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Outdoor success for furniture stores requires commitment

The surge in outdoor wicker is being felt by traditional furniture stores as well as in the outdoor specialty market. At American Home Showplace, Dalton, Ga., for example, Braxton Culler seating has been flying out the door.

"We just added it this year and we've had phenomenal success with it so far," said John Holcomb, general manager of American Home Showplace.

All-weather wicker is also hot at Maynard's Home Furnishings in Belton and Greenville, S.C., although the unseasonably cold weather is slowing the start of the season in general.

"We do more in outdoor wicker than in any of our other outdoor lines," said Rex Maynard, president of the family business.

Both dealers carry the wicker year-round.

At Maynard's Greenville location, 4,000 square feet of the 18,000-sq.-ft. showroom holds outdoor wicker. The Lloyd/Flanders collections, the company's top outdoor manufacturer, are offered on the floor year-round. At the 25,000-sq.-ft. Belton location, outdoor products are displayed in a 4,000-sq.-ft. area once used as warehouse space. New carpeting was installed last year and the displays are well merchandised during the outdoor season. However, because the area is not heated or cooled, it can be uncomfortably hot by August and uncomfortably cool during the winter months.

In addition to wicker, Maynard's carries wrought iron from Woodard and Meadowcraft, extruded aluminum from Tropitone and cast aluminum primarily from Hanamint along with some from Windham and Three Coins. Other outdoor products include Carter Grandle cushions and umbrellas and Troutman Chair rockers, as well as several lines of accessories.

"To sell outdoor furniture, you have to have enough of it," Maynard said. "I think one of the reasons more furniture stores don't offer outdoor is that it isn't something you can get into with just $3,000 or $4,000 in inventory."

Maynard's entered the category strong almost by chance. In the late 1970s, the company happened to get a good deal on two truckloads of wrought iron.

"We did very well, so decided that maybe we should order it again," Maynard said.

American Home Showplace fully committed to the category two years ago when it built its freestanding World of Outdoor Living store right next door.

"In the past, we would bring the outdoor furniture out in March, and by the time the salespeople learned the products and we worked out all of the kinks, the season would be over," Holcomb said. "We felt that if we had a 365-day presence, it would actually make it easier to sell the sell the category, and it has."

The patio center is 20,000 square feet, while American Home Showplace is 300,000, and carries a full range of outdoor furniture, outdoor kitchens, grills and accessories. Among its top suppliers are Laneventure, Brown Jordan International, Hansen, Cast Classics, Gloster, Woodard and Riverwood Casual. In addition to adding Braxton Culler for this season, the dealer added a promotional outdoor wicker line that is also doing well.

"We're still fine-tuning the mix," Holcomb said. "We added more wicker, rounding out the price points based on customer feedback."

Restoration Hardware also added to its all-weather wicker collections for this season. Headquartered in Corte Madera, Calif., the retailer offers outdoor product through its more than 100 stores across the country and in Canada as well as online and via catalog.

"Given the number of stores, they always are the majority of sales, but our direct division is also a great channel to move our outdoor lines," said David Glassman, director of marketing, Restoration Hardware.

All product is developed in house.

"We're not that trendy of a company," Glassman said. "We're very classic in our styling and aesthetics, and so the outdoor furniture is a mirror of that. The lines are simple and create a lot of right angles. The people in our demographics are looking for something that not only looks good but is functional."

In addition to a full all-weather wicker collection in espresso and honey finishes, Restoration Hardware offers two other full collections. The Classic Garden Collection is steel with a pewter finish, while the Montauk collection is made from nyota hardwood.

Outdoor products are moved onto the floor in March and store personnel begin removing them in July. The amount of floor space dedicated to outdoor varies by store given that store size varies, however it is substantial.

"The category dominates the stores," Glassman said.

All three merchants agree outdoor furniture brings in new customers.

"People know that we have the selection here year-round now," Holcomb said.

"It does offer another reason for people to come into the business," Maynard said. "Furniture stores have almost done the opposite. We used to sell appliances, now we don't; we used to sell paint and wallpaper, but now we don't; our stores still sell carpet, but most furniture stores don't. So we've given people less reason to come into our stores, rather than more. In that respect, outdoor products and all-weather wicker certainly are good incentives to shop our store."

In addition to wicker, Maynard's Home Furnishings carries rockers from Troutman Chair Company.

Wrought iron from Woodard has made its way into furniture stores, like its Regent Collection, designed by Shaun Sweeney.

Even if hesitant to add outdoor lines, many furniture stores are making an exception for all-weather wicker. Here, Lloyd/Flanders' Davenport Collection showcases a full line of accessories to complement the furniture.

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