Suncoast Family Business Ready To Rise Again
Cinde Ingram -- Casual Living, October 2, 2013
Suncoast has weathered recessions, the bursting housing bubble and plummeting Florida real estate values over the past three decades.
In the wake of its re-emergence from bankruptcy, Suncoast introduced product lines at the Preview Show in July. Serving customers was the primary reason Suncoast leaders decided to make that investment.
"We wanted to show our dealers and potential customers that we are a stable and dependable supplier," said Rajiv Varshney, who became president of the family-owned outdoor furniture manufacturer as it reorganized following its Chapter 11 filing at the end of 2010. "Some dealers only attend premarket and don't return for the September market and we didn't want to miss any selling opportunities. We believe domestic suppliers are becoming more important to the dealers again."
Suncoast's new products received a positive response from dealers and potential customers at the Preview Show, National Sales Manager Becky Sturdivant-French said.
"They liked our new Summer upholstered furniture as it is unique and provides a choice of 14 upholstered fabrics for complete customization," she said. "They also liked our new Impression table as it offers the look of cast aluminum tables at a much lower cost. We showed four new custom designed marble tabletops that are reasonably priced and they got a lot of ‘looks' and helped us get some new business."
The opportunity to talk with customers was another reason Suncoast participated in the Preview Show, said Paul Varshney, founder and now vice president of marketing. "We explained to them honestly about our challenges, how our suppliers worked with us and how our loyal dealers, employees and sales reps helped keep us going," he said. "We have been through highs and lows as a company but are stronger than ever now and have the equipment, personnel and plant capacity to grow."
It's been 30 years since Paul and his wife, Raj Varshney, bought a small company named Suncoast Aluminum Furniture Manufacturing. They began operating Suncoast on Feb. 21, 1983, in a 1,500-sq.-ft. rented building in Fort Myers, Fla. At the time, Rajiv worked with his parents to make and design furniture each day after his high school classes. Beginning with only a few furniture collections and a liquid paint finish process, the Varshneys built the Suncoast name.
"The economic conditions were poor when Suncoast started its business as the country was coming out of the severe recession of 1980-82," Paul said. "Suncoast began the business with sales to commercial accounts in nearby counties. The business grew to stores and specialty retailers in Florida and eventually Suncoast expanded to become a global supplier of fine quality outdoor furniture"
In 1989, a new 16,250-sq.-ft. plant was constructed and an advanced powder coat finishing line replaced the old liquid paint technique. After his college graduation in 1990, Rajiv joined his parents in the day-to-day operations of Suncoast, thus ensuring continuity of the family's business philosophy. Suncoast's business flourished and its manufacturing facility expanded in 1992, 1999 and 2003.
Business was thriving from 2001-05, so Suncoast further expanded its facility and installed a computerized automated powder coating system to accommodate the rapid growth, Paul said. With the addition of new offices and a state-of-the-art finishing line, Suncoast grew to its 139,000-sq.-ft. operational capacity.
Over the years, the company gained recognition for its products, including 24 patented designs, and won two Design Excellence Awards.
"Suncoast covered all price points from the lower end to the higher end, with a very broad number of pieces in each collection," Paul said. "Suncoast kept its focus on introducing new products to provide the dealers with products that their customers needed."
Because of that customer focus, Suncoast kept its shipping time to three-to-four weeks and did its best to give customers a U.S.-made fine quality product at reasonable prices that would retail well. But the company suffered when real estate values plummeted in Florida as the U.S. housing bubble burst. Suncoast's real estate value dropped 64% and when its bank called the loan on its real estate mortgage as well as its credit line, Suncoast was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to ensure continued business operations, protect jobs and provide uninterrupted service and product delivery to its customers.
After reducing its expenses, inventory and dropping slow moving product lines, the company submitted a reorganization plan that the bankruptcy court approved and Suncoast came out of bankruptcy within 11 months of its filing. "Our suppliers and loyal customers stuck with us, we maintained our lead times and we remain a financially sound company," Paul said.
This month's International Casual Furniture & Accessories Market will be a key factor for Suncoast to continue its focus on its dealers' needs.
"Our ultimate goal is to give them a well-made U.S. product that offers their customers a good value at a fair price," Rajiv said.
Suncoast distributes its products to the residential market through specialty patio retailers, furniture stores and interior designers. It also participates in Hospitality Design trade shows and distributes products to commercial clients such as hotels, country clubs, resorts, water parks, multi-housing and restaurants.
"We will continue to focus on keeping our lead time to four weeks or less for special orders," Rajiv said. "Our dealers don't need to keep large inventories and incur unnecessary expenses to warehouse and pay for the large amount of products. It will also eliminate their need to sell the left over large inventories at or below their cost, thus making their business profitable."
Both Paul and Rajiv were encouraged response to its Summer upholstered furniture, Impression tables and new tabletops will not only result in new dealers but also increase the sales and profits of current dealers.
"We see continued growth for Suncoast in the years ahead as we maintain our focus on shipping on time and service," Rajiv said. "We will continue to introduce and provide new innovative products which will appeal to the end consumers."
From left, Raj and Paul Varshney with their son and daughter-in-law, Rajiv and Dipti Varshney, inside the Suncoast factory.
Impression table top shows detailed pattern.
Summer deep seating group appears woven but is a new upholstered outdoor material.