La-Z-Boy Inc.

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La-Z-Boy Inc.

1284 N. Telegraph Road
Monroe, Michigan 48162
Telephone: (734) 241-4074
Fax: (734) 457-2005
Web site:



La-Z-Boy Inc. built its furniture brand on a single product, the ubiquitous recliner-rocker closely associated with TV-watching men in their middle and late years. Though the company began expanding into other furniture products in the 1980s, it had not by the late 1990s effectively enlarged its consumer base beyond its aging male loyalists. Still number one in the recliner category, La-Z-Boy wanted to make itself relevant to a new generation of Americans, especially women, who played the dominant role in the overwhelming majority of furniture transactions. The company progressively placed more emphasis on modern, fashionable furniture lines, and in 2000 it charged its longtime agency, Doner of Detroit, with the project of changing consumers' perceptions of the La-Z-Boy brand.

The resulting campaign, "The New Look of Comfort," paired La-Z-Boy's reputation for comfort with a style-focused pitch meant to resonate with young women. Drawing on an estimated $5 to $10 million budget, the campaign's print portion appeared in home-oriented magazines in the fall of 2000, and the campaign moved to television in the summer of 2001. Each print and TV execution focused on an individual La-Z-Boy product in a striking visual arrangement meant to draw attention to its elegant design features, while witty copy and voice-overs supplemented the fashionable sensibility on display.

"The New Look of Comfort" spurred sales of each of the individual products advertised in print and on TV and was extended as La-Z-Boy continued to build its fashion credentials. A 2002 charity event in which the company asked prominent designers to contribute recliner prototypes for auction eventually led to a sustained collaboration with Todd Oldham, a former New York fashion designer. The Todd Oldham collection debuted in 2003 and built further buzz around La-Z-Boy's evolution; advertising on behalf of the prominent new line retained the tagline "The New Look of Comfort."


La-Z-Boy began life in the garage of Edward Knabusch's father in Monroe, Michigan, when Knabusch and his cousin Edwin Shoemaker quit their jobs to start their own furniture company in 1927. In 1929 the pair introduced their first upholstered recliner, thus establishing the template responsible for the company's enormous success in subsequent decades. Recliner design took a step forward in the 1950s, when La-Z-Boy added built-in footrests, and the 1960s saw sales boom with the birth of the rocker-recliner, which became the industry standard. La-Z-Boy dominated the recliner category throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, becoming virtually synonymous with easy-chair comfort.

La-Z-Boy moved beyond the manufacture of recliners in the 1980s, but it remained almost exclusively associated with its signature product. Thus, in the 1990s the company pursued sales growth by outfitting recliners with numerous and varied gadgets, including telephones, modems, drink coolers, heaters, and massage equipment. These efforts did not substantially enlarge the company's market, and although La-Z-Boy remained the category leader, selling upward of 1 million recliners annually in the United States, its steady but unexciting consumer base of aging men offered no measurable avenues for growth.

In the 1990s the company began seeking growth via its other product lines, and this project necessitated the building of a new base of consumers. Though popular among baby boomers, La-Z-Boy out of necessity had to position itself to appeal to a new wave of Americans, and these young people were unlikely to adopt the style choices of their parents and grandparents. La-Z-Boy research indicated, moreover, that 85 percent of furniture purchases were initiated by women. The company accordingly moved into more modern furniture styles and pinpointed young women as the key demographic necessary for future sales growth. The La-Z-Boy brand remained so closely associated with unstylish recliners, however, that these typically fashion-conscious consumers did not take the new products seriously. The brand's well-developed reputation for comfort gave it a sizable advantage in the broader furniture market, but it had to overcome a corresponding reputation as a brand suited to suburban dads and granddads if it was to become an attractive option for young women.


In previous years Doner had successfully helped La-Z-Boy maintain its image as a leader in furniture comfort with campaigns targeting married, college-educated consumers in their mid-20s to mid-50s, with household incomes of $50,000 or more. These men and women were expected to base their furniture-buying decisions more on comfort than on style. "The New Look of Comfort," by contrast, explicitly targeted fashion-conscious women between the ages of 25 and 44, both single and married, with incomes reaching into the upper ranges of the middle class. The campaign's intent was to encourage these consumers to rethink their notions of La-Z-Boy by linking the brand's heritage of comfort with a new, dramatically more stylish image. To attract the attention of a target group that did not necessarily take the brand seriously, La-Z-Boy needed to appear much bolder and more adventurous than it had in the past.

At the same time La-Z-Boy had to be careful not to alienate its more traditional consumer base, as conventional recliners continued to account for half of the brand's sales. The company simultaneously ran separate advertising efforts to speak to its traditional customers, but it was also mindful of the need to ensure that the fashion-oriented pitch of the new campaign could not be construed as a suggestion that the recliners upon which it had built its reputation were unsophisticated or outdated.


Known almost exclusively as the maker of comfortable recliners for couch potatoes, La-Z-Boy made serious efforts to update its image beginning in 2000 with its campaign "The New Look of Comfort." Some analysts, however, remained skeptical about the company's prospects for generating sales among fashionable young women, La-Z-Boy's key target for future growth. Analyst Laura Champine of the financial-services firm Morgan Keegan, for instance, acknowledged that La-Z-Boy's contemporary offerings, including the collection created by prominent fashion designer Todd Oldham, represented a valid attempt to reach beyond its core market of aging men, but she downplayed the suggestion that the brand had substantially changed consumer perception as of 2005. "It has taken them decades to establish their brand image," she told Brandweek, suggesting that a comparable period of time might be necessary to see La-Z-Boy through as dramatic a brand transformation as the one the company was then undertaking.


The Ethan Allen brand, known for offering a full selection of home furnishings in a variety of styles, was during this time also attempting to appeal to young consumers. In 2000 the furniture maker and its retail network enlisted Grey Advertising of New York for a campaign in support of its new Horizons line, designed with 25- to 35-year-old consumers in mind. The campaign featured romantic storylines and surreal, dramatic imagery, such as an Ethan Allen bed placed in the middle of a dry desert lake bed. In 2002 the company intensified its efforts to reach young consumers, cutting prices on Horizons as well as on a more expensive line targeted at those who were beginning to upgrade their furniture after the first few years of home ownership. In an attempt to attract young families to its retail outlets, Ethan Allen likewise expanded its offerings of children's furniture and stepped up advertising on these new lines' behalf.

With its combination of sleek, modern design and low price, the Swedish furniture maker IKEA had become the brand of choice for young, urban men and women who wanted to balance style with economic considerations. Successful advertising crafted by New York-based agency Deutsch had positioned IKEA as the brand consumers turned to for the major purchases necessary during key transitional events, such as marriage or the purchase of a home. Deutsch later adapted this idea to allow for more company growth by extending the concept to smaller events in people's lives, effectively spurring consumers to visit IKEA stores more often. Later Deutsch work showed how mundane environments (including a bowling alley and a subway car) took on drama and life with the addition of IKEA furniture. IKEA and Deutsch ended their 11-year relationship in 2000, when the company solicited advertising ideas from other agencies. The company briefly gave its account to Minneapolis agency Carmichael Lynch before tapping agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky to take over its advertising in 2002. The agency began targeting a consumer subculture ranging from thrift-shop savants to the arbiters of underground fashion trends, urging them to see furniture as fashion items subject to changing trends rather than as settled fixtures in the home to be replaced only once or twice a lifetime.

Another manufacturer of recliners, Mitchell Gold, was, like La-Z-Boy, also attempting during this time to overcome that furniture category's fashion-related shortcomings. A 2001 Mitchell Gold print campaign targeting women suggested that the company made "recliners that don't look like recliners" and employed copy modeled after common women's-magazine exhortations, such as "Bring something a little daring into your relationship."


By 2000 La-Z-Boy boasted a full line of modern chairs, sofas, coffee tables, and other furniture that met the style demands of a younger, upscale, female target market, but these consumers either were not sufficiently aware of this fact or did not take La-Z-Boy's fashion credentials seriously because of the company's heritage. Doner's objective was to change these consumers' perceptions of La-Z-Boy and, accordingly, to spur sales of its new, fashionable lines. La-Z-Boy chose seven specific pieces of furniture and related fabrics to showcase. If the campaign could boost sales of these select items, then the company could more confidently proceed with the further cultivation of its new target market, thereby positioning itself for sustained sales growth. La-Z-Boy wanted to accomplish this goal without abandoning its image of comfort, a brand attribute that the company had been assiduously building for more than 70 years. The tagline for the new campaign, "The New Look of Comfort," was meant to update consumers' notions of what comfortable furniture could look like. Ideally Doner and La-Z-Boy wanted their female target to be pleasantly taken aback by the notion that the stylish new furniture lines carried the La-Z-Boy brand name.

La-Z-Boy spent an estimated $50 million on advertising annually; "The New Look of Comfort" initially accounted for $5 to $10 million of this total. Doner made the individual pieces of furniture the heroes of the campaign's introductory print ads, which ran, beginning in late November 2000, in publications that included InStyle, Martha Stewart Living, Elle Decor, and Metropolitan Home. Witty copy accompanied photo arrangements that, rather than showing La-Z-Boy furniture in standard domestic settings, used modern compositional elements to enhance the style-intensive message. For instance, a red recliner called the Carlyle, featuring sleek wooden arms and other retro-modern stylings, was shown surrounded by other red chairs with text reading, "Everybody needs a role model." A plum-colored sofa was showcased by itself in an ad advising, "We recommend a wallet-sized photo for those times when you absolutely have to leave the house." Another ad paired the same sofa's image with the copy "We thought it was about time furniture had a jazz section."

In June 2001 the campaign was extended to television with 15-second spots that were conceptually in keeping with the print ads. They ran on a range of cable channels, including Lifetime, Nick at Night, A&E, Discovery, USA, and Animal Planet. Doner also placed the commercials prominently on The View, an ABC morning talk show with a strong female viewership. As with the print ads, each spot focused explicitly on the furniture itself while using voice-overs (spoken by actress Courtney Thorne-Smith) similar to the print ads' copy. One spot opened with a shot of the Venus de Milo before showing a La-Z-Boy product called the Ava chair. Thorne-Smith intoned, "We thought our chair looks pretty good without arms, too." In another commercial the camera tracked paw prints through a forest, which led to the Catalina sofa; as it was shown, the voice-over declared, "Your other furniture will fear for its life."


Before "The New Look of Comfort" began, none of the seven furniture and fabric combinations featured in the campaign were among La-Z-Boy's top-10-selling fabric-and-frame combinations. As of 2002, however, all seven advertised product combinations made the list. La-Z-Boy accordingly ventured further into the world of stylish furniture, partnering with seven fashion designers, including Tommy Hilfiger, Nicole Miller, MoMo Falana, and Todd Oldham, to create signature La-Z-Boy recliners. Two prototypes of each designer's chair were produced and auctioned to benefit a New York shelter for homeless victims of AIDS. In concert with the event La-Z-Boy ran a five-page spread in InStyle magazine using the tagline "The New Look of Comfort." La-Z-Boy particularly liked Oldham's approach to recliner design, and in 2003 the company announced a high-profile partnership with the former maker of popular shoes and jeans for the MTV generation. The resulting Todd Oldham by La-Z-Boy collection of urban-styled furniture generated substantial buzz upon its fall 2003 release. Supporting advertising on behalf of the Oldham collection retained the "New Look of Comfort" theme and tagline.


Appelbaum, Michael. "Comfy to Cool: A Brand Swivel." Brandweek, May 2, 2005.

Bloom, Jonah. "La-Z-Boy: Kurt Darrow." Advertising Age (midwest ed.), November 17, 2003.

Cuneo, Alice Z. "Lounging Shoppers Show Off Comfort in Ads for La-Z-Boy." Advertising Age, August 9, 1999.

Fitzgerald, Kate. "La-Z-Boy Maxim." Advertising Age, June 26, 1998.

Gunin, Joan. "La-Z-Boy's New Print Ads Key on Style, Humor." Furniture/Today, November 6, 2000.

Irwin, Tanya. "Designs on a La-Z-Boy." Adweek (midwest ed.), February 11, 2002.

―――――――. "La-Z-Boy Targets Younger Buyers." Adweek (midwest ed.), November 20, 2000.

―――――――. "La-Z-Boy Targets Young Women." Adweek (midwest ed.), July 16, 2001.

Palmeri, Christopher. "La-Z-Boy: Up from Naugahyde; Its Stylish Line, by Designer Todd Oldham, May Just Banish the Stodgy Image." BusinessWeek, April 12, 2004.

Perry, David. "La-Z-Boy Ads Let Product Be the Hero." Furniture/Today, August 13, 2001.

                                               Mark Lane