Agio reports sizzling fire pit sales

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Outdoor furniture manufacturer Agio is experiencing strong fire pit chat group sales heading into next month's International Casual Furniture & Accessories Market, the company reports.

"Even this late into the season they're on fire," said Doug Peppler, senior vice president of sales for Agio-USA. "Consumers are really looking to extend their summers by buying this type of product."

Based on this annual phenomenon, at next month's show, Peppler and other Agio reps will be advising their customers to plan ahead to be stocked with their most important items at the end of the 2014 season.

"We're going to encourage our retailers to finish next year strong by selling later into the season as interest in fire pit chat groups continues to peak," Peppler said. "The best time for selling fire pits is when everyone else is out of them."

Agio's advice was shaped by 2013 sales, feedback from sales representatives and Preview Show buyer visits in July. According to Peppler, retailers who purchased various combinations of seating, dining and fire pit collections shared the same dilemma - not ordering enough fire pit sets to last the entire season.

Many retailers added too few fire pit sets to their traditional Agio orders, Peppler said, and nearly all reported they sold out by early June. "The problem with buying 10 sets instead of buying 30 is that for many markets and outdoor consumers, the summer is just beginning on June 1," Peppler said.

Requests for another late-season container are common, but most often the request can't be accommodated in time. "Not having enough fire pit chat sets in stock after June is a missed sales opportunity. And that's a shame," Peppler said.

Peppler explained that during the most important months for selling chat fire pits - late summer to early fall - small-order retailers are essentially out of stock, and mass merchants aren't likely to embrace stocking for late summer.

"It's a prime opportunity for specialty or other retailers to take advantage and have a product that's otherwise not available when people want it," he said. "This is not a product retailers want to sell out early. Yet year after year, that's what happens."

Other Preview Show observations

Overall Sales. "Our middle price points - sets selling at $2,000 to $3,500 at retail - continue to be on an upswing," Peppler said. "This year, we saw our dealers looking to buy better goods as opposed to opening price point collections, and that's continuing."

Inexpensive products are not what people are looking for, according to Peppler. Agio projects that consumers will be shopping for a quality level and product that is designed to last longer. "Customers will weigh that balance between price and quality carefully, knowing that they will keep it much longer," Peppler said.

Showroom Staging. This fall in the company's Merchandise Mart showroom, #1628, changes in how Agio stages its collections - the lines will be displayed at the front of the showroom for all Casual Market attendees to see. Agio's entire line of fire pit chat sets will be on display and visible from the hallway windows.

Variety. Another new lineup development for Agio at this year's show will be "Mix & Match fire pits," which include bases that can accept up to four different tops. When paired with any number of Agio's matching chat motion chairs, these groups give retailers more flexibility within their product offering. This is an efficient way for retailers to have several combinations available without requiring a huge investment in inventory.

Agio's tips for selling fire pit chat sets

• A choice of one is not really a choice. Plan on having two or three really good styles on your floor when people come in.

• Plan ahead to have an order of chat fire pits that arrive in your store mid-June, so you can go through the final part of the season having some of the most important goods in stock in your warehouse.

• Promote fire pit chats at the end of the season when people really want to buy.

• Sell fire pits at full margins as opposed to taking the traditional route of major discounting in order to make misses go away.

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