Redefining casual elegance
Cinde Ingram -- Casual Living, April 1, 2010
Jane Seymour’s celebrity sparkle to attract buyers as Acacia launches her co-branded Garden Gates outdoor furniture collection.
Last year, brightly colored WINOs casual dining furniture and appearances by Women in Need of Sanity cookbook author Bonnie Jesseph drew retailers into Acacia’s showroom for a closer look. Before that, buyers came in to see Cabana Joe’s casual designs for indoors and out as well as Acacia’s own designs.
“Acacia is strong at High Point and we thought it would be the best time to put our best foot forward,” Acacia Home & Garden President Alex Te said.
Indoor furniture dealers and designers will be first to see this new line of garden-inspired outdoor furniture. Dealers from Florida or other Sun Belt areas who place orders this month can expect delivery in early September, in advance of the Casual Market in Chicago when most casual retailers will shop for their 2011 season.
Seymour collaborated with Acacia to design the collection, which includes wicker deep seating, faux stone accent tables, outdoor dining and occasional pieces handcrafted from cypress wood in the company’s Conover, N.C., headquarters. Some pieces feature hand wrought aluminum detail inspired by English country garden gates and include an interpretation of the Open Heart design Seymour created.
“I love the timeless yet eclectic style of the collection,” Seymour said in a recent product review. “It brings a timeless, peaceful feeling to the outdoor room.”
A poster-sized photo of Seymour’s former English manor home adorns a wall inside Acacia’s offices. The exterior color of brick inspired some of the finishes found in the collection and inspire authenticity in creating an English country feel. Other colors selected from Seymour’s impressionistic paintings combine with today’s fashion trends in swatches of fabric for indoor and outdoor use.
“Jane has a remarkable eye, and her genuine warmth and caring are reflected in the product,” Te said. “She enjoys and understands the elements of style that will be meaningful to our customer.”
Te likes working with brands because it helps tell a story about already distinctive product designs and identifies with lifestyle choices. “With Jane Seymour, you don’t have to explain any more,” Te said.
In Te’s view, product and design are among the top priorities for success in the home furnishings industry. He also lists perceived value, lasting relationships and credibility when he describes how Acacia has grown as a family owned company since it opened 20 years ago.
Te and his wife Lorraine stay actively involved in Acacia’s daily operations; they also continue to build lasting industry relationships by participating in the International Casual Furnishings Association and American Home Furnishings Alliance.
Te’s friendship with a customer, Jack Rachlin, was instrumental in the founding of Acacia in the United States in the late 1980s. Te met Rachlin while working in furniture in the Philippines, his native country, soon after he graduated from college in the early ’80s.
“The late Jack Rachlin was my mentor; that’s how Acacia was born,” Te said. “He was one of the greatest manufacturers and one of the pillars of the dinette industry. It was his mentorship that guided us in the USA.”
At its start, Acacia leased a 5,000-sq.-ft. facility in Claremont, N.C. The company’s rattan Bali group was so well received that it created quite a stir in some of the biggest indoor furniture dealers who eagerly supported it on their floors.
“That product put Acacia on the map overnight because everybody who was doing furniture bought it or wanted it,” Te said. “We could not even find enough rattan to make that furniture.”
He learned quickly that he had to turn down important customers if Acacia had placed products with smaller accounts within that distribution area. “In this industry, you have to have great product and perceived value, but at the end of the day what you have is credibility,” Te said.
In response to strong demand in the company’s early days, Acacia moved into a 20,000-sq.-ft. facility, which it outgrew in less than two years. By 1991, the company moved into its current headquarters, an approximately 100,000-sq.-ft. facility that combines office, production and warehouse uses.
Showing strength in the indoor category and recognizing opportunity in the outdoor living area, Te turned to another friend for guidance. “In 1998-99, the late Pat O’Kelly mentored us,” Te said, noting O’Kelly had vast experience in developing the outdoor woven category.
“What makes us strong in outdoor is being different,” Te said. “We don’t cross bridges. We don’t burn bridges. We have the ability and the creativity to build our own designs. We have our own identity.”
Although rattan and wicker remain the primary materials used in Acacia’s furniture lines, the company also manufactures fully upholstered and cypress wood furniture. Through its 20-year history, Acacia has continued to invest in machinery to allow design creativity. For example, it added nine extruding machines that manufacture outdoor PE and PVC materials as well as equipment for aluminum extrusions, casting and injection molding. Acacia recently purchased a case goods operation both domestically and in the Philippines.
A truly vertically integrated operation, Acacia supplies private label and licensed branded products to some of the nation’s most recognized brands. The company also continues to invest in development of innovative designs and in patents to protect them.
As Diane Christensen, Acacia’s new director of sales, walked past the cushion production area inside its Conover plant, she pointed out available options. “We want the tailoring of the cushion to fit the style of the product,” she said. “It makes for a well-rounded design.”
A new finish line, with both spray booths and hand-applied painting, allows more flexibility in meeting customers’ requests. In addition to offering 12 stocking colors, Acacia’s partnership with Sherwin-Williams provides a huge selection of paint color choices.
“Women want to choose their colors,” Christensen said. “We’re doing more with eclectic looks because that’s one of the consumer trends transcending to the outdoor room, being an extension of the home. We’re using a mix of materials to differentiate our looks which we can develop quickly, creating a timeliness to meeting consumer demand.”
Although she joined the company late last year, Christensen’s work with Acacia’s marketing and product development efforts dates back several years. And her relationship with Acacia actually began much earlier as a buyer for Seasonal Concepts, then one of the nation’s largest casual furniture retailers.
As another example of Te’s belief the home furnishings industry grows through good product designs and relationships, he pointed out Acacia Vice President and General Manager Jeff Stacherski started his own career working with Rachlin, Te’s mentor. Stacherski oversees the Conover plant, which combines technology from the Philippines with U.S. customization to manufacture just-in-time orders delivered by specialized furniture carriers.
“Jeff has been with me for a long time,” Te said. “I knew him prior to Acacia and the same with Diane. Relationships are what you have to have today. Team effort, good product and design and credibility in servicing accounts are what make us competitive.”