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Alexa Boschini

Outdoor Evolution

Young executives reflect on the changing casual industry

Mike GaylordMike Gaylord
In this recurring series, Casual Living interviews the industry's rising stars, notable executives under age 40 who already are making an impact on the outdoor business. This month, Mike Gaylord, national sales manager at Agio, and Asha Chaudhary, president of Jaipur, share their insights about the evolution of the outdoor industry.

Mike Gaylord
National Sales Manager, Agio

WHAT INITIALLY SPARKED YOUR INTEREST IN THE OUTDOOR FURNITURE INDUSTRY?
GAYLORD: My father. He was really one of the pioneers in the industry and he's been in the industry as long as I can remember. When I was younger, visiting him and going to the office was one of the highlights of the trip. I'd get the chance to see the samples and what the company was working on, and then I'd go back home to a department store and see the collections (I had seen made). It was the coolest thing in the world to say, "My dad makes that!"

WHAT STEPS DID YOU TAKE TO ADVANCE YOUR CAREER?
GAYLORD: It was always something I wanted to be a part of but it was never handed to me. I enlisted in the Marine Corps out of high school and served four years, and then I went to school for business. I was a sales director at a health and racquet club, and then I did copier sales.
     In March of 2007 I came to Virginia Beach to visit my father with my wife and new baby and we started to talk about my career and where I wanted to be in the future and the conversation led to offering me a position with the company. The original position was to be a product development manager in China. He wanted me to be the eyes and ears on the ground in China and learn the business from the production aspect. I spent an average of 200-plus days a year in China over my first two years with the company.

The Veranda CollectionThe Veranda Collection is one of several Agio lines selling record numbers this year, according to National Sales Manager Mike Gaylord.

     As our company grew, an opportunity to get involved with sales side of the business evolved. Doug Peppler (vice president of sales) consulted with my father and then offered me a position as national sales manager and focus on our specialty division. It's been an evolutionary process. I've been able to take on different roles and responsibilities and really learn every facet of our business.
     When I first started with Agio, I made a point to go to every employee in the company and try to learn a portion of everybody's job. From customer service, to warehousing and delivery, I felt it important to know and understand how our company worked from the inside out. I think that has really helped me grow and have a total understanding of our business. I did the same thing when I was in China. There are many different dynamics when you work in a foreign country and I wanted to understand how the manufacturing side of the business operated from design to product development to manufacturing and shipping. Every day in our business you're presented with a new problem, a new challenge, a new opportunity.

HOW HAVE YOU SEEN THE INDUSTRY EVOLVE OVER THE YEARS?
GAYLORD: From what I understand, many years ago (the specialty market) was very high-end, and mostly special order. When mass merchants and department stores entered the category in the '80s, they were at the other extreme, with lower-end value priced sets. Dealers today are doing a great job of bridging that gap. Today the outdoor room is one of the most desirable places in the home to create a great living space. Fire pit chat sets and deep seating collections that are beautiful and affordable have really changed the industry. Today consumers can live, entertain and enjoy their time outdoors in comfort and style.

Gaylord said the AshmostGaylord said the Ashmost Collection is consistently a strong seller for Agio.

WHAT ARE SOME OF AGIO'S MOST POPULAR PIECES NOW?
GAYLORD: It's a bit of an ebb and flow. When I first joined the company, we were doing more higher-end collections at specialty. With the economic downturn, we went to a much more value-based product, and as the economy improves, we're seeing it swing back the other way.
     Collections like Ash most and Rochester and Veranda are having record numbers this year. Consumers are continuing to look for value while not compromising quality and we've been able to reach a sweet spot in the market place with collections like those. We'll continue to strive to maintain a level of quality while creating value for both the retailer and consumer. Another collection that is doing extremely well is Haywood. In particular, our fire pit chat set with this collection has been well received over the past couple of years and this set is our top seller at retail.

WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE SOME OF THE GREATEST CHALLENGES FACING THE INDUSTRY TODAY?
GAYLORD: How do we as an industry address the Internet and the advancements in technology? How do we make the most of this as a specialty industry and gain traction? How do you keep these retailers protected in their brick-and mortar stores, as well as ensure they have the ability to sell on the Internet? It's a new frontier.
     My goal is to make our regional specialty brick-and-mortar guys the powerhouse guys on the Internet. Brick-and \mortar retailers continue to be the most essential component of our retail business. But understanding that the Internet continues to grow and gets more important each year, it's about making the brick-and mortar retailers as successful as possible, not only as a brick and- mortar retailer but as an Internet retailer.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE PEOPLE WHO WANT TO ENTER THE OUTDOOR INDUSTRY?
GAYLORD: I think it's really important for people just getting into the industry to spend a lot of time at the retail level. Specifically, working with the retail salespeople and listening to the consumers and what they're asking for. Those retail salespeople are really the ones that are going to drive your business and your product. You then begin to develop a true understanding of their business and can help them grow. I've been able to gain so much knowledge from spending time with our retailers and really learning their business.

The Estrellas rug
The Estrellas rug from Jaipur’s Barcelona Collection is hand-hooked from polypropylene for indoor or outdoor use.
Jaipur President Asha Chaudhary said customers are often drawn to more whimsical designs for outdoor rugs, such as the Nautilus rug from the Coastal Living Collection.
Jaipur President Asha
Chaudhary said
Chaudhary said people are more willing to experiment with color in their outdoor spaces, such as with the Veranda rug from the Colours Collection.

     Our goal is to empower 100,000 people in the next five years by providing them with the economic means of support, health and education for their family.

WHAT IS A TYPICAL DAY LIKE FOR YOU, IF THERE IS A TYPICAL DAY?
CHAUDHARY: I can describe my typical day in one word - pandemonium. We have experienced double-digit growth every year since I took the helm in the U.S. operations in 2006. This type of growth is always chaotic, but we have a team in place to lead us through the chaos. I hope to have a more regular schedule soon... We'll see.

HOW HAVE YOU SEEN THE RUG INDUSTRY AS A WHOLE EVOLVE OVER THE YEARS?
CHAUDHARY: The rug industry has changed drastically over the last five years in particular. Everything has changed, from distribution to rug constructions to price points.
     The rug business has become much more aligned with fashion than it was ever before. It is constantly evolving and much faster paced. Rugs are now much more affordable and not just limited to people with money or seen as investment. They have become true accessory items.

WHEN AND WHY DID JAIPUR FIRST INTRODUCE OUTDOOR RUGS INTO ITS PRODUCT LINE?
CHAUDHARY: We introduced indoor/outdoor rugs shortly after I came on board. Seeing a need for beautiful pieces with the same attention to design as a typical indoor rug, we partnered with Coastal Living and Grant Design for the launch of our first indoor/outdoor collections.

HOW DOES THE PROCESS OF MANUFACTURING OUTDOOR RUGS DIFFER FROM PRODUCING INDOOR RUGS?
CHAUDHARY: The process is different in the aspect that the fibers are treated and coated with a special compound that allows these items to be more colorfast in the sun, and provides a level of water resistance to avoid any water damage.
     The backing is different from a normal cotton back tufted rug in that it is latex. The tufting process is the same as a wool indoor rug and creates a strong and long-lasting item you can use outside.

WHAT ARE SOME OF JAIPUR'S MOST POPULAR DESIGNS FOR OUTDOOR? WHY DO YOU THINK PEOPLE ARE DRAWN TO THOSE PARTICULAR DESIGNS?
CHAUDHARY:
Some of our most popular designs are the more whimsical patterns. I feel like people are drawn to whimsy in their outdoor spaces because we seem to allow ourselves to step outside of the design box a bit more outdoors. People tend to be OK experimenting with brighter colors and more graphic designs in their outdoor spaces.

WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE SOME OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES FACING THE INDUSTRY TODAY, AND HOW CAN BUSINESSES ADAPT?
CHAUDHARY: Today, rugs are being sold by everyone from furniture stores and home boutique stores to mass merchants and specialty stores. However, only a few do it successfully while others struggle to teach the sales staff how to sell rugs. Therefore rugs make up a small percent of their overall business, but it's a huge opportunity for growth if done right.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE SOMEONE LOOKING TO START A CAREER IN THE RUG INDUSTRY? WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE SOME OF THE MOST IMPORTANT QUALITIES PEOPLE IN THE INDUSTRY SHOULD HAVE?
CHAUDHARY: It's a tough but rewarding business. You need a lot of support. It requires passion and lot of hard work.

WHERE DO YOU SEE THE INDUSTRY GOING IN THE FUTURE?
CHAUDHARY: I see the rug industry changing every day, not just at Jaipur but with everyone. Rugs have a great potential of growth given the trends in flooring and the easy availability of affordable rugs.
     Expansion into other categories that complement and coordinate is also a significant area of opportunity and growth for us.

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