By David Gill
Summer may be coming to an end, but during this month, the home furnishings industry is focusing on what has been often called the “outdoor room.”
Outdoor home furnishings are on the minds of consumers, retailers and manufacturers in September. This is the month in which the outdoor industry’s key trade show, the International Casual Furniture & Accessories Market, will take place. The show is scheduled for Sept. 17-20 at the Chicago Merchandise Mart, its long-time location.
The show, which is endorsed and sponsored by the International Casual Furnishings Association, will encompass 350,000 square feet at the Mart, with more than 45 permanent showrooms and more than 100 temporary exhibitors. Among these companies preparing to spotlight their wares will be Agio International, Brown Jordan, Couristan, FiberBuilt (which offers, among other products, the Paradise Cushions line), The Hammock Source, Nourison, Z-Line Designs and Zuo.
Other trade shows earlier this year put a focus on the outdoor category. In July, the Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market featured the Living. Outdoor/Indoor. The Gardens collections, which presented a range of casual furniture, outdoor space decor items and coastal-themed merchandise, among other categories.
Outdoor merchandise has emerged over the past few years as one of the most important categories in home furnishings—for the very clear and obvious reason that more Americans want to make their outdoor spaces into a place to entertain and be comfortable. A survey conducted earlier this year by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) found that outdoor living spaces, including kitchens and entertainment spaces, are “very popular” with nearly 95 percent of American homeowners.
Nancy Somerville, ASLA’s executive vice president and CEO, said, “In this uncertain economy, homeowners want to get more enjoyment out of their yards. They want attractive outdoor spaces that are both easy to take care of and sustainable.”
Among individual products, the survey found that outdoor fire pits/fireplaces are either popular or somewhat popular with 97 percent of the respondents. Along these lines, Agio International identified fire pits as one of the company’s best-selling products since the beginning of the year. “Agio produces more fire pits than any other manufacturer in the industry, and our reputation for quality speaks for itself,” said Doug Peppler, the company’s senior vice president of sales.
Peppler added that the mindset of retailers toward fire-pit chat sets has been evolving. “More and more are coming to understand that while fire-pit sales are strong through June, when historically this category sells out, there’s an opportunity to sell more from July through October,” he said. “We’re working with retailers to help them plan to receive additional shipments which will allow them to sell more outdoor products in what would otherwise be a slower time of the year.”
This year, Agio introduced a fire-pit program that allows retailers to customize their tabletops. “Sellers now have six different tabletop options, from cast to porcelain and from slate-top tables to our new tempered stained glass,” Peppler said. “Different types of accessories—lava rocks, different-colored crushed glass—can also be customized.”
Comfort and Joy
In the ASLA survey, 82.3 percent of the respondents rated weatherized outdoor furniture as either “popular” or “somewhat popular.” For Palm Springs Rattan, this trend has translated into strong sales for the collections that offer the highest perceived value versus their cost. Tami Newton, sales and marketing executive, cited the company’s Empire, Cay Sal and Kokomo collections as examples, each with “a striking appeal esthetically as well as key comfort points built in.” Newton mentioned lower lumbar support and plush, deep seat cushioning as examples of these comfort points.
One other important trend for Palm Springs Rattan is the “growing up” of the outdoor wicker category, according to Newton. “What I mean by this is more intricate weaves, multicolor and multidimensional weaves, are coming into the outdoor arena,” she said. “The UV stability being included into the polyethylene is better than ever, giving a much longer lifetime to the products being produced.”
One of Palm Springs Rattan’s collections, Coquina Key, introduced earlier this year, is a grouping of outdoor wicker seating, dining and occasional furniture. Available in two colors, Coquina Key—like two other collections, Kokomo and Empire—includes an outdoor shower with water running up the sides, giving the appearance of “magical water flow,” Newton said. “The dining (set) starts as bistro size and can work up to fit a larger dining party.”
Made in the Shade
The growing desire for furnished outdoor spaces leads right to increased demand for products that provide shade in those spaces. For FiberBuilt Umbrellas, this has proven to be a boon for its line of umbrellas, according to Debra Maytidu, the company’s sales manager. “Our Home collection and our high-end umbrellas and bases have been the most in-demand products this year,” Maytidu said.
She attributed the strong results from these products to the quality of the materials, the production techniques, the fact that the line is made in the U.S.A. and FiberBuilt’s quick-ship program. “Even though some of our umbrellas may be slightly higher in price than other market offerings, our reputation for providing durable products means that every customer is confident that there is greater value to the items they purchase,” Maytidu said.
Other factors have played into FiberBuilt’s sales growth this year—including, according to Maytidu, “weather, weather, weather and the improving economy.” In addition, retailers have devoted more floor space to the outdoor category as a whole, which has helped bolster FiberBuilt’s business. “We’ve seen that retailers who understand the value, effectiveness and profitability of providing floor space for umbrellas have produced more sales of these kinds of products as part of their sales of outdoor furniture, to create an exterior room of greater comfort and flexibility,” she said.
“Weather, weather, weather” has been one of the big drivers in business for The Hammock Source, according to Reid Roney, vice president of sales. “We had a very comfortable spring and early summer, when, for the most part, it wasn’t too hot to be outdoors and enjoy the outdoor-room environment,” Roney said.
Another booster for the company has been its expanded efforts to aid retailers in putting the spotlight on its hammock offerings.
“Our updated merchandising kits have helped our retailers to devote the space to hammocks and hammock-related products,” Roney said. “For that reason, more dealers this year have been providing a specific footprint for our products, so customers can personally interact with the merchandise.”
One other driver for The Hammock Source has been the broadening of its product selection. At this month’s Casual Market, the company plans to introduce a new line of Tufted Hammocks, which are made with a top layer of all-weather Sunbrella fabric and a bottom layer of the company’s own DuraCord fabric. These layers are lock-stitched over a center of polyester hollowfill fiber, which is made from recycled plastic bottles.
The Hammock Source has also launched a new set of porch rugs and outdoor curtains as part of its Original Pawleys Island brand. These are made with Sunbrella fabric as well.
Roney said the outdoor-products industry is experiencing a trend of “consumers focusing more than ever on product quality, which very much includes heightened functionality. The outdoor-furniture business has always been a fashion-forward industry, and we are right in line with our major fabric suppliers, particularly Sunbrella, in terms of color and design.”
For additional Outdoor Lifestyle coverage please go to: http://www.hfnmag.com/furniture/outdoor-lifestyle-macys-does-outdoors/