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Recliners Score Big With Super Bowl Watchers

And now the final preparations for Super Bowl Sunday. Chips and salsa? Check. Buffalo wings and beer? Got 'em. Recliner? Wait, what?

Sales of reclining chairs and sofas are as hot as New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz's touchdown dance. Or, for you New England Patriots fans, as popular as star tight end Rob Gronkowski's sprained ankle.

It might seem an odd connection, but retailers say the Super Bowl, America's most watched sporting event, sends football fans bursting into showrooms like a bruising running back.

In the past two weeks before the big game, as the hype of the Eli Manning vs. Tom Brady quarterback duel has built, furniture stores have experienced a run on recliners.

"So far, we're looking at what we would hope will be double-digit increases in sales over these two weeks," says Nancy Christiansen, senior buyer for recliners at Art Van, the Michigan-based furniture retailer.

Christiansen, known among her colleagues as the Queen of Motion (recliners are formally categorized as "motion" furniture), says the fall and winter months are the busiest period for recliner sales, especially in the Midwest and Northeast. As the temperatures drop, people spend more time indoors and tune into the football.

In the otherwise laggard furniture business, recliners are driving revenues. Sales of reclining chairs and sofas totaled roughly $3.5 billion in 2011, according to the trade magazine Furniture Today. The publication projects recliner sales will grow by nearly 21 percent over the next five years.

Since La-Z-Boy introduced the first chair in 1928, Americans have enjoyed a love affair with these heavily cushioned thrones that flip out and back into a daybed with a pull of a lever. And they go well with America's latest obsession — home theaters with flat-screen TVs, which also have been selling at a faster clip ahead of the Super Bowl.

But today's hot models aren't your dad's Barcalounger. Remember that big wooden handle on the side that took some muscle to work and expanded the chair with a jarring clunkety clunk?

Now, for the latest technological advancement in lounging: smooth-action reclining at the touch of an electric button. Power recliners have hit the market like a Tim Tebow-esque sensation.

"Power is very, very important. You can stop and start it wherever you want. It's a little bit more money, but over half of what's on our floor right now is power. It's a category that's really exploded for us," says Eric Easter, president and CEO of Kittle's Furniture in Indianapolis.

Indianapolis also is the site of Sunday's Super Bowl, and the excitement swelling locally has been a windfall for Kittle's, which operates its flagship store downtown, not far from Lucas Oil Stadium where the game will be played. Easter says his power recliner sales are up at least 15 percent over last year.

"I hadn't really expected the immediacy of it. People are coming in, like, 'We're having guests over, and we need it now,' " Easter says. "More than beds, anything ... This has never happened before in our history. People are filling their room with this power, just lapping it up. They love it."

Christiansen says the power button gives an ease of use that is attracting women customers: "We're seeing more his-and-hers purchases. You can imagine how busy that makes a Saturday afternoon in the showroom."

The recliners don't come cheap. And the names of some models are as extravagant as their cushioning.

Like the Catnapper Deluxe Soother Power Lift Lounger, offering heat, massage and effortless motion, all by remote control. This bad boy retails for $999.99. Or the sleek, leather styling of La-Z-Boy's Spectra Contemporary Power Recliner, featuring a "plump, channel-tufted back" and other luxuries for about the same price.

If you're a football fan reading this and hoping to find a last-minute deal, you're in luck: Current sales of recliners are running up to $250 below list prices.

Hurry, so that by kickoff on Sunday, you can grab a cold one, take a load off, reach for that power button and, as ESPN's Chris Berman would say, lean back-back-back-back-back-back.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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