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With 2009 sales flat for many due to the economy, outdoor lighting manufacturers are finding themselves in a conundrum familiar to the outdoor furniture industry: The more stylish the product, the harder it is for consumers to believe it will stand up to an outdoor setting.

Veneman Wave
Veneman Wave

Making it even more difficult, the outdoor lighting category is still new enough that unless told otherwise, many consumers assume the lamps they see in the showroom are simply there to light the outdoor furniture vignettes — if they notice them at all.

More education is the solution, manufacturers say. That education needs to start with the dealers themselves. If specialty retailers don't value the category as a potentially strong revenue stream, the message won't get through to the consumer.

For example, consumers can get any of Summer Classics' lampshades in any of its 153 colors, but if that isn't pointed out to them, the lamps just sit there.

Hudson
Hudson

"The salespeople have to say, 'Yes, this is an outdoor light and you can put this fabric on your throw pillows and on your lampshade.' When they do that, they are successful at adding that sale," said Harold Hudson, vice president of sales and marketing.

"I think the philosophy on the casual dealer's floor needs to be changed to really show the importance of all outdoor accessories," said Susie Morter, president of Shady Lady.

Andy Morter, vice president of sales and marketing, and designer of most of Shady Lady's outdoor lighting, said success in the category requires commitment. "Some dealers will place an early buy order, bring the lighting in and even sell it through, then not reorder for whatever reason," he said. "But they should be reordering, because those accessory sales can make a big difference at the end of the year."

Morter
S. Morter

Although some manufacturers held steady with their collections for 2010 by limiting introductions to fabrics and colors in existing lines, Woodard added 10 new lamps including the Belgravia table lamp by Joe Ruggiero that took the category's Design Excellence Award at the International Casual Furniture & Accessories Market in Chicago.

"We think that outdoor lighting is one of the opportunity areas for 2010," said Carl Loredo, chief marketing officer, Craftmade International.

The decision to push the category now comes in part from Craftmade's expertise in indoor lighting, ceiling fans and other indoor products. Since the company's purchase of Woodard last year, that depth is expanding both companies' market share, Loredo said. Some Craftmade indoor dealers are adding its new outdoor lighting, while Woodard dealers are adding Craftmade's outdoor fans and accessories such as gauges and clocks.

"We are really leveraging the fact that the two companies together are better than each apart," Loredo said. To help dealers easily make the point that the lighting is for sale, Woodard is offering dealers a display unit that has room for several lit lamps.

Yin Yang Lamp
Shady Lady Yin Yang, in the Viro synthetic fabric.

Shady Lady also introduced a line of outdoor lighting for 2010 that the Morters believe will add excitement on the floor. Woven exclusively with the environmentally friendly Viro synthetic fiber, Oasis features a thick wicker pattern that filters light and keeps the lamp stable in windy conditions.

"It's a little more contemporary but also the design is very organic, which I think lends itself to the outdoors," Andy Morter said.

Veneman Collections also added a contemporary look to outdoor lighting for 2010 with its Wave outdoor light. As fun as it is functional, the new lamp is an indication of what's to come from Veneman.

"I expect that we'll be doing more outdoor lighting," said Bill Markowitz, president of Veneman. "Just as the advent of the outdoor kitchen and deep seating has stretched the season, it has also stretched the number of hours in the day. People are enjoying the outdoors earlier and later in the day ... so lighting is the next strong opportunity."

The ambience of outdoor lighting comes in all types of styles. Still, many consumers will lean toward more traditional looks. Patio Living Concepts sees this in consistently strong sales of its wicker lamps.

Klaus
Klaus

"Traditional seems to be where it's at in our experience," said Dale Klaus, president, Patio Living Concepts.

"For outdoor lighting, I think there will always be a more traditional feel to the products that sell day in and day out just because people are used to that look inside their homes," said Tami Newton, manager of Palm Springs Rattan & Garden Classics.

Shady Lady's move into outdoor lighting seven years ago stemmed from Susie Morter's personal experience of bringing some of her interior lighting out to her deck for a party the family was hosting.

"It looked very beautiful and so we started discussing how great it would be to have lighting that could be outside," she said. "When we started researching, we found out that there was only one vendor making outdoor lighting."

Today the category abounds with competition, and outdoor lighting is now being sold in the big box stores. This is helping to raise consumer awareness of the category, and to bring down medium price points, but Morter is also concerned that it will discourage consumers.

It again comes back to education. Specialty dealers need to sell the ambience outdoor lighting creates as well as function, Morter said.




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