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Cinde W. Ingram

Hauser's Patio & Rattan: Award-winning merchandising pays

Receiving Casual Living's top Merchandising Award last month was a validation of the vision and renovations being made by President Doug Wheat, who became sole owner of Hauser's Patio & Rattan a year ago with the retirement of former partner Janet Hauser.


Mix and match fabric options in Southwestern colors brighten the Kingsley-Bate Amalfy deep seating group in this vignette, complemented by carefully placed accessories near the back of Hauser

Mix and match fabric options in Southwestern colors brighten the Kingsley-Bate Amalfy deep seating group in this vignette, complemented by carefully placed accessories near the back of Hauser's San Diego store.

Fred White and Doug Wheat accept crystal award as Most Fashionable Retailer, presented by Casual Living Editor Cinde W. Ingram

Fred White and Doug Wheat accept crystal award as Most Fashionable Retailer, presented by Casual Living Editor Cinde W. Ingram

Child bistro set from KNF Design offers style for tea parties.

Child bistro set from KNF Design offers style for tea parties.

Lloyd/Flanders Veranda chairs mix with tables by KNF Design, plenty of accessories and massive wind chimes.

Lloyd/Flanders Veranda chairs mix with tables by KNF Design, plenty of accessories and massive wind chimes.

One of Wheat's first moves was to hire General Manager Fred White, who had 25 years previous experience in the casual furniture industry, most recently at Anaheim Patio & Fireside. "I was brought in with a whole new, fresh eye," White said.

During the winter months, Wheat and White oversaw renovations as workers pulled down shutters and replaced drywalls with additional windows, painted other walls with on-trend colors and made other updates inside the 8,500-sq.-ft. San Diego store. Hauser's has held a presence for 46 years on Morena Boulevard, but moved across the street into the former San Diego Rattan space about 13 years ago.

"We have some good neighbors on this street so we're happy to stay around," Wheat said, referring to stores offering high-end lighting, stone, tile, doors, shutters and Oriental antiques. Warehouse space is conveniently located just behind the main store.

A second 4,000-sq.-ft. store in La Costa is more of a satellite boutique and features a 1,600-sq.-ft. patio with outdoor fireplace. Both stores are destinations for elite and wealthy pockets of residents all over San Diego, Rancho Santa Fe, La Jolla and the nearby coastal area.

"We put our second store in based on traffic," Wheat said. "The traffic can be horrendous. The I-5 corridor, which is our coastal freeway, starts at the border (with Mexico) and goes all the way to Canada."

Hauser's two Southern California stores spun off from Hauser's of Canada, a family-owned company that started as a manufacturer of wrought iron, metal and wood furniture, added retail and eventually made connections to produce aluminum furniture in Mexico. Wheat brought experience working with ornamental iron when he first joined Hauser's 1978 and ran its manufacturing facility.

Nearly a decade later, ownership changes were underway within the Hauser family and Hauser's exited the manufacturing business. "We had all this square footage and we weren't cost-effective," Wheat said. "We were too big to be small and too small to be big."

With the end of its own manufacturing efforts, Hauser's turned its focus toward retailing other companies' products, starting with Tropitone and O.W. Lee. Wheat's job had become essentially that of a warehouse manager so he left to join a start-up company that was refinishing patio furniture. He spent nine years with that company and became part owner before returning to Hauser's 10 years ago as a partner.

"When Fred decided he was going to leave Anaheim Patio and come to San Diego, we spoke a great deal about the vision that I had and basically Fred had shared those same visions," Wheat said. "We were pretty much on the same page."

"I think if there's going to be a success story under my ownership, it's going to be where under Fred's leadership on the retail floor, where we can go and how we can survive a difficult market," Wheat added. He referred to demographics of aging baby boomers being followed by a generation of lesser numbers. "The next generation will inherit a great deal of money, but I personally don't see the brand loyalties in the next generation to furniture as prior. They can tell you about the newest Blackberry or iPod, but they're not going to tell you about furniture."

Tropitone continues to be one of the top-selling lines for Hauser's, along with Brown Jordan and Mallin. Plenty of other vendors share its retail space, too, including Lloyd/Flanders, Global Surroundings and Emu.

"Not that we want to divorce our major manufacturers; they're still crucial to our survival and they'll drive traffic, but we need to get them (consumers) excited about furniture not just the name of the manufacturer," Wheat said. "There are those out there who might criticize our product mix a little because we are importing direct from China, the Agio and Tribor and others, but it is not cheap furniture. That said, we're accessorizing the way it should be accessorized. We are selling the sizzle."

White noted weather-resistant art by Open Air Designs, outdoor lighting from Currey & Company and a new rack display of outdoor rugs by Capel. Huge wind chimes, outdoor clocks by Infinity and beverage coolers from Alfresco Home mix with plenty of outdoor furniture.

"We tried to go as much into the outdoors as we possibly could," White said. "When customers walk in, they're not really sure whether we're indoor or outdoor," he said.

To help clear up any confusion, Hauser's advertises during the morning television news broadcasts Thursday through Sundays and/or the morning talk shows. It also markets its name and products via cable shows, Home & Garden and Bravo as well as in San Diego Home & Garden magazine. It appears in the local theater Playbill and sends direct mailings to the store's database. Those marketing efforts have concentrated on nine months a year because as Wheat says, "I believe you fish when the fish are biting."

Looking ahead, Hauser's soon will make its first foray into showing and selling Christmas trees and holiday ornaments. White expects to pull together spectacular displays of five trees in the San Diego store plus another two or three in the La Costa store. The tagline will be "Hauser holidays — not your ordinary Christmas."

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