and they’re looking for new ways to sleep too. Nearly two thirds of the BH&G respondents said they would buy a queen- or king-size bed. And a surprising 18.5 percent of those surveyed said they would select a waterbed.

“Consumers have had enough of 50-100 percent off in bedding. They want value and know a good price,’ related Kozlowski. “The store’s reputation, brand name, and warranty are all important,’ added Dayton Hudson’s Kirchner, who acknowledged that premium bedding is a top category for his stores.

The flotation sleep area has more than a murmur of interest. “Our requests for hybrids outnumber those for traditional waterbeds by nearly eight to one.’ Glick’s Blank said, emphasizing that brand name helps in this category. Expecting to see growth in hybrids, because they can be used with regular lines, is Stratos, who said, “We have six hybrid galleries, but they haven’t set the world on fire yet.’

Peterson saw hybrid systems as a trend too. “They account for 10-15 percent of Freed’s bedding sales,’ he said. Tom Kozlowski thinks waterbeds are a growing category for specialty stores rather than for full-line furniture stores.

About brand names

Brand name often influences buying decisions in the sleep and recliner categories according to retailers interviewed. In other furniture categories, most retailers admit that it’s only a third or fourth place consideration.

Hess’s Stratos said brand name awareness is only important for higher-end furniture purchases. Larry Kirchner claimed that his customers look for a national name in wood furniture. Bob Brandt, president of Bayles Furniture, in Rochester, N.Y., agreed that “consumers rely on recognized brand awareness for categories like brass beds or upholstered furniture.’ Harvey Carafiol and Larry Kirchner suggested that styling and quality were higher priorities in these categories.

Accessories are icing on the cake for most retailers. They are tie-in purchases, retailers reveal. The majority of BH&G consumers polled said they changed or added accessories in one or more rooms in the last two years. Almost half of them said they added a “country’ accent too.

It’s the way a store merchandises accessories that determines local trends, retailers believed. Manny Stratos suggested that crystal lamps have been dramatic sellers. The California and Southwest themes in accessories have been big, according to Jerry Christophersen. Larry Kirchner said consumers are buying fewer and larger accessories from his company’s stores. Linda Martin also said that fewer large-scale pieces are a more important look in accessories.