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Outdoor Insights - Dudley Flanders Lloyd/Flanders • President/CEO

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.

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Dudley Flanders Lloyd/Flanders • President/CEO

Q What's working now?
     One of the most important things working for us is our speed of delivery. Other than a few items out of China, which were difficult to manage, we've been able to maintain our 12- to 14-day delivery time. Because of that, we won the confidence of floor salespeople. They know they can count on the fact that we're able to move their special orders in a timely fashion. One of the few things casual specialty retailers have over the big box is their ability to special order. If they don't take advantage of special orders, they're missing out on 50% of the business.

Q What product has been your best seller? Why?
    One of our biggest successes this season has been our Contempo Sectional Collection. There are several reasons for that, not the least of which was our preseason ad in Coastal Living magazine. The ad drove consumers into stores that had not stocked the group and created a surge in special orders.

Q What new product or collection do you expect to become a bestseller? Why?
     We've had overwhelming response to our Coastal Living Collection, which includes four different styles. The response we saw at the Preview Show was strong -- not only the response to the furniture but the concept.

     Also, we're redoubling our efforts to market the Lloyd Loom product to make sure everybody knows it's available in 22 finishes with a 12-day delivery. We actually lowered our prices this year on some of our loom products. We added new items like the Rio for a contemporary look, which is a new direction, particularly for loom. We expanded the weave loom look, using 15 strands where we have never done more than five before. It's a fresh, new look for loom furniture, and people just loved it at premarket.

Q How would you describe the health of the casual industry?
     I'd say it's on the mend. Obviously the last two years have been pretty tough, on both the supplier and the retail sides. We saw the casual retail side come back pretty strongly this spring. That bodes well for the health of the casual industry based on several factors, including the outdoor room concept and the growth of spending time at home along with the staycation (vacation at home) and home entertainment trends.

     It's encouraging to hear retailers report ‘Made in USA' is becoming more of a factor in closing a sale. Most people today are pretty optimistic. They just don't know how fast it's going to come back.

Q What strategy did you use that was successful despite (or because of) the challenging economy?
     A lean manufacturing strategy that got our lead times down allowed us to be the go-to supplier this year when people didn't have inventory. We think the special order business is the heart and soul of the casual furniture industry. Anyone who does well at special orders is going to get the lion's share of the business.

Q What have you learned that you wish you had known earlier?
     That we can do more with less.
     I think it has reinforced what we saw customers were asking for. When business did come back this spring, we noticed it wasn't all about price, it was about value. Consumers are buying based on look and comfort and value.

     All of us, manufacturers, retailers and sales reps need to continue to communicate. We spent a lot of time working with our dealers to find ways to get them the credit they needed to so business. Retailers recognized they needed to be a little more flexible with information and payments to keep their relationships operating smoothly.

Q Where do you see opportunity for future growth?
     I see opportunity on two fronts: 1) Distribution channels for upscale outdoor furniture are broadening. 2) For the last several years, new technology has improved the quality of many materials like loom finishes, synthetic woven vinyl and outdoor fabrics. Only a few years ago, there weren't many suppliers making quality outdoor fabrics. Today there's a plethora of sources making good and attractive product that brings us closer to the indoor look.

Q If you could send a message to retailers to help them strengthen their business, what would it be?
     Do what you know and do it better. We all have to have more attractive displays and better salespeople. Now is not the time to take a lot of risk with new sources, but to partner up with people they know they can rely on. Not to be afraid to try a look from a proven source.

     They don't have to load up on inventory, but they have to know you cannot be in retail without inventory. They've got to continue to freshen their floors. If you find something that's working and selling, keep it on your floor and don't leave our floor empty after it sells through.

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