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Outdoor insights - Terri Lee Rogers O.W. Lee Company • Co-president

In this post-recession period, Casual Living asked several leading manufacturers to speak out about what strategies worked best for their companies during the tough times. The following eight executives took time to identify products that proved to be best-sellers during the 2010 season. They also explained why they expect specific new products debuting this month to rise as stars for the 2011 season. With all the recent economic uncertainties, we did not ask them to look far ahead and make predictions about the industry's future. Instead, their answers reflect the realities of today's economy and tomorrow's customers.


Terri Lee Rogers O.W. Lee Company • Co-president

Q What's working now?
     Our special order business is still very strong.

Q What product has been your best seller? Why?
     Our fire pits were the driver for us this past season. Most importantly, it gives people a reason to go outside and socialize. Also, the unit is attractive, portable and easy to use.

Q What new product or collection do you expect to become a bestseller? Why?
     We had a great response to a new table/hearth top called Trazo, which is made of cement, sand, specialized additives, pigments and a unique aggregate material. We wanted a durable outdoor table and hearth top that brings a look that is different compared to the styles we currently offer. Also, we are excited about our new fire pit intro, Santorini, which is a smaller scale fire pit that hits a lower price point. This new fire pit has one choice of a 42" round hearth top, which allows us to manufacture the unit as one unit versus hearth and top, which is a real plus in shipping the unit. We are also excited about our new furniture collection, Palazzo, which has clean lines (no scrolls), and is a smaller scale wrought iron collection that offers a transitional look while maintaining the strength and durability of handcrafted wrought iron.

Q How would you describe the health of the casual industry?
     I am concerned about how competitive the market has gotten over the past couple of years and how savvy the consumer has become in using all resources for competitive shopping. It has forced many dealers to resort to deep discounting that cannot be healthy in the long run. I hope that our dealers recognize the value of the service they provide to the consumer and that they sell this service as a necessity when purchasing custom outdoor furnishings or accessories. Also, because store traffic is down, I would encourage the specialty dealers to continue to enhance their websites to make it easier for today's consumer to pre-shop styles and to obtain after sale service.

Q What strategy did you use that was successful despite (or due to) the challenging economy?
     At O.W. Lee, like many other manufacturers, we were forced to cut costs, plain and simple. The ability to quickly react to the challenging economy by cutting costs and managing our debt got us through the past couple of years.
The negative to this strategy is that when the season picked up, we were operating with reduced inventories and it seems like we never got flush. The orders came in faster than we could get our materials.

Q What have you learned that you wish you had known earlier?
     Like I said, I wish we had forecast better.

Q Where do you see opportunity for future growth?
     As a smaller company, we feel that we still have opportunities to grow with the specialty retailer in new markets, as well as renewed opportunities with the indoor furniture dealers that are looking for unique and profitable additions for their stores.

Q If you could send a message to retailers to help them strengthen their business, what would it be?
     I think that it is the same with all small businesses, whether a manufacturer or a retailer - manage your growth, manage your debt and stay humble.

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