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Cinde W. Ingram

Elegant Outdoors concept continues to grow

After a season of selling Brown Jordan International's Elegant Outdoors gallery program, some of the original retail partners have added or plan to add the concept in their other stores.

BJI partnered with selected dealers to develop and market the Elegant Outdoors concept. Although Brown Jordan and Tommy Bahama lines are not considered part of the program, Elegant Outdoors dealers are required to carry Winston, Winston Woods, Vineyard, Molla and Tradewinds products. No volume commitment or exclusivity is required. BJI offers support with marketing and merchandising.

David Howell, Naples Patio, opened his first Elegant Outdoors in November 2003 in Naples, Fla., and opened two more stores last spring in the Sarasota and Tampa areas. He described the mid-June grand openings as "a super success" and said, "the Naples store has continued to be" a great success.

"We're working closely with designers through these showrooms, and that has turned out to be tremendous," Howell said. "We have a full showcase of products they can come and see."

Patio & Hearth Shoppe opened an Elegant Outdoors gallery in its Indianapolis store last fall. About 80% of the Indianapolis store floor space was devoted to EO products and a cabana was built with flooring and bamboo posts to display products in tropical settings.

"We're thinking about opening two more of them next year," Patio & Hearth Shoppe President Debbie Stegman said. "In Elegant Outdoors, people have been drawn to the name. It's just turned out to be very successful for us and that's why we're contemplating doing it again."

The Fireplace and Patioplace, based in Pittsburgh, Pa., has Elegant Outdoors galleries in its three stores and plans to offer the concept in another 12,000-sq.-ft. store expected to open in September or October, before the fireplace season kicks off.

At the three existing stores, which range from 5,000 to 10,000 square feet, President and co-owner Steve Magnotti estimates 60% of floor space is devoted to Elegant Outdoors. Making an accurate estimate of floor space devoted was difficult, Magnotti said. "We rearrange the floors so it's moving all the time," he said. "We have permanent hearth as well as casual, and it changes season by season."

When asked how well the Elegant Outdoors concept has caught on with customers, Magnotti hedged. "It's still in its infancy stage right now so I can't say I've got customers coming through the door with awareness of Elegant Outdoors but it's something we think has some merit that can grow," Magnotti said. "We've gotten all their signage and point of purchase materials, which have been first class. It just needs to snowball and get some momentum going."

Bill Echols, president of BJI retail and contract market divisions, said the Pompano Beach, Fla.-based casual furniture manufacturer limited the number of EO dealers during the initial year and was pleased with the amount of interest as it developed. He recalled how the concept evolved as a result of conversations with Howell, who had realized BJI could cover all the categories as a result of consolidation.

"The interest continues to grow," Echols said. "We've really caused the break in the process, in slowing it down and making sure we can manage it properly. I'm more comfortable now that we've got a game plan. We can sit down with a dealer, tell him what he can expect and what we expect in return.

"Now we're getting the program more formalized," Echols said. "We have ground rules and running rules about what everything has to be and how we work with dealers. I've probably met with 10 or 12 people who want to become EO dealers here at the show (premarket in Lake Las Vegas). We're being very selective, both to make sure we have the right dealer and that we're sure we can provide them the right service, products and so forth to make sure they're successful."

Kiosks, banners, large lifestyle posters, tabletop cards, videos and point of purchase marketing materials are available to help set the mood for Elegant Outdoors within stores. BJI's Julie Chappell helps plan floor layout and color schemes.

To market the concept to consumers, Patio & Hearth advertised on television, in newspapers, participated in every home show available and worked with designers. "They've given us a lot of support for marketing with great signage and tabletoppers," Stegman said. "It's going great. It's not that they don't have their problems with shipping but so does everyone else. One of the main problems is I don't think anyone anticipated such a fabulous season because our season is through the roof."

Magnotti said signage and point of purchase materials helped to set the stage for Elegant Outdoors. He stressed the added significance of the business equation.

"It's so refreshing to deal with a company that has some other ideas than just trying to fill your warehouse with product," Magnotti said. "We had people come in to help with colors and store design; no other manufacturer has done that in the patio industry. Now, we're in the process of building another location and they are helping us with the layout of that."

Howell's retail stores benefited from an Elegant Outdoors TV commercial, full-color newspaper print ads and a four-page full-color circular, used for distribution and in local newspapers, too. He stressed the importance of his staff's private meetings with designers to promote the concept.

"We meet at their place of business and explain our program, as far as the design end of it," Howell said. "Part of that in working with designers is going out and introducing our programs — maybe a morning meeting with all their designers together, and explaining what we can offer to them. The benefits of ordering Elegant Outdoors would be that they can also see it before they order it, they can touch it and they will have it received into our office and we deliver it to them at a great discount so they can, in turn, retail it to the customer. It's much easier for the designers and there's been a real positive response to that."

One reason Stegman wanted to try the Elegant Outdoors concept was to narrow her list of vendors. "Therefore, when I'm doing purchase orders, I'm getting product in faster than just my regular stores," she said. "As far as my stores, I can't say I've changed a lot except it's just been simpler for me. With the Elegant Outdoors store, I'm very important to the BJI people and they're very important to me."

Allen Lehner of 4 Seasons Fireplace & Patio said narrowing his vendor base was also a motivation for him to try the Elegant Outdoors concept in one of his eight stores.

"There were some questions about whether the Elegant Outdoors concepts were going to work," Lehner said. "I think it was easier to do the concept with a brand new store rather than in an existing one. There were some glitches."

Lehner cited concerns about promoting an unproven concept rather than his store's brand name, about out-of-stock items with Chinese products/components, delivery and selection.

Howell noted the brands Tommy Bahama and Brown Jordan have strong marketing pull, but said the name recognition of Elegant Outdoors worked out a little better than he had expected.

"At Naples Patio, we do a lot of Winston and medium price points that are beginning to touch the upper end but it's more a middle of the road customer," he said. "We didn't want to change and confuse the public. So we decided to offer it as a separate business to capture the upper end and the design business. It's worked tremendously well."

About 80% of floor space at Patio and Hearth Shoppe, Indianapolis, is devoted to Elegant Outdoors, with tentative plans to open two additional stores. Below from top, retailers David Howell, Debbie Stegman and Steve Magnotti all opened Elegant Outdoors stores last fall.

Kiosks, banners, lifestyle posters and tabletop cards set Elegant Outdoors mood.

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