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Outdoor furnishings always in style at Furnitureland South

Cinde Ingram, Carole Sloan -- Casual Living, October 1, 2007

Interior photos by Richard Haggerty Photography

Long before the trend developed toward taking indoor styles outside the boundaries of the home, Furnitureland South was delivering full home furnishings collections for use anywhere their customers desired.

On the Furnitureland South campus, a skywalk connects the Mart, containing numerous outdoor furniture collections, with the showroom, featuring indoor collections.

On the Furnitureland South campus, a skywalk connects the Mart, containing numerous outdoor furniture collections, with the showroom, featuring indoor collections.

With more than 1.1 million square feet of selling space, situated on 135 acres near High Point, N.C., the store simply carries everything in home furnishings, said Darrell Harris, founder, president and owner. A world-class shopping experience is promised, complete with free white glove delivery.

"We have always carried outdoor furniture and enjoy that market from all across the country," Harris said. "We service the whole country. And not just this country, people come from all over the world literally to shop and buy their furniture here."

Known as the world's largest home furnishings showplace, the retailer has drawn attention from the likes of Money magazine, which said "a visit to Furnitureland South is like a visit to a home decorating theme park."

Asked how he recognized the value of including outdoor furniture from the start of his company nearly 40 years ago, Harris said, "We were doing a lot of business in Florida at the time and it just always has been part of our repertoire. We love this business and it's been good to us and to our family," Harris said, noting the contributions of his wife, Stella, and sons, Jason and Jeff. "The boys have grown up in the business and they've gone from sweeping the floors to pretty much running the show right now. They're educated and they're taking on responsibilities."

Jason, executive vice president, estimated 70% of Furnitureland South's more than $170 million business is with consumers who live outside North Carolina. "They are destination shopping for entire rooms and entire homes," Jason said. "With the breadth of outdoor furnishings products that are available now and the beautiful fabrics, their outdoor furnishings can be as big a purchase as any other room or multiple rooms in their home."

Jason noted a recent $150,000 sale to a customer from Charleston, S.C., and said golfer Jack and Barbara Nicholson are among the celebrities who have visited and invested a great deal of money on their home and outdoor area. The store's approximately 800 employees include designers who work directly with consumers or guide the designers that customers send or bring with them to maneuver through tens of thousands of fabric choices. Up to 20% of the store's business involves its designer program, Jason said. Two Design Centers within the campus allow room for space planning and for spreading out with manufacturer catalogs, fabrics, finish samples and paint colors. A Bear Rock Café operates onsite, and a Starbucks is set to open before year end.

A 400-foot glass-enclosed walkway connects the indoor showroom with the Mart, fronted by an 85-foot-tall highboy landmark, and featuring plenty of outdoor furniture vignettes. The displays offer a sampling of contemporary styles, but are more transitional to traditional overall.

"Resin and vinyl wicker have been a tremendous growth area, this year in particular," said Shelby Sari, who has managed the store's wicker, rattan and outdoor department for nine years. "My largest growth vendor has been Castelle (by Pride Family Brands). They have really been innovative with maintenance, recognizing people want low maintenance or no maintenance. They have ventured into the wicker category but with aluminum product so it's going to be far more durable than your traditional outdoor wicker."

A porch vignette features the cozy comfort of this wicker collection by Braxton Culler.

A porch vignette features the cozy comfort of this wicker collection by Braxton Culler.

An outdoor fireplace sets the scene for Laneventure

An outdoor fireplace sets the scene for Laneventure's traditional look, above, and a more contemporary view, below.

An outdoor fireplace sets the scene for Laneventure

Sales of deep seating collections, like this one, are gaining ground against sling.

Sales of deep seating collections, like this one, are gaining ground against sling.

She has seen growth in the trend toward deep seating this season while sling has declined. "The wonderful thing about the outdoor area is that it keeps getting larger with multiple levels, fire pits and chat groups have been really strong," Sari said. "Consumers want that cushion comfort. They understand there is a little bit more maintenance involved, but yet they think that comfort level is more important. So cushion has been a very strong category this season and I expect that to continue in 2008. With us making 2008 purchases, we are focusing on that comfort level."

In addition to Castelle, Sari listed other big hitters at the store as lines by Laneventure, Braxton Culler, Brown Jordan, Woodard, Woodard/Landgrave and Pavilion. The store sold off its Kessler products this year while the manufacturer closed and went through transition, but now has brought back those products.

Sales of teak and other woods are up tremendously through Gloster and Kingley-Bate, while sales of Jensen Jarrah are growing gradually. New River is a new supplier that Sari expects to sell well, especially with its new Reve finish, which she saw at the July premarket. The store picked up Alfresco Home as an accessory line and its tabletop beverage containers have done well this year along with its product to hide garden hoses. Table lamps by Shady Lady and Olympia are strong sellers, Sari said; she noted the size of the consumers' outdoor space often dictates whether they want floor lamps. Cantilever umbrellas and pavilions, even one with a chandelier, have sold well.

Sari usually attends the Chicago Casual Market in September, but was not able to this year because of its timing, only a week ahead of the High Point Market.

"We have the International Home Furnishings Center here in High Point and when the show is over, we move in and buy the samples," Darrell said. "That's going to be a really growing part of our business in the next few years. We buy those samples at a great price and we sell them at a great price. That's what keeps the customers coming back in here, the great prices we offer."

A 200,000-sq.-ft. Clearance Center on the campus holds more than 25,000 items, including market samples and discontinued brand-name collections.

Construction is underway on a distribution and service center, which will replace the current setup now operating in two buildings and open up more showroom space at the start of 2008, Jason said.

The way Jason sees it, the store's location was key to its growth.

"We never would have developed this store if it hadn't been here in the epicenter of the furniture world," he said. "A lot of people travel here because of the mystique of High Point."

Terrie Silver, Furnitureland South director of marketing, capitalizes on that reputation through national advertising online and in consumer magazines including Veranda, Elle Decor and Traditional Home. Those ads direct traffic to its Web site, which draws more than 100,000 unique visitors each month, she said. Its catalog is available online and connects with a Catalog Showcase Gallery, set up with the actual furnishings as they are shown in the catalog.

"In order to have a good marketing strategy, you have to incorporate all aspects," Silver said. "For example, I might not watch television but I might read the newspaper while someone else might not read the newspaper but he may go online."

Among the annual events held at the store are Awesome August and Fabulous February promotions as well as appearances by well-known designers such as Oscar de la Renta, B Smith and Pamela Scurry.

This month for the first time, a direct mail DVD is being distributed to give consumers a virtual tour of the store's campus, with emphasis on blending fashion with home furnishings.

"We did a lot of fashion photography, using models around our furniture," Silver said. "This is a piece I think we're going to be very proud of. It's going to enlighten the consumer and help people 'get it' where they don't really 'get it' until they come here."

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