Casual Furniture Players See Smoother Sailing Ahead
By Jessica Goldbogen Harlan
Top-to-bottom: Z-Line Designs: Santa Fe z-linedesigns.com; Agio's Cirrus Firepit with Seville seating agio-usa.com; Pride Family Brands: Dumont Firepit Action Seating pridefamilybrands.com
A more stable economy, coupled with more diverse retail interest in the category, means that 2014 is shaping up to be a good year for casual furniture, according to industry members.
"We're anticipating a very good year in 2014," said Joe Logan, executive director for the International Casual Furnishings Association. "The economy is improving, the housing market is getting stronger, and we're anticipating benefiting from the overall improvement in the economy." He said that business was better in 2013 than the previous year, and that he and other players are expecting 2014 to be even better.
"We feel like as a company we will again see year over year growth," said Pamela Clark, director of contract sales for Gloster Furniture. "I've noticed that consumer spending as a whole seems to be definitely above where it was already this time last year, and we've noticed there is the positive energy in the marketplace as job growth continues to increase, and people are feeling more secure about their spending.
Telescope Casual which begins its fiscal year in September, is reporting that its year is already off to a strong start, said Henry Vanderminden, president. "It's been quite good since our fiscal year started," he noted. "Our contract business and designer business have both been quite strong, and our Internet business is also doing really well."
He said that a good portion of Telescope's customer base is hearth and patio stores, and those retailers have reported a tremendous winter. "This shows that the consumer is opening their pocketbooks," said Vanderminden. "They're spending money on hearth products, which keeps those retailers healthy, and carries a lot of momentum into the spring."
What's more, the healthy sales during September and October that his company has seen in parts of the country that have warmer climates during that time of year, are a good indicator that this spring and summer will see continued brisk business.
Pre-season stocking orders have increased, and winter business is up at Kingsley-Bate, said Brian Blakeney, director, sales and marketing. "Because of this, we predict 2014 to be a good year provided the weather cooperates." He said that 2013 was one of the best years in the company's history, and is expecting 2014 to surpass this.
Pride Family Brands reported that 2013 concluded with sales figures at a pre-recession level. "By comparison, the outlook for 2014 should be another year of double-digit growth, said Steve Lowsky, president.
Executives at Agio-USA have high hopes for the year as well. "We project a double digit increase in our orders and production," said Bob Gaylord, president. "Most of that growth is with our specialty and indoor retail partners."
Gaylord says that the mood and optimism of retailers has changed over the past year. "Going into 2014, retailers are encouraged for a strong outdoor season," he said. "I think the expectations and mindset have changed. Last year, there was still some trepidation from retailers going into the season; this year, they are showing signs of optimism and growth."
Manufacturers are continuing to see a trend of new players getting into, or returning to, the category, particularly stores that sell indoor furniture.
"They've had a tough time over the past five to six years, while outdoor furniture has done very well over this time period," said Vanderminden.
Added Clark of Gloster, "We are definitely seeing more types of retailers expressing interest [in our products]. Much of the traffic that came through in High Point were retailers who were on the indoor side, looking to expand what they're doing."
The increase from this segment is crucial to the health of the casual furniture industry, say some. "This industry has seen unprecedented growth thanks to the traditional distribution channels, emerging new channels, but also through product innovation," said Gaylord of Agio. "This has to continue. If the pie continues to grow, everyone wins--retailers, manufacturers and consumers."
Manufacturers are anticipating certain materials and types of products to be particularly strong sellers this year.
For Telescope, the hot sellers are anticipated to be the company's marine grade polymer, made in part of recycled plastic. This furniture is heavier than aluminum, stays cooler to the touch than metal furniture, and is very durable and long lasting, making it particularly appropriate for salt-water environments.
Gloster is seeing growing interest in its more contemporary types of designs, as well as a return of interest in teak furniture, which she believes is partly because of consumers' interest in sustainability. On a similar note, Blakeney of Kingsley-Bate believes that reclaimed and rustic wood will continue to perform well.
At Agio, gas fire pit chat groups are a strong seller, and Gaylord predicts this trend will only continue. He also is seeing good gains in all weather wicker deep seating collections.
Terri Lee Rogers, owner and vice president of sales and marketing of O.W. Lee, agrees. "Outdoor fire pits and sectionals continue to be the big winner for us. With the popularity of outdoor fire pits, curved sectionals accommodate family and friends around the fire pit."
Z-Line Designs, too, is expecting strong sales in its deep seating offerings. "We offered new collections at the 2013 Casual Furniture Market and those have been successful," said Rick Lamb, vice president of merchandise.