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Behind the Comeback: a Wrap for One's Cocoon

November 16, 1987|BRUCE KEPPEL

While Americans appear to be turning back to covering their walls with something other than paint, do increased sales represent anything more substantial than the sort of cyclical pattern that has characterized the wall-covering market in the 20th Century?

Joel B. Roses, president of Western Wallcovering Distributors Assn., attributed the upturn to "the cocooning syndrome--people escaping from everyday life and into their homes, or cocoons." Ron Robertson, executive vice president of the Western Decorating Products Assn., agreed that "the home has become our retreat."

"With the high cost of other things, people are looking for more from the home," Robertson speculated. "It used to be just a base of operations, but it has changed considerably. For one thing, a lot more entertainment takes place in the home now."

Whatever the motivation, people are spending more of their discretionary income to improve their domestic environment, Roses said, and applying a wall covering offers one of the least expensive ways of creating a major change in a room's atmosphere. "While paintin1730178401last an average of nearly 10 years."

(Industry figures show that pre-pasted vinyl-coated paper, which dominates the retail market with 43% of sales, averages $10.71 a roll, compared to a typical roll of hand-printed paper, which retails at more than $26; foils or Mylar, a synthetic foil-like material, average $24.50 a roll; grass cloth, $19.75, and fabric, $28.30.)

In all, the nation's 19,000 decorating-products centers sold $2.42 billion in wall coverings last year, up from $2.26 billion in 1985 and $1.93 billion in 1984, and the 1984 figure more than doubled 1975 sales, the National Decorating Products Assn. reports.

It may be, however, that changes in the way wall coverings are sold have made wallpaper as accessible to do-it-yourself customers as the paints the same stores carry, Roses said. These centers are stocking much larger inventories of papers as well as more of the sample "books" or catalogues from which papers can be ordered.

Today's sales may be higher, too, because the products are much easier to install and maintain: They come pre-trimmed and pre-pasted, and are "scrubbable" and "strippable" for future replacement. And prices have been steady for the past five years, he said, reflecting technological improvement, competition and improved distribution.

"We're overcoming what we used to call the fear of hanging," said Roses, who is general manager for wall coverings at Dunn-Edwards Corp.

Standard Brands Paints has been selling wallpaper since its founding in the 1930s, said Warren DeYoung, president of Enterprise Wallcoverings in Carson, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Torrance-based company (which it supplies along with such other independent dealers as National Lumber, Wallpapers to Go and Sherwyn Williams Paint.) And over the decades, DeYoung said, the wall-covering market has been cyclical.

"About every decade it falls out of favor for a year or two, but we're definitely on an upswing," he said.

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