Question

I was seriously considering purchasing a Flexsteel reclining sofa & loveseat until I read reviews.

The reviews left a lot to be desired. In fact, every negative review I read was about the Latitudes series. Quite a few of the reviews were posted by furniture store owners &/or sales people.

In reading your article, you mention Southern Motion. Since this company is higher on your list, do you consider them slightly better than Flexsteel?

June 18, 2020

Answer

In general low and mid-priced mass produced reclining furniture have extremely high rates of problems and complaints compared with other categories of furniture. This is true across the board.

Flexsteel has had some particularly difficult times lately. Over the past few years they have replaced their entire upper management and financial difficulties have forced them to close down several of their U.S. factories and warehouses.

Flexsteel’s Latitudes collection (made in China) and their SouthHaven collection (made in Mexico) both seem to have higher rates of complaints than their U.S. made products.

From that viewpoint I would rate Southern Motion to be superior at this time. Also, SM seems to have kept up better with new technology on various power options available.

The single biggest problem for all of the large reclining furniture mass producers is the use of non-removable cushions.

  • If the Southern Motion furniture you buy has non-removable seat cushions, you will find yourself 3 – 5 years down the road with a very expensive reclining sofa and loveseat that is far less comfortable than when you tried it out in the showroom. (This is not covered under any warranty, even if the cushions appear to be guaranteed for life.)
  • If the cushions are removable you can replace the inner cores with higher quality foam for a few hundred dollars that will last another 10 years.
  • With non-removable cushions, replacing the foam is far more expensive. Very few people are willing to spend the money.

The second biggest problem is the use of bonded leathers.

  • Over the past decade there have been thousands of complaints about “peeling leather.” This does not happen with real leather made from hides. It does not happen with 100% polyurethane or vinyl faux leathers. It happens only with “bonded leather.”
  • There is no way to repair peeling bonded leather and it is specifically excluded from coverage in all warranties, even when the bold print at the top of the warranty document appears to protect you.

Reclining furniture also has other potential problems over and above those found in non-reclining upholstered furniture. These include:

  • Weaker frames that are required to bear far more weight than stationary sofas. This makes the furniture susceptible to damage when being transported or moved in your home.
  • Mechanisms and options (especially powered mechanisms and options) that can break down or malfunction.
  • These problems are less common and easier to fix than the first two mentioned above.

If you can find a reclining sofa in your price range with removable cushions and a fabric that is not bonded leather, you will have avoided most of the problems that people complain about with reclining furniture.

  • If you shop carefully, you may be able to find some reclining sofas with removable cushions among the large mass producers. It may be difficult, however, to find those models in large retail chain stores. You are far more likely to find reclining furniture with removable cushions in smaller (more expensive) brands.

Why do reclining furniture manufacturers and retailers insist on making and selling products that have so many problems? The answer is that there is cutthroat competition among large reclining furniture manufacturers to claim floor space in the limited number of major retail chains.

The top 20 national and large regional furniture retailers currently account for over 50% of total U.S. reclining furniture sales. Basically, these mega-retailers have the power to dictate the prices they are willing to pay for the furniture that will appear in their showrooms.

Although there are hundreds of upholstered furniture makers, only a couple of dozen reclining furniture manufacturers (including huge overseas factories that sell under multiple brand names) are large enough to service these major retailers nationally.

This gives the buyers for the major retailers tremendous leverage over the manufacturers. Basically, the big retailers dictate the prices they are willing to pay and it is up to the manufacturers to produce products that can be sold at those prices. That is only possible by eliminating every possible cost for furniture components that are not visible to consumers.

  • Reclining sofa frames are weaker than the frames made for stationary sofas at the same price range. These weaker frames need to support far more weight and stress than the stationary frames.
    • These frames are generally made using thin plywood or even lower quality engineered wood products.
    • Mechanisms are heavy but delicate. Every time the furniture is moved, the mechanisms can become damaged or mis-aligned.
    • Power mechanisms are more delicate than manual mechanisms.
  • The frames are not the biggest problem. The most common source of complaints is the seat cushions.
    • The vast majority mid-range reclining furniture has non-removable cushions made with 1.8 density foam.
    • These last about 3 – 5 years (for average size people with average use) before needing to be replaced.
    • If your weight is over 200 lbs. or you use the furniture a lot, it will probably wear out even sooner.
    • Some companies now use 2.0 density foam which lasts about a year longer.
    • When non-removable cushions wear out they cannot be replaced without reupholstering the entire sofa, a cost that few people are willing to pay.
    • Worn out cushions are almost never covered under warranty.
  • Bonded leather is not the cheapest material available, but it is the cheapest material that can be sold in a way that makes customers “think” they are buying real leather.
    • Excellent quality 100% polyurethane or vinyl faux leathers (that cost the same as bonded leathers and look and feel just as good) are harder for salespeople to sell.

From the viewpoint of the retailers, expensive reclining furniture that wears out after 5 years or less creates more profit than products with a 10 or 15 year lifespan that are sold at the same prices.

From the viewpoint of the manufacturer, the margins on promotional reclining furniture is razor-thin. Many would prefer to make furniture that lasts longer with healthier profit margins.

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Jeff Frank

Jeff Frank

Furniture Consultant

Jeff Frank is a 45 year  furniture industry veteran. He created this blog to provide detailed facts, inside information & advice for furniture shoppers. 

 

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. Marl

    I want a recliner. What would you buy

    Reply
    • Jeff Frank

      Check out my blog article, Who are the best American reclining furniture manufacturers? The article lists 18 different brands. The first 9 are better quality. The bottom 9 (which includes Southern Motion and Flexsteel) have a far shorter expected lifespan.

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