Consumers are focusing on their outdoor spaces with the same attention that they have been giving to their indoor rooms. Indeed, with many new decor products available specifically for the outdoors--or, in some cases, intended for either indoors or outdoors--the outdoor "room" has become just as important in terms of decor as the living room, bedroom and dining room.
Vendors of outdoor decor products believe that, as the economy continues to slowly emerge from the Great Recession, homeowners will demand products that spruce up their outdoor spaces. Whether it's grills or furniture or rugs or tabletop items, consumers want products that make their decks or patios just as livable and comfortable as their interior rooms. In the opinion of many executives with outdoor-products manufacturers, this will challenge them to keep raising the bar on product development and innovation, and to stay on trend in their product categories.
Amir Loloi, president of Loloi, said consumers present and future "will come to expect fresh new concepts, something we're trying to achieve with brighter, bolder colors and unique stylings that are not typical of the outdoor space."
Outside and Inside
In outdoor products, innovation and the ability to use a decor product in both an outdoor and an indoor setting is important. "The goal is to create beautiful products fit for anywhere inside or outside of the home," Loloi said. "The products should blur the traditional categories of indoor and outdoor."
Eclectic is a key trend for other rug makers. "We see eclectic designs becoming more popular with the rugs becoming the focal piece of outdoor settings," said Bud Young, vice president of marketing for Capel. "Loop-pile constructions, either in machine-made or handmade, will become more appealing to the upscale design needs of today's consumers."
This is true even with more functional products such as grills, which for several manufacturers have taken on decor elements such as color. "I think that, as in the kitchen, colors and new design will continue to be an important driver and trendsetter in outdoor products," said Thomas Perez, president of Bodum USA. "Consumers appreciate that good and smart design for their kitchen doesn't change when they move outside. Now they just have better opportunities to buy something nice for outdoors."
Perez offered as an example Bodum's FYRKAT BBQ grill, "which has done very well for us. I think the design and colors have been the main contributor[s] to its success."
Also along this line, Martin Nardini, sales manager of the HOMelements product line for Bluworld, spotlighted the company's Gardenfall series of water features. This collection has "18 frame and glass combinations to fit any decor. It can be used indoors and outdoors, and it's engineered to be splash-free."
Color, while increasingly important, is not the only trend in outdoor-product design. Trifu Boronka, president of Designer Wicker & Rattan, has observed increased consumer interest in "more realistic woven materials. Also, natural materials are becoming popular again for porch wicker and indoor wicker, not just outdoor synthetics." Boronka cited the company's Chesapeake Outdoor collection, which has been its best-selling group for several years. "I think its traditional yet updated styling, as well as the very high quality of the materials and manufacture of this item, make it easy to sell," he said.
In tableware and drinkware, "fun" remains an important trend. Kim Livengood, marketing manager for Tervis, said the company's goal for its 2011 product introductions is to make outdoor beverages "tons of fun. We are releasing a brand-new style called the Wavy. It is a 10-ounce tumbler with a wavy outer, making it easy to hold and fun for kids." Also new is a handle for the Tervis 24-ounce tumbler and a shaker top for the 16-ounce tumbler.
More Stores for Outdoors
Perhaps because of the growing demand for outdoor decor, the retail universe for this merchandise is expanding. As Loloi explained, the traditional channels of outdoor specialty stores and furniture stores remain important. Other marketers noted that new channels are emerging as viable sellers of these products.
Commercial venues are one example. Bluworld's Nardini said, "We have been able to use outside rep groups to position our products throughout many 'genres' including health care and small office lobby displays."
What is particularly promising, however, is that the traditional channels of distribution continue to expand their outdoor assortments. "For the past two or so years, we have seen significant inroads and growth with the traditional furniture retailer," said Bob Gaylord, president of Agio. "It's a natural progression and a category that the traditional furniture retailers are thriving at."
Gaylord noted that for furniture stores, outdoor products are "a counterseasonal category. Typically, business is slower with most traditional furniture retailers during the summer months. The outdoor casual furniture category gives these retailers increased traffic counts, sales and profits."
As with just about every product category, the web has become an important shopping place for outdoor furnishings. "For the purposes of convenient shopping, we see more e-commerce retailers offering the outdoor rug categories," Capel's Young said. "This retail opportunity can be best taken advantage of by showing the products in well-designed lifestyle settings--and with this, giving consumers better ideas of how to use rugs in outdoor applications."
Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are becoming crucial to the marketing of these categories. The value of social media lies in its ability to get consumers to think about the category. "No question, using social networking will bring more attention to the category and promote a specific outdoor rug brand," Young said.
But these sites can do more than highlight products. "Social media will constantly become a more and more important media for us," Bodum's Perez said, "not only to commercially promote our products to the market, but to tell our customers who we are and what we think and, in reverse, to understand how our customers think and what they want and expect from us."
For Loloi, social networking has proven invaluable in its companywide philosophy of maintaining dialogues with its customers. It "provides Loloi another avenue of keeping the customers informed about the latest in new products, industry accolades, trade shows and everything else that might be relevant to those that carry the line or who show interest in the line," Loloi said.
As long as the trend in favor of outdoor entertainment continues to accelerate, the market for outdoor products will be one of the shining lights in home furnishings.
According to Agio's Gaylord, a significant number of consumers will seek to purchase outdoor-entertaining furniture such as outdoor deep seating and outdoor chat sets over the next year. "Think about your own entertaining," he suggested. "How many times do you eat dinner on your outdoor dining collection? Consumers are now entertaining, enjoying a gathering with family and friends, or even having quiet time by themselves."
To Loloi, "outdoor entertaining has always been a part of the American fabric of life. Our advertising campaigns and promotional material regarding this product category tend to emphasize the joys of spring and summer with serene scenes of furniture, the outdoors...and, of course, our products."