By David Gill
Even though winter 2014 is well under way, vendors of outdoor lifestyle products such as furniture, textiles, area rugs and tableware have already begun to look ahead to the time when sales for their products will heat up—along with the weather outside.
This segment of the home furnishings market has gained in importance over recent years as homeowners pay ever-closer attention to the looks of their outdoor spaces. The concept of the “outdoor room” has taken firm hold in this market. What has also begun to happen, however, is that the seasonal time frame for the use of that outdoor room has grown—in some cases, to encompass some of the cooler months of the year.
According to research by The Freedonia Group, sales for products such as fire pits and patio heaters have entered into a growth mode that is expected to carry forward deeper into this decade. By 2017, sales of these products are projected to reach $425 million, growing by 6.5 percent annually from 2012 until 2017.
In its research, Freedonia lumped this segment within the entire outdoor furniture and grill market. “Patio heating products, including patio heaters and fire pits that allow outdoor spaces to be used comfortably even in cooler weather, will see the fastest growth through 2017” of any segment within the overall outdoor category, Freedonia said in a statement about its research.
Agio is one vendor that needs no persuading about fire pits, having a number of these in their product line. “Outdoor fire continues to be a major growth category for retailers,” said Bob Gaylord, president of Agio USA. “We’re seeing retailers alter their buying patterns to purchase outdoor fire pits for the ‘second season,’ which is September through November.”
Other vendors have also taken notice. “We are seeing that fireplaces and fire pits are extending the functional time for outdoor rooms, so the furnishings are being used longer, whether for lounging or dining,” said Debbie Maytidu, national sales manager for Paradise Cushions by FiberBuilt.
The extended outdoor season has put a premium on durability as a characteristic for outdoor furnishings. “We’re seeing more rugs and outdoor accessories constructed of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polypropylene and other highly durable materials in a variety of colors and tons of eye-catching patterns,” said Lynne Meredith, vice president of product development for Surya.
The company’s Picnic rug collection, which features rugs handwoven in India of 100 percent PVC, is an example of the sort of hard-nosed products that are required for these extended outdoor seasons. The fact that the Picnic line also has stylish designs is also a strong selling point. “These weather-, fade- and stain-resistant rugs feature Moroccan lattice designs in a range of colors, from soft mint green to teal to navy blue and red,” Meredith said.
Many of the products now available for outdoor spaces prove that durability and fashion can mix. “The outdoor-furniture industry is very much a fashion-forward one, and I’m happy to say that we’re right in line with Sunbrella and other major fabric suppliers in terms of both color and design,” said Reid Roney, vice president of sales for Hammock Source.
Roney cited as an example the company’s Dupione Galaxy Tufted Hammock, part of its Hatteras Hammocks brand. The Dupione Galaxy Tufted Hammock is made with a top layer of all-weather Sunbrella fabric and a bottom layer of Hammock Source’s proprietary DuraCord fabric, with the two layers lock-stitched atop a center of polyester hollowfill fiber manufactured from recycled plastic drink bottles.
Fashion also mixes with functionality in Agio’s most recent fire-pit introductions, which feature stained-glass tops. “Retailers were attracted to the collection because of the color and design, and the fact that it’s the first real product in outdoor fire that appealed to the female consumer’s taste,” Gaylord said. Agio has since expanded on this collection and has launched products with other types of tops, such as porcelain.
Consumers’ search for outdoor products that last helped boost sales for Paradise Cushions’ larger umbrellas, including the Riva, which measures 13 feet and has a two-inch diameter. “We believe consumers are looking for long-lasting products,” Maytidu said, “and, as the importance of the outdoor living area grows, our large umbrellas and pavilions provide both protection from the elements and increased enjoyment for dining and lounging spaces.”
Versatility—which in this category takes the form of products that enhance decors in both indoor and outdoor spaces—remains a major selling point for the outdoor category. One of Paradise Cushion’s successes from 2013 is its line of seat cushions and decorative pillows.
“These items are used on a daily basis for both indoor and outdoor furnishings,” Maytidu said. “We manufacture them in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, styles and fabrics, and they add comfort to all types of furnishings, from dining chairs to benches to chaise lounges.”
One of Surya’s 2013 hits was its Elements rug collection. “Machine-made in Belgium of 100 percent olefin, the collection emphasizes simplicity in tone and form with natural, earthy hues, including browns, beiges, taupes, charcoal and moss green, making the rugs well suited for outdoor lifestyles,” Meredith said.
HammockSource scored a surprise success last year with its line of outdoor window treatments, across both its Hatteras Hammocks and Pawleys Island brands. “Consumers have really embraced the outdoor-curtain lifestyle,” Roney said. “More and more, people are learning that outdoor curtains make a wonderful addition toward completing the look and feel of the outdoor room.”
Looking ahead to the new year, Roney said quality goods will be a huge factor in the biggest sellers. “We expect to continue seeing market growth in higher-quality outdoor goods, across the board,” he said. “For us, that means consumers will continue to demand DuraCord and Sunbrella fabrics, and the highest-quality specs, in each of our outdoor categories.”
Meredith said Surya’s collections from last year will continue to gain momentum in 2014. “We believe our recently launched Picnic rug collection will continue to increase in popularity,” she said. “We also expect our indoor-outdoor poufs constructed of PVC to do well. These lightweight and stylish poufs feature chevron and lattice patterns in classic navy, gray and white for a versatile and modern look suitable for a variety of living environments.”
Paradise Cushions is also expecting increased sales from its line of poufs. “They are lightweight, provide an additional seating option or can be used as an ottoman, and stack for easy storage,” Maytidu said.
The company also believes that its recently launched collection of tents and pavilions, which make the outdoor room into an actual room, have a chance to score big this year. “They allow for privacy, shelter from the sun and anchor your entertaining space,” Maytidu said. She added that Paradise Cushions will offer a heater and a lighting/fan option to attach to the pavilion frame, along with drapes and sheer panels.
Being able to offer a diverse line of products, which has been a key to the company’s success with indoor furnishings, also gives Surya an advantage in the outdoor arena, according to Meredith. “Expanding into indoor-outdoor products was a natural extension for us and has enabled us to apply our innovative design and construction techniques to create fashion-forward, outdoor-friendly products, including rugs, pillows and poufs that coordinate seamlessly with outdoor furnishings and other accessories,” she said.
For Maytidu, Paradise Cushion’s stress on innovation will position it as a preferred source for outdoor products. “We are continually adding products to accommodate the changes made across outdoor furniture categories, whether this means new sizes or shapes for our replacement cushions and decorative pillows, or new items such as our poufs, which can be used in different areas and serve a variety of purposes,” she said.
Strong customer service, combined with an emphasis on quality, will fuel HammockSource’s business going forward. “From the very beginning of this company, we’ve been driven by customer service, and our dealer base trusts and values the long-term relationships we’ve developed through the years,” Roney said. “Our products have always placed an emphasis on quality materials, and particularly with our Hatteras Hammocks brand, on innovation as well.”
Innovation and design will drive Agio’s outdoor business this year. Gaylord said, “We’ve long advocated, and educated, consumers and retailers that not only was the outdoors an integral part of the home, but it is an extension of the owner’s personal taste … a true part of their lifestyle.”