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Cinde W. Ingram

Reinventing resin takes woven form

Woven resin furniture remains a best seller for many casual furniture manufacturers and retailers in North America, while most concede mold-injected resin furniture to mass merchants. Few U.S. specialty retailers still sell high-end lacquered resin furniture, unlike European counterparts who have seen it hold much more of its market share.

"The resin business, as far as we can tell, has been on a downward spiral for a number of years, starting when the bottom fell out of the pricing some years back," Agio President Bob Gaylord said. "The abundance of poor quality resin chairs in the market that did not stand up to use has definitely turned off the consumer.

"On the other hand, the woven resin/all weather wicker category is growing dramatically every year, and we see no reason for the success to diminish in our lifetime," he added. "Consumers love the look, from traditional to contemporary, and resin wicker products are going to service the consumer far better than real wicker over the years."

Janice Feldman, president of JANUS et Cie and the U.S. distributor of DEDON's high-end woven resin Hularo designs, cautioned buyers to beware.

"All resin is not created equal," she said. "Great demand and, unfortunately as always, a lot of cheap goods are coming into the market of very questionable quality. I have literally seen things falling apart on store floors." As a result, her company has been called on to replace bad product from lesser quality sources.

"With the advent of using resin in a different form, like the artificial wicker that's so popular in our industry, the resin material has had to reinvent itself," said Bill Echols, Brown Jordan International, president retail and contract divisions. "It may well reinvent itself again because there are engineering grades of resin that aren't being used yet that may find their way into our industry."

Woven resin continues to get a lot of play and attention, which has brought the category a tremendous amount of competition, Whitecraft President and CEO Lou Rosebrock said. "One of the factors driving the category is the new and exciting variation on the materials and colorations available," he said.

For example, all-weather wicker supplier Viro is developing about 150 colors each month in Indonesia. Although nearly all resin material is made from high-density polyethylene, ISO-approved additives, pigments and processes make a difference for those that withstand UV and humidity. After recognizing a need in the casual furniture industry, the company launched Ara Garden in September at the casual market in Chicago as an importer and distributor of synthetic wicker furniture, Ara President Johan Yang said.

"We tried to satisfy our customer in two directions," Yang said. "For the manufacturer who needs a good supplier of resin, we can help them with Viro and also can assist them in sourcing. And for specialty retailers who need to have finished products, that's where Ara comes in. We have this because we want to display some of our best new technology on resin. There is a market and a need there that we happen to have some expertise on and can help fulfill. The growth of synthetic wicker has been tremendous for the last couple of years."

Carlos Alfaro, Grupo Kettal export manager for the Americas, differentiates resin into three categories: woven, generic mold injected and lacquered. He agrees the product's innovation and freshness has rapidly increased the market share of woven resin, but said each category has its own market niche.

"Woven resin is in a very healthy spot at the moment, due the infinite possibilities the material can offer as far as different qualities, colors and profiles," Alfaro said. "It's an environmentally resistant, low maintenance product and is easily combined with other materials like aluminum. The look and feel is identical to real wicker. Woven resin fits perfectly with classic designs and with very contemporary ones as well. We use this woven material in Kettal and Triconfort, but eventually it will be used in Evolutif and maybe Hugonet."

Grupo Kettal's Triconfort division is among the few manufacturers still producing high-end lacquered resin with a glossy finish. "It is not a very high-distribution product, but it has its own clientele who are loyal and who can appreciate the excellence of this unique recipe product," Alfaro said.

For the last two years, specialty retailers in coastal areas have started to give Kettler USA's mineral reinforced resin furniture another try, National Sales Manager Mike Sosnowski said. Patio World, Los Angeles and Emigh's Casual Elegance, Sacremento, Calif., are among the West Coast retailers testing the market again along with Jimmies Rustics in Michigan, a Long Island retailer who buys container-loads and several specialty retailers in Florida.

While wrought iron remains Kettler's biggest hitter, "a good portion of our sales are resin," Sosnowski said. "It's great in particular for contract, in boating communities and around pools, whether residential or hotel. Some of the advantages are the heaviness of it; it's resistant to high winds and it's so easy to maintain. It's been a steady category for us, even throughout the '90s. A lot of our resin business is done via catalog, that's a good indicator there are consumers throughout North America looking to buy resin."

The latest trend in all-weather wicker from Agio is delicate and durable. The outdoor collections' twisted wicker look is a patented weave with a rich, textured hand-woven look that stands up to the elements.

Henry Hall Designs recently launched the Sienna Collection, constructed of Hularo over a powder-coated aluminum frame. The synthetic resin is resistant to chlorine, salt water, tanning creams and UV ray exposure.

Grupo Kettal's Triconfort division is among the few manufacturers still producing lacquered resin with a glossy finish for the high-end market. Pictured above is the woven Biarritz Collection.

After 20 years, the Tiffany Chair from Kettler is still a sales success. Featuring 16 independent seating positions, the resin chair is perfect for residential, commercial and yachting communities.

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