Outdoor Lifestyle: Fashion Up Front
By David Gill
For the past several years, homeowners have been treating their outdoor spaces as another part of their indoor spaces. As such, they are putting an ever-greater premium on fashion and style for the furnishings on their decks, patios, gazebos and pool sides. This has created a tremendous opportunity for vendors of outdoor furnishings--one that has proven profitable in the fast few years, and that should produce even more to their top and bottom lines in the years to come.
That fashion has taken hold in outdoor living spaces is undeniable. "Consumers are looking for outdoor living spaces that are every bit as beautiful and comfortable as their indoor spaces," said Phil Haney, president and CEO of Lexington Home Brands.
Homeowners are going beyond look and feel in furnishing their outdoor "rooms," Haney added. "More expansive and functional outdoor living spaces often include gourmet kitchens, freestanding fireplaces and firepits, outdoor lighting, area rugs and decorative fans," he said. This offers great potential to companies like Lexington because consumers want to create "a space requiring much more beautiful and comfortable outdoor living furniture," he said. "Consumers want an outdoor 'living room.'"
Lexington is making a major move to take advantage of this opportunity at the International Casual Furniture & Accessories Market in Chicago this month. At this show, the company will debut its new Tommy Bahama Outdoor Living line, which will comprise seven complete lifestyle collections. Included in this assortment will be deep seating and sectionals, outdoor dining furniture, bistro tables and bars, firepits and occasional tables.
According to Haney, Tommy Bahama's design concept of "bringing the outdoors inside" in its interior furnishings will be a key element to the new collection's success with retailers. "It seems somewhat intuitive, therefore, that it would work with equal impact in the opposite direction," he said.
To Couristan, fashion in terms of color and design are the focal points of outdoor furnishings. "We are seeing brighter, tropical colors and unique blends of neutral tones that are not necessarily the traditional neutral colorations that you see every day," said Larry Mahurter, Couristan's vice president of marketing and advertising. Typical of these non-traditional neutral colorways are beige, taupe and cream, muted reds and blues, Mahurter added.
Because of what the outdoor elements can do to soft furnishings, good, trendy design must be married to function in outdoor products. "Mixing fiber contents that can maintain their performance levels in an outdoor environment is imperative," Mahurter said. "The ability to add texture to flatwoven constructions has become an important factor in marketing these types of products. However, it must have relevance to a clean, crisp appearance."
Examples of such products are Couristan's Dolce and Five Seasons collections. Both lines offer flatwoven area rugs featuring Courtron polypropylene surface piles, a construction that provides durability in outdoor spaces.
Another Couristan line is the Outdoor Escape collection, which Mahurter said has been one of the company's best-selling collections since its debut two years ago. This grouping features picturesque renditions of various outdoor scenes and a handhooked construction, which showcases a textured-loop pile that adds dimension to the designs along with enhancing the rugs' durability.
New colors and thicker and bolder materials have also become important trends for Palm Springs Rattan, said Tami Newton, sales and marketing executive and contract sales director. "Outdoor wicker continues to flourish as a category killer," Newton said. The colors in wicker furniture are "morphing and transforming into larger and bolder, with more color and variegation in the strand."
Within Palm Springs' lineup, the Empire, Kokomo and Cay Sal collections continue to be best sellers. This is "simply for the reason of having a lot of perceived value," Newton said. "We want our dealers to make a noticeable profit on our products and have the confidence that they will have a long life expectancy in any environment."
Products that make it possible to stay outdoors longer, especially when entertaining guests, have become an important trend for Agio International. Typical of this in the company's product line is its Ashmost grouping, featuring a firepit with coordinating chairs. "Outdoor fire is something that is high on the consumer's wish list," said Bob Gaylord, president of Agio USA.
The outdoor firepit is moving away from what Gaylord described as the "educational phase of the product life cycle. We've seen early adopters lead the way for the past five to seven years, but now the increase in sales is consistent with the growth state of the category. Consumers are seeing that outdoor gas firepits allow for entertaining outdoors into the evening and longer into the season."
Another key trend emerging for Agio is porcelain top tables. "Porcelain is a great alternative to stone top tables, and more and more retailers will carry them over the next few years," Gaylord said. "Porcelain-top tables are not porous, so they won't crack or fade in the outdoor elements, and the design capabilities with porcelain-top tables are virtually endless. And as the consumers begin to understand the significant value they have with a porcelain-top table, we believe this product will start to take off."
Outdoor living involves outdoor grilling, of course, and products that make it possible to cook and to entertain guests remain at the top of the list for consumers shopping for their outdoor spaces. For this reason, Bodum's Fyrkat mini-picnic charcoal grill continues to be a top seller for the company. "I think this product has been so successful because barbecue grills mainly come in large sizes, and we went in the opposite direction," said Thomas Perez, president of Bodum USA. "The Fyrkat is cute and portable, and we tapped into the idea of being able to grill anywhere. It's great for picnics and tailgating, but also for any everyday use."
Perez described the Fyrkat in terms of the fashion statement it makes--which is wedded to the products' functionality. "At Bodum, we take a more urban approach with the design of our outdoor products," he said. "They are smaller in size, making them ideal for smaller living spaces or for a different kind of lifestyle where you don't necessarily have a full backyard for entertaining, or you are entertaining in smaller groups."Bodum is now offering a set of grilling tools that complement the Fyrkat. These include the Bistro Sauce Pot, the Grill Tool Nipper, the Grill Tool Fork, the Grill Tool Shovel, the Grill Tool Oil Brush, the Grill Tool Metal Brush, the Bistro salt and pepper grinder, and the Bistro battery-operated turnable salt and pepper grinder.
Bodum's Fyrkat and tools lineup also address what Perez feels is a crucial emerging trend in grilling: the fact that more women are entering this category. Women "have a greater appreciation for the look of the grill, and are interested in the design as well as the ease and functionality of a product," he said. For this reason, Bodum now offers the Fyrkat in a variety of colors.
Outdoor entertaining also means "fun" products, such as Tervis' line of outdoor tumblers. "Tervis is successful because we are always looking to be fun and innovative while still offering the same great qualities we have always offered from a lifetime guarantee to reducing condensation," said Kim Livengood, Tervis' public-relations and events manager.
Unsurprisingly, given the company's tag line, "always full of fun," Tervis is emphasizing its collection of "fun" tumblers available in a variety of colors. As can be seen from these products, color is an important trend for the company. "People are more fashion conscious than ever," Livengood said. "They want their outdoor table settings to look just as good as their indoor dining room." Functionality is also an important trend in outdoor drinkware. "Tervis offers users the ability to use the same drinkware for both hot and cold drinks," Livengood said. "Tervis also offers accessories like lids and handles to make tumblers even more convenient for on-the-go."
Changing demographics are vital in the outdoor furnishings category as the industry looks ahead. With baby boomers in retirement age, Agio is focusing on these consumers' efforts to downsize their homes. "Since their outdoor areas aren't as large as they once were, patios or balcony spaces that allow for smaller spaced settings are becoming increasingly important," Gaylord said.
One thing that hasn't changed is the importance of older consumers to the outdoor category. "Consumers 45 and over are driving the luxury outdoor living market, both in primary residences and in the second-home market," Haney said. "They have higher disposable incomes and are very interested in creating great outdoor living spaces for entertaining and personal enjoyment."
Changes are taking place in terms of channels of distribution as well. Haney has seen the growing importance of interior designers in selling outdoor products. "Their design clients want design assistance in both their interior and exterior spaces," he said.
Newton said Palm Springs Rattan has opened distribution in lighting stores, garden centers and full-line furniture stores. "Different business owners are grasping at new categories that make sense to them to add to their current product mix," she said.
Couristan has also expanded its distribution into garden centers, and has added hardware stores and novelty shops. "It has allowed us to expand our distribution channels without causing conflicts within our authorized Couristan dealer base," Mahurter said.
With distribution of outdoor furnishings reaching new channels, marketing and merchandising the category has taken on added importance for these retailers, Gaylord said. "They have to make a statement and let their customers know they are in the category, and begin to market their business as a destination for outdoor," he said.
See http://hfnmag.com/product-gallery/2621 for more Outdoor Lifestyle photos