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  • Jerry Epperson

History in the making

The new frontier of the outdoor room

Jerry EppersonJerry Epperson
I am old, having Spent 41 years in the furniture industry. One problem, among many, is that things that are "new and exciting" to most, I have seen before - like power recliners, foam and air mattresses, pop-up headrests in motion seating, and too many wood furniture styles to mention. Who knows? Maybe waterfall bedrooms and Victorian seating will come back (again) next year. Young people, ask your grandparents.
     Know where that is not the case? In outdoor furniture. I remember when steel dominated in both tubular and wrought iron and most was made in these here United States. It was heavy and rusted quickly.
     The first aluminum outdoor seating could not have any motion - rocking or swivel - because the welding would not hold. Honest. That was decades ago, of course.
     Your seating choices bounced between slings, cushions and straps. Remember how folks appeared from behind at the pool after sitting on the rubbery straps? Horizontal stripes are not flattering.
     Of course, those were the days before the mass merchants and home centers lined up row after row of identical five-piece dining sets in their parking lots. Does anyone see 15 of the same set and comparison sit to get the best one? How do they know which to pick?
     Our materials were fairly basic and the styles tended to be very redundant. Some of the really high priced lines could be used indoors but that was rare.
     Mention imports back then and you thought of Pier One "Papasan" chairs and some assorted weather-vulnerable wicker and rattan. As a young man, a sudden rain shower caused my mother to panic. What should she do first, bring in the seat cushions, the laundry drying on the clothesline or close the windows?
     In my opinion, too many in the summer and casual business fail to recognize how far the industry has come in style, materials, durability, weather resistance and customization. And that does not include the new video, audio, cooking and lighting options that allow everyone to enjoy their outdoors more than ever.
Millennials are predictedMillennials are predicted to invigorate demand for housing and furniture that goes with it. The Nomad Collection by Gloster embraces the younger, modern aesthetic.

     I also cannot imagine anyone in business today not being aware of our emerging generations. The children of the Baby Boomers, called the Millennials, are now 15-33 and are 72 million strong, much larger than the 47 million in Generation X, now 34-47.
     Fortunately, the continued growth in our population plus this new large wave of young people will increase housing demand and increase demand for many other products, too.
     The long, severe recession also left39% of Americans aged 18-34 living at home with their parents or other relatives, more than twice the normal number. As the recovery progresses, these young people will further invigorate the demand for housing and other products. Already in 2012, the number of new household formations is recovering to about 750,000, up from less than 400,000 only a couple of years ago.
     One major characteristic of a young population is a love of all things outdoors as can be seen at the beaches, tennis courts, state and federal parks, and almost everywhere. Commercials on television show attractive young people outdoors guzzling soft drinks, walking their babies and dancing in the streets, not we old wrinkly types.
     America has been through a trauma not unlike World War II and it will recover to renewed growth fueled by our young people. Our banks today have $3 trillion ready to lend, and corporate America has a record $2.3 trillion in cash plus almost that in borrowing power, all ready to fuel a brisk recovery.
     On a personal note, at my humble beach home on the Chesapeake Bay, I have heavy, indestructible, recycled milk bottle chairs and chaises on the beach, cypress Adirondack chairs (customized with the beach's name) in a little rustic beach tiki-hut plus a wonderfully comfortable recycled teak glider for two, perfect for my wife and I. In the yard are more wood Adirondack chairs and the deck has wonderfully comfortable swivel rocking aluminum cushioned chairs set up to pick blue crabs. Yum.
     I wish I could have been in Chicago last month for the Casual Show. It was something I always enjoyed. And I know I missed a lot that was truly new and exciting.

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