Outdoor Insights - Eric Parsons Gloster Furniture •President
Casual Living Staff -- Casual Living, September 9, 2010
In this post-recession period, Casual Living asked several leading manufacturers to speak out about what strategies worked best for their companies during the tough times. The following eight executives took time to identify products that proved to be best-sellers during the 2010 season. They also explained why they expect specific new products debuting this month to rise as stars for the 2011 season. With all the recent economic uncertainties, we did not ask them to look far ahead and make predictions about the industry's future. Instead, their answers reflect the realities of today's economy and tomorrow's customers.
Eric Parsons, Gloster Furniture * President
Q What's working now?
2010 has shown continued strength in teak, and we have seen greater than average growth in our woven sales. Specifically, Plantation Sectional has had incredible response with special order sales extending far into the summer months. Even though demand has far outstripped supply this season, this redesign of a nine-year-old woven collection has infused new life well beyond our expectations.
Q What product has been your best seller? Why?
Our best-selling new range for 2010 has been Havana. This traditional woven design, which received a clean transitional interpretation by designer Povl Eskildsen, has proven to be a winner for us across all markets. While other ranges perform better in specific markets, Havana has seen more success across a wide range of markets, from East Coast to West. The U.S. woven market is dominated by monochromatic dark fiber. I believe that Havana's success is driven by its unique large diameter and variegated willow-colored fiber that is woven using two different textures on each frame. This blend of design, color and texture has obviously caught the attention of the consumer, so much so that we are adding to the line for 2011 in a significant way.
Q What new product or collection do you expect to become a bestseller? Why?
In addition to the growth of Havana, which will be offered in a second fiber color and added to with both seating and dining frames for 2011, Gloster is positioning itself to be the world leader in the next high-growth category - outdoor upholstery. Following a very strong mid-season introduction in the trade, contract and international channels, we are now expanding our distribution of Outdoor Lounge to the retail markets in the United States and Canada. With Bloc and Cloud, two revolutionary new collections of fully upholstered seating, we are truly taking the indoors out.
These striking new product collections are both highly modular and versatile, yet good looks haven't been sacrificed to achieve low maintenance. This category is forecasted to account for 25% of our European sales in 2011, and initial reaction in North America has been very exciting. This category will definitely be a winner for us!
Q How would you describe the health of the casual industry?
Improving, but not out of the woods. We will continue to experience fall-out of retailers and manufacturers that are not able to hold on during this downturn, but those that are able to better manage and reorganize their business will be stronger as a result. Our retail business in 2010 has had a very healthy rebound from 2009 and our expectations are for it to continue this track through 2011.
Q What strategy did you use that was successful despite (or due to) the challenging economy?
Gloster has continued to focus on our core strengths. That is the horse that brought us to this point and we will continue to ride it forward. Our strategy continues to focus on quality and innovative product, high levels of domestic inventory available for quick ship, special order upholstery out the door in under two weeks, education in support of our retailers and sales reps, and growing in a controlled and debt-free manner. Our focus is to instill in our customers a level of confidence that we are able to deliver product and services at a superior level today and tomorrow. We are in this game for the long haul.
Q What have you learned that you wish you had known earlier?
We have long understood that available inventory creates a flexible retailer. During the past two years, however, there was a shift of committed inventory away from the retailer and toward the manufacturer. While all of us knew decreased early buys would mean more volume in-season, transport and labor shortages related to overseas production created a hurdle that few, if any, could leap over. Early buy inventory orders provide valuable insight into which products to produce. We now must rely more on floor placements and verbal feedback during the Casual Show.
Q Where do you see opportunity for future growth?
Gloster's future growth is dependent upon innovation, accurate forecasting of trends, available product and continued debt-free growth. The last five years have painted a very different picture of Gloster. In any given year, roughly 50% of sales are of product that was introduced in the prior three years (and it is two years for our European business). This is a strong indication that we must remain at the forefront with innovative, on-trend design, have significant inventory on-hand in South Boston, and have the financial strength and available capital to make it all happen.
Q If you could send a message to retailers to help them strengthen their business, what would it be?
Know your customer's needs and be true to that. We live in a fast-paced, ever changing world where fresh looks and immediate satisfaction rule. Retail floors need to be a combination of solid sellers and cutting edge.