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Cinde W. Ingram

State of the industry: Dudley Flanders

Industry leaders share their views, say economic challenges and opportunities co-exist

Dudley FlandersDudley Flanders

Casual Living tapped the brains of the International Casual Furnishings Association's executive committee and director to find out their prognoses on the health of the industry. The three manufacturing veterans and two specialty retailers shared their perspectives on the current season as well as their outlooks for the 2012 season.

As sponsor of the International Casual Furniture & Accessories Market, the Design Excellence Awards and the Apollo Awards recognizing retail excellence, ICFA is recognized as the authoritative voice of the outdoor furnishings industry. Read on as each of these industry leaders share their views, reflecting on the changing economic landscape and looking toward the horizon for full recovery.

Dudley Flanders | past ICFA chairman; president and CEO, Lloyd/Flanders

1. How would you describe the health of the casual industry?
     I'd say it's getting better. I think the retailers who have survived the downturn have learned how to do business in a less-than-perfect economic environment. Most people who are in business have learned how to do more with less. So what we have now are the survivors.

2. What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the industry now?
     I think the biggest challenge facing the specialty segment continues to be separating themselves from the mass and the big boxes. Letting people know what kind of exciting product is available, what kind of custom product is available and why there's value at shopping at the specialty side rather than just catching what's on sale at a box [store].

3. Where do you see opportunity for future growth?
     The demographics for casual furniture have not changed just because the economy has changed. The outdoor room and the baby boomers aging and the move toward fixing up your home and second homes - that market is still there. It's just a question of those of us in the specialty side of the market speaking out loud enough to make sure we get our share of it.
     I think we need to get back some market share that we have given up to some of the boxes. When the boxes upgraded their furniture and their displays about five years ago, I think we conceded some market share that we can get back if we just get the message out. I still think the boxes have a lot of customers who buy from them simply because they don't know any better.
     We have not conveyed the value message and we have not conveyed the personalization message that we could about shopping with a specialty retailer, where you're going to get one-on-one attention.

4. What strategy did your company use this year that was successful despite (or because of) the challenging economy?
     We continued to focus on our strengths, which are the speed to market, our ability to ship special orders in 12 days and service to the retail customer and the ultimate consumer. Part of one of the ways we do that was by supporting the retail salesperson. We ran a couple of contests trying to get the attention of that retail floor salesperson and get them to sell Lloyd/Flanders perhaps rather than somebody else. We went back to our national advertising campaign and we did see some concrete results from that; we were driving consumers into the stores asking for our product that they had seen in the ad. That validates to us our advertising and validates our brand to the retailers and, again, to the retail floor salespeople, who are always impressed when a consumer comes in asking for a particular brand.

5. What have you learned going through this down economy that you wish you had known earlier?
     You can make do with less when you're forced to. You can only cut so far. Once you've done that and you've gotten lean and mean, you've got to go out and get enough volume to feed the machine. You can't cut enough to make up for no volume, so somewhere along the line you still have to sell. In order to do that, you've got to make sure you have product that somebody wants to buy. So I think one of the other things we have done during this period of time, if you want to call it two or three years, is that we have sharpened our product focus to make sure that we have a broader base of price points and to make sure that we have all of the meat-and-potatoes designs or the designs

Lloyd/Flanders’ ContempoLloyd/Flanders’ Contempo Collection offered a contemporary style at a good value and became one of its bestsellers.
that have broad appeal covered before we start stepping out with some more aggressive designs. Those are fun and bring excitement to the category, but they may not have as broad an appeal as some other designs might.

6. & 7. What product has been your bestseller? Why do you think it became a winner?
     I think in the past few years, we've actually had two success stories that were completely different. One is Contempo in the vinyl side, and that was because it was a little bit of a meat-and-potatoes design and it was a contemporary design that Lloyd/Flanders was not known for, but I think we executed it extremely well. I think we hit it at a good value and obviously our dealers saw it as a good value because they bought it and sold it and it has become one of our bestsellers, just recently, as part of our reemphasis on special orders.
     Made in America and loom, last year we literally lowered the price on our Reflections group, which is one of our broadest-based loom collections that is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. We lowered the price, showed it in some new contemporary colors with contemporary fabrics and we saw significant growth in a 25-year-old product line. So I think the fact that we concentrated on it, paid attention to it and dressed it up showed that there are in fact some timeless designs that shouldn't be taken for granted.

8. What new product or collection do you expect to become a bestseller? Why?
     We had a lot of excitement at premarket with our Elements Collection. It's a loom collection, but it's extremely contemporary. It's a very versatile, modular group and we expect it to do great things. We think it's a very contemporary look but also with a broad appeal. Loom does not necessarily lend itself to anybody's concept of contemporary, but because we can do it in loom and in 22 colors, depending on your color selection and your fabric selection you can make it toned-down contemporary or in-your-face contemporary, whichever way you want.

9. If you could send a message to retailers to help them strengthen their business, what would it be?
     It would be to pound the drum about the value of buying better furniture and the value of buying it from a specialty retailer, who will service that customer. That brings value to the transaction and makes them feel good. We're not just selling furniture. We're selling a lifestyle and an experience, and they should present it as such. You can buy a chair just about anywhere, but if you really want to feel like you're buying that backyard resort experience, a specialty retailer can help you put that whole thing together.

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